Synonyms: Blackroot, boneset, bruisewort, comfrey, consound, knitback, knitbone, slippery root
Scientific Name: Symphytum officinale L.
Family: Boraginaceae (borage family)
The southeast of Europe
Allantoin, mucilages, tannins, rosmarinic acid, silicic acid
This plant likes the wet. From May to September dense clusters of its flowers, usually reddish violet, more rarely whitish yellow, adorn damp meadows and the banks of streams. The opening flowers unfold one after the other like the tips of fern fronds. Common comfrey grows from a thick, juicy rootstock and its shoots can reach a metre in height. The root is black on the outside and white inside. Comfrey is easily recognisable by its drooping, bell-shaped flowers with their long, protruding pistils, as well as by its bristly hairs which resemble those of the related borage. The lanceolate leaves taper towards the stem. The stalks of the upper leaves grow along the stem like wings, each reaching down to the leaf below.
Extracts of comfrey applied externally help to heal pulled muscles, sprains, twisted ankles, bone fractures, wounds, ulcers and chronic suppuration, for example from leg ulcers. Swelling and pain are reduced and cell renewal accelerated.
Homeopathic preparations of comfrey for internal administration aid the healing of broken bones, blunt injuries and poorly healing wounds. They are also beneficial in the treatment of circulatory disorders, osteoarthritis and joint pain.
The scientific name Symphytum is derived from the Greek symphytos = grown together, healed. The English name comfrey comes from ‘con firma’ and also refers to the ability of the plant to knit together. Many of its regional and folk names allude to this property of uniting and healing bones, e.g. boneset, knitback and knitbone.
Even in ancient times comfrey was known to heal broken bones and wounds. The adage that bones in a soup would grow back together if they were boiled in a broth containing comfrey indicates the strength of the belief in its healing powers.
The bell-like flowers are usually pollinated by long-tongued bumblebees visiting the flowers in search of nectar. Buff-tailed bumblebees, which have a shorter tongue, just bite through the flowers to reach the sweet nectar. Ants prefer the elaiosome, a nourishing appendage to the ripe seeds. The ants drag the seed away together with the attached elaiosome, often breaking the two apart in the process. The elaiosome is taken to the ants’ nest while the seed is left behind and in this way dispersed.
The plant from another perspective
The bristly hairs of comfrey are a sign of its association with the ‘silica process’. Silicic acids are important silicon compounds (silicon oxides) found in various forms in nature. They are also found in all plant and animal body fluids and form the skeletons (frustules) of diatoms. Silicic acids alternate between liquid and solid states and are form-giving substances. In comfrey, with its strong silica connection, this form-giving capacity is combined with powerful growth potential, making it an effective medicinal herb.