Comfrey
Symphytum officinale L.
Family: Boraginaceae, Borage
Genus: Symphytum
Synonyms:
Other names: blackwort, boneset
Nomenclature: officinale = sold as an herb, medicinal
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Edible plant
Medicinal plant
Description

General: robust, taprooted perennial 30-120 cm tall, often with several clustered stems. Stem and flower cluster with spreading or bent back, stiff hairs.

Leaves: large, the basal ones stalked, with ovate or lance-ovate blade mostly 15-30 cm long and 7-12 cm wide. Stem leaves alternate, gradually reduced and with shorter stalks but still ample, the upper commonly stalkless. Stem evidently winged by the conspicuously downward-extended bases of the leaves.

Flowers: ochroleucous, purple or dull blue, nodding, few to several in dense, isolated clusters at the end of side and top branches, the clusters based by a leaf pair. Calyx 5-7 mm long, cleft to below the middle, the lobes lanceolate, pointed, long-hairy. Corolla about 15 mm long, narrowly bell-shaped, the tube about as long as and sometimes almost as wide as the limb. May-August.

Fruits: nutlets, brownish-black, slightly wrinkled, about 4 mm long.


Distribution

Native of Europe, escaped from cultivation and more or less established along roadsides and in other disturbed habitats in s.w. parts of MT. Also in much of e. U.S.
Edible Uses

Young leaves of comfrey are edible cooked or raw. The leaf is hairy and the texture is mucilaginous. It may have a lot of minerals but it is not pleasant eating for most tastes. It can be chopped up finely and added to salads, in this way the hairiness is not so obvious. Young shoots can be used as an asparagus substitute. The blanched stalks are used. Older leaves can be dried and used as a tea, and a tea can be made from the dried roots as well. The peeled roots are cut up, cooked and added to soups. The roasted roots are used with dandelion and chicory roots for making coffee.



Medicinal Uses

Comfrey is a commonly used herbal medicine with a long and proven history in the treatment of various complaints. The root and the leaves are used, the root being more active, and they can be taken internally or used externally as a poultice. Comfrey is especially useful in the external treatment of cuts, bruises, sprains, sores, eczema, varicose veins, broken bones etc, internally it is used in the treatment of a wide range of pulmonary complaints, internal bleeding etc. The plant contains a substance called 'allantoin', a cell proliferant that speeds up the healing process. This substance is now synthesized in the pharmaceutical industry and used in healing creams.
The root and leaves are mildly pain-relieving, astringent (mild), and have agents that are locally soothing and softening to the skin when applied locally, that induce the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs, that check bleeding, are cooling and lower body temperature, and that are used for healing wounds, fresh cuts, etc., usually as a poultice. Some caution is advised, however, especially in the internal use of the herb. External applications and internally taken teas or tinctures of the leaves are considered to be completely safe, but internal applications of tablets or capsules may have too many drawbacks for safe usage. This plant contains small quantities of a toxic alkaloid which can have a cumulative effect upon the liver. Largest concentrations are found in the roots, leaves contain higher quantities of the alkaloid as they grow older and young leaves contain almost none. Most people would have to consume very large quantities of the plant in order to do any harm, though anyone with liver problems should obviously be more cautious. In general, the health-promoting properties of the plant probably far outweigh any possible disbenefits, especially if only the younger leaves are used.
The leaves are harvested in early summer before the plant flowers, the roots are harvested in the autumn. Both are dried for later use. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh root, harvested before the plant flowers. This has a very limited range of application, but is of great benefit in the treatment of broken bones and eye injuries.



Other Uses

The plant grows very quickly, producing a lot of bulk. It is tolerant of being cut several times a year and can be used to provide 'instant compost' for crops such as potatoes. Simply layer the wilted leaves at the bottom of the potato trench or apply them as a mulch in no-dig gardens. A liquid feed can be obtained by soaking the leaves in a small amount of water for a week, excellent for potassium demanding crops such as tomatoes. The leaves are also a very valuable addition to the compost heap. A gum obtained from the roots was at one time used in the treatment of wool before it was spun.


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