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Comfrey: a godsend in the garden!

russian comfrey flower

It has been a goal of mine for quite a while to get educated on medicinal

plants and to cultivate a medicinal garden of my own. Now I have the space at Fruitdale Farm! So it seems like the time is ripe to get this party started. I am going to get witchy with it and start schooling myself on a new medicinal plant each month and I will share about it here. First up, COMFREY! And it's not only a powerful medicinal, but also super beneficial for the other plants in your garden. If that excites you, read on! If not, I don't know if we would get along. ;)

Comfrey as a Medicinal Herb

Of the stories I have heard about herbal medicine, comfrey is probably the plant that has stuck in my mind the most. And no wonder... it has been cultivated for centuries for its potent medicinal value and is also known as "knitbone" and "boneset". The "magical" property in this plant is an organic molecule called allantoin, which is known to stimulate cell growth and heal while reducing inflammation. It has historically been used to treat a whole slew of ailments, ranging from bronchial problems, broken bones, sprains, arthritis, ulcers, burns, skin conditions, female reproductive problems, and is reputed to have teeth and bone building properties in children. In modern herbalism, comfrey should only be used topically, as it has proven to be somewhat toxic to humans if ingested. However -GET THIS!- it has been found to be a miracle drug for GOATS (they can eat it all day)!

The most common way to apply comfrey medicinally is in a POULTICE.

Here's how:

1) Gather about 6 leaves. Chop 'em up & throw them in a blender with about 1/2 cup of water. Blend until liquid.

2) Add a fistful of flour, cornmeal or other binding agent (apparently chia bran & psyllium husks work well) and pulse until mixture becomes a paste.

3) Place pasty mixture onto a clean cloth (folded over to prevent seepage).

4) Place cloth onto injured limb, making sure the mixture is in direct contact with affected area.

5) Wrap (with another cloth, an ace wrap, gauze or plastic wrap, etc) to secure it to the limb.

6) Remove after 4-6 hours and replace with fresh comfrey if needed. Twice a day should be good.

**Tip: Make extra and freeze so that you always have some on hand when needed.

I also found a simple recipe for an infused comfrey oil that can be used in a healing salve for wounds: In a double boiler, heat 2 ounces of dried comfrey leaves with 2 cups of olive oil, covered, for 60-90 minutes. Strain oil through a paper towel, pressing down on the leaves. Keep in a tightly sealed container in refrigerator for up to one year.

Comfrey as a Fertilizer

These incredible, hardy, fast-growing and attractive plants are a valuable

source of fertility for the organic gardener! It has a taproot that mines up a host of minerals and nutrients from deep within the subsoil. These minerals are then made available to other plants through their leaves, which break down easily. The leaves are a good source of nitrogen and are especially high in potassium (up to 3 times more than farmyard manure), which is a necessary nutrient for flowering and fruiting plants. Mature plants can be harvested (cut down to 2" from the ground) 4-5 times a year!

Here's how to use the leaves as fertilizer:

1) Add the leaves to your compost heap! Adds nitrogen and heat to your pile (but don't throw in huge clumps as they break down into a sludgy liquid)

2) Make a liquid fertilizer! Add a bunch of leaves to a bucket of rainwater and allow to rot for 4-5 weeks. Use the liquid as a fertilizer (foliar spray or water in).

3) Mulch! Simply layer 1-2 inches of comfrey leaves around crops, particularly flowering/fruiting plants for that extra dose of potassium. The leaves will slowly break down, fertilizing the plant over time. (TIP: avoid mulching with flowering comfrey leaves as they can take root and are hard to remove)

4) Companion Plant! Plant beside a tree or other perennials. Soil tests confirm that the nutrients in soil increase in the presence of comfrey!

I bought my first comfrey plant at the Pawpaw Festival last year and i noticed that it has already started to surface after the winter. :) I look forward to giving the poultice a try on any cuts, burns, bruises or sprains that I am sure to acquire this year. I will let you know how it works! I also can't wait to find more to plant around my fruit trees! Please share any experience you may have using comfrey!

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