Comfrey plant

A widespread impressive plant of fairly damp ground, particularly along rivers and ditches, comfrey is native to the UK and has been classified in the Boriginaceae family. This makes it a close relative of plants like borage, forget me not and green alkanet.

The scientific or Latinised names of plants are always worthy of study, not least on safety grounds as they distinguish one plant species from another and will hold that name anywhere on the planet. Additionally, they always reveal something interesting about the plant; what it was used for, who it was used by, who discovered it and so on.

The use of ‘officinale’ in comfrey’s name immediately elevates it as an especially important medicinal plant of our past. This designation was given to anything (mainly but not always plants) recognised as an effective and useful treatment during medieval times. The first part of the name is said to loosely translates into ‘a plant which grows bones back together’.

Comfrey - Symphytom officinale
Comfrey – Symphytom officinale

The tuberous roots and fuzzy large leaves of the plant have both been used as food historically however in light of modern day research foragers are warned against using this plant internally due to the presence of an alkaloid chemical which can have damaging effects on the liver.

For this reason comfrey should be avoided altogether by young children, pregnant women or anyone with an existing liver disfunction.

Comfrey has a fantastic alternative name of knit bone referring to the use of the root stock as a makeshift ‘cast’ for bone fractures, applied like a poultice it was used to help heal bone and deep tissue injuries.

Where modern research has dispelled many country-lore uses of plants as non-effective, comfrey has held its ground and is supported by medical research to be effective in treating sprains, burns, bruises and minor wounds. You can buy comfrey external applications as ointments, oils and salves all of which are very straight forwards to make yourself!

Comfrey plant
Comfrey plant

Gardeners know the plant well as a first-rate plant food after being submerged in a water butt for may weeks the resulting (very smelly) liquid is an exceptionally nutritious additive for growing tomatoes and other veg.

Comfrey is a great plant to identify if you are not already familiar with it. Find a river and keep an eye out for it, comfrey is big (up to 5 feet), bold and beautiful with its drooping clusters of flowers. If in doubt just follow a bee, they love it!

Related posts