Comfrey (Symphytum officinale x uplandicum)

The word Comfrey comes from the Latin "Confervere" meaning to heal. Symphytum is the Greek for 'to grow together' derived from Symphyto 'to unite'. In Irish it is aptly known as Lus na gCnámh mBriste - the plant for broken bones. These meanings describe its uses and until recently it was used by families in the Aran Islands, Kerry, Limerick and other parts of the country as a poultice for healing broken bones. Comfrey was also known as Meacan dubh meaning Black Root. In rural areas the leaves were used for fattening pigs and as a fodder for cattle. The blue-flowered Comfrey was said to prevent and cure foot and mouth disease.

Comfrey is a common plant in midland counties, growing wild in ditches and damp locations. In Dublin it grows along the river at Shanganagh. This photograph was taken near Loughlinstown on the Ferndale Road and Comfrey was possibly cultivated here at one time. As well as having properties for external use in promoting the healing of broken skin and bones, etc. Comfrey can also be taken as an infusion for repairing damaged tissues in the intestines and liver. It is soothing for diarrhoea, bleeding gums, ulcers and stomach complaints. However it should not be taken for more than two weeks at a time.

Comfrey is made into a poultice by using the finely chopped leaves. Place them in a cloth bag, cheesecloth, linen or muslin. Steep in boiling water. When cooled place the poultice over the cleaned wound, scar etc. Cover with plastic bag and towel. When the poultice has dried, Comfrey can be replaced with some fresh herb. For an inflamed area a cold poultice can be used to reduce swelling. It is important to note that Comfrey does not have antiseptic properties. For this reason, any breaks in the skin should be well cleansed - otherwise the skin could heal but an underlying infection could cause problems.

A doctor at the University of Liverpool in the 1930's recorded Comfrey root as helping to heal many skin conditions including external growths and tumours. He was supported by many of his colleagues. At Liverpool Hospital, wet dressings of Comfrey were used on men with severe burns on their face, legs and arms. So successful was this treatment that it became standard procedure at the hospital.

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