Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is another popular member of medicinal herb gardesn. The large bristly leaves grow in basal clusters, sometimes forming dense mounds over two feet high. It produces drooping clusters of tubular flowers in mid to late summer. Blooms range in color from violet through pink to white. The roots are fleshy and black on the outside, giving it the folk name of blackroot.
In folk medicine comfrey has been used for rheumatism, bronchitis, pleuritis, and as an anti-diarrheal agent. The leaves and roots were ingredients in poultices for healing bruises and sprains, giving it the names boneset and knitbone.
Today fresh or dried leaves may be used on a limited basis in a healing tea. They contain allantoin, a chemical that stimulates growth of new cells. Allantion is easily absorbed through the skin, possibly as deep as the bone. In Germany comfrey is approved for external application to promote healing of bruises and sprains. Extract of comfrey is also used in restorative cosmetics.
Comfrey is hardy to Zone 5. Its roots go deep ñ as far as five feet in good conditions. It will propagate from any section of the root making it difficult to remove once established. So wherever you put it, be sure thatís where youíll want it for years to come. When planting space the roots about two feet apart. Comfrey multiplies rapidly and will fill in the intervening space.
Comfrey leaves may be picked from early spring to late fall. Itís one of the first herbs to show new growth in spring. Leaves harvested during the blooming period have reduced levels of alkaloids.
Comfrey can be used to make a tonic for your garden. Stuff a large container with comfrey leaves and add water. Leave in the sunshine for a day or two. Then strain out the solid matter using a burlap bag as a sieve. Decant the water and use as a foliar fertilizer.