Comfrey (symphytum officinale) has been cultivated since about 400 BC, is used medicinally and cosmetically, in glue, for tanning skins, in soap making, lotions, fabric dying, and fertilizer, plus more. It is native to Europe and Asia, and grows in all climates.
Comfrey is valuable right off the growing plant and for that reason, should have a place in every herb garden. Because of its healing properties and its big, wide, hairy leaves, you can use a comfrey as a bandage or a bandaid over a minor wound. You can even sterilize it by dipping it into boiling water and allowing to cool before wrapping it around your injury. The first thing I did when I broke my ulna was to reach for a comfrey leaf (actually I had someone else do it for me) bruise it and wrap my forearm with it before heading off to the hospital.
Comfrey is most commonly mistaken for the deadly foxglove, so as with all plants you plan to use in your formulations, make absolute identification of plants before using them. Comfrey grows to about 4 feet high, and has large leaves with visible white hairs on them, especially on young leaves, like peach fuzz. Comfrey grows like a weed and it is hard to get rid of once it has taken hold. It has drooping flowers, in colors ranging from purple to pink to blue to white. You can pick the leaves in spring and summer, they are best before the comfrey flowers. The flowers come in late spring and summer. And the roots are usually collected in fall and winter. The leaves are high in calcium and used to be recommended as an edible green and for teas to be taken internally, but there has been much controversy in the last 20 years about possible accumulations of toxins in the liver from ingesting comfrey, and thus ingestion is not recommended in many places at this point.
It is referred to as "Knitbone" traditionally because it is renknowned for its ability to aid the knitting together of tissues and bones and promoting cell growth. It was also referred to as "Bruisewort" as it is known to reduce swelling and bruising when applied to injuries as a poultice or compress. Leaves in poultices and compresses can be applied to varicose veins and arthritic joints, as well as diaper rash. Warm, smashed or bruised leaves applied to an inflamed injury are said to help reduce swelling and bruising, as well as reduce scarring.
Comfrey contains more mucilage than marshmallow, which is why it has a softening effect in skin and hair products.
Comfrey has long taproots, that can go 10 or more feet into the ground to bring water and minerals from below to the surface. Both the roots and the leaves contain allantoin, which is another key ingredient involved in the healing aspects of comfrey.
To dry the root, dig up root, then scrub the outsides of the root clean, like a carrot. Then cut the root up, into slices, like a carrot. Then put into a paper bag and hang in a warm place to dry. Shake the bag regularly, and the root pieces will get darker and smaller, as they dry. Store in a jar once completely dry.
To dry comfrey leaves, you can take a needle and thread and string them like popcorn. Then hang the threaded leaves between two corners in a warm part of your home. They will dry in a short time.
Comfrey's skin-healing agents make it an invaluable cosmetic herb. You can add comfrey to your bath water to soften skin, using a muslin tea bag filled with dried or fresh leaves or root, hanging under the running spigot, and soaking it in the bath like a big teacup.
And comfrey steeped in hot vinegar then cooled then applied to hair makes hair very soft.
Lastly, comfrey is used for fertilizer. The leaves decompose easily, thus are used to accelerate compost. Comfrey leaves are used as mulch, as well as to line potato, sweet pea and bean trenches for nutrients. A fertilizer can be made by taking a water-tight container and putting a bunch of ripped up comfrey leaves in it, then water to cover them. Seal and leave alone for 2 weeks in hot weather and 4 weeks in cold weather. Drain off the foul smelling liquid, as it is full of potash, which tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and peppers thrive on. Mix 1/3 of the comfrey liquid with one gallon of water as fertilizer to water plants with.