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Archive for the ‘Comfrey’ Category

Comfrey

 

This year I decided to choose a plant to work with closely through the changing seasons in order to get to know it deeply and help me to incorporate some of the concepts of Geothean observation into my work with plants. When finding a new plant ally the idea is to be chosen rather than to choose, to see which plants grab your attention and won’t let go and then honour that choosing, whether you get what you expected or not.

Well I certainly didn’t expect Comfrey, partly because it’s a plant I don’t often work with and partly because I had several other plants around me that I consider close allies and was expecting to be ‘chosen by’.  I’ve been interested in the idea of Goethean observation for some time as it seemed to me a wonderful way of honing our senses, learning about plants and moving beyond ourselves and our limited perceptions to connect to the wider world around us.

Goethe is best known for his literary contributions but, in fact, he was involved in the sciences too for much of his life. His work with plants was so unconventional at the time because he choose to study the species around him in their living environment, rather than dead herbarium specimens, so he could understand how they adapt and change throughout time. This idea of the ‘time-life’ of a phenomenon is a key principle of the Goethean study of plant life, helping us to understand them as changing, adaptive beings rather than something static or objectified. In this way we can be participants, rather than merely observers in their dance of becoming. The idea is to observe the plant as clearly as possible, using all our faculties, blending what Goethe called exact sense perception, or collecting all the available facts, with exact sensorial fantasy, or understanding the growth, metamorphosis and flow of a plant through a more fluid and imaginative process.

As we progress with these practices we move to a space where we can be completely open, allowing the plant to reveal something of its true nature to us through idea and inspiration. The final part of the process is described as being one with the object of perception, allowing a kind of divine meeting that Steiner referred to as “the true communion of mankind.” Drawing is seen as a useful tool in the process because it encourages us to consider all the details before us, exactly as they are experienced, rather than writing on our own perceptions.

My original plan, to draw my comfrey every day throughout the year, has proven a little too time intensive in my ever busy schedule, so I’ve settled for sitting with her every day and drawing when things are a bit less busy. Only a couple of months into the process, it has already been a remarkable one.

A page from my Comfrey notebook.

One of my first, and strongest, inspirations was what I perceived to be a beautiful example of the doctrine of signatures in the leaf of the Comfrey. Comfrey is best known as a cell proliferant, due to its allantoin content, which resulted in its traditional use as a healer for broken bones, strains and skin conditions, among other things. As many of you will know, its folk name was ‘knitbone’ reflecting this ability. However Comfrey is no longer recommended for internal use (though it’s still fine externally on unbroken skin) due to other constituents known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids, some of which may lead to hepatic veno-occlusive liver disease.  In Paul Bergner’s interesting piece on the subject, which you can view here, he explains that, “In HVOD, the cells lining the veins in the liver proliferate and choke off the veins.”

Now it may seem a little simplistic to apply the doctrine of signatures here, but to me, something in the leaves of the comfrey shows us very clearly both how it heals and how it harms, though cell proliferation, despite the fact that these actions are due to completely different chemical constituents in either case. Observe how the markings look just like cells under magnification, stacked one on top of another, growing strong and vital.

Steiner  writes “The human being cannot demand any other kind of knowledge than the one he brings forth himself.” I find this quote so empowering. It can be a challenge to trust our own inspirations and observations when working with plants and it’s so important to learn about their traditional and modern uses to get as wide a background as possible. That done however, we can start to enter into a new and less linear process, one that allows a state of inter-being to arise between ourselves and our green allies and allows whole new levels of understanding to permeate and transform our work and ourselves.

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We had a lovely evening at last week’s Potions group in which I taught about how to make your own herbal infused oils.

We made a soothing calendula oil and some salve with comfrey infused oil.

Here are some of the group straining, pouring and bottling their oils.

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Here are the notes I wrote for the class for those of you who are new to herbal infused oils, including two simple methods and some basic recipes.

Herbal Infused Oils

Oils infused with herbs are a lovely way to utilise the healing properties of plants which contain volatile oils and fats. Unlike essential oils they are easy to make at home and usually very gentle on the skin. You can use them to make massage oils, to heal skin problems, or to make lovely subtly scented balms and creams.

Plants containing volatile oils are generally those commonly used in aromatherapy. Aromatic plants such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage make lovely infused oils, as do peppermint, melissa, chamomile, rose, yarrow, juniper and pine. You can experiment with any plants that you know have a high volatile oil content.

Also plants that have a high level of other fat soluble components; including fat soluble vitamins, antioxidants, resins and saponins, can be extracted by macerating in oil. Calendula is a good example. When you pick calendula flowers you can feel how resinous and sticky they are, a good sign they will work well in oil. Other suitable plants include comfrey, St John’s wort, viola, plantain and mullein.

You can use a variety of different oils as the base, or menstrum, for the infusion. Olive is classic for the leafy herbs, sunflower is lovely for calendula, sweet almond or apricot make a great base for creams and jojoba is light and well absorbed.

How to Make Infused Oils:

The Sun Method-

  • You can generally use dried or fresh plant material when available, though some herbs, such as calendula work better as dried and others, such as comfrey, are better from fresh.
  • If using fresh herbs, pick them on a dry day after the sun has dried the morning dew.
  • Make sure you pick clean plant material from an area you can be sure has not been sprayed with chemical fertilisers. This is particularly important as you are not going to wash the plant material, you want it to be as dry as possible to prevent spoilage, though you can bush off any dirt with a soft bristled brush.
  • If using leaves such as comfrey or plantain, it’s good to let them wilt overnight to reduce some of the water content but flowers are best used fresh.
  • Chop fresh leafy herbs finely and lightly fill a completely dry jar with the material. Its important to cut the herb first as it exposes more of the plant to the oil, making for a better infusion. Flowers can be put in whole and dried herbs will most likely come already cut.
  • If using fresh herbs you can pour the oil of your choice straight on but if using dried, its nice to warm the oil first in a bain marie to get things going. Fill the jar almost to the brim with oil as an air gap will promote oxidation and spoilage.
  • Stir the contents with a wooden chopstick or glass stirring rod until all the bubbles have dispersed and cap with a lid or a piece of kitchen roll held in place with a rubber band. This works well for fresh plant material as it allows moisture to escape.
  • You can leave it to infuse on a bright sunny windowsill or in a nice warm spot such as beside the boiler or in an airing cupboard. I like doing calendula in the sun but it’s best to leave it somewhere that is consistently warm and windowsills can get cold at night which encourages condensation.
  • Stir every day for the first two weeks then leave to infuse for another two to four, that’s four to six weeks in total. Calendula and some other oils are nice to double infuse- leave for 3 weeks, strain, then fill the jar with fresh flowers and pour the partially infused oil back on top and repeat the process.
  • Don’t forget to label your jars so you remember when to strain them. Strain through a sieve covered in cheesecloth or a jelly bag. If you used fresh material it is wise to let it stand for a week and check if any water has settled in the bottom of the jar. If so pour off the oil and discard the water.
  • Bottle the resulting oil and label and date.

The Heat Infusion Method:

This is a quicker method if you need to prepare your oil for immediate use.

  • Use about 50-75g of dried herb, or 75-100g fresh herb per 300ml base oil. This is an approximate amount as some herbs are bigger and fluffier than others! Basicially you want the oil to just cover the dried herb.
  • Place the oil and herbs in a double boiler or bain marie with a tightly fitting lid over a pan of gently boiling water.
  • Allow to infuse at a continuous heat for 2 hours making sure the water does not boil away! Stir every half hour or so and check the progress of your oil.
  • Strain and bottle or repeat the process if you desire a stronger, double infused oil.
  • Always remember to label and date your products.
You can also heat infuse your oils as above in an oven on the lowest possible temperature.

Some Simple Recipes for infused Oils:

Comfrey Salve:
Ingredients:
70ml Comfrey macerated oil
25g Grated cocoa butter
5g Beeswax

  • Melt the cocoa butter and beeswax in a double boiler or bain marie over a pan of boiling water.
  • Add the comfrey oil and stir slowly until completely dissolved. Don’t allow the oil to start to bubble, turn the heat down immediately if this happens.
  • If you would like to add an essential oil then do so now, mix well and pour into jars. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours before using liberally.

Comfrey has a long history of traditional use for healing damaged tissues such as strains, sprains, broken bones and slow healing wounds. Its common name was ‘knitbone’ and it possesses profound healing capabilities which enable it to aid in the ‘knitting’ together of tissues. It may also be helpful for inflammation and rashes. Comfrey oil is not recommended for internal use or use on broken skin but you can use this salve freely for bruising or any injury of the muscles or bones. Even if you have to wear a cast you can rub the slave into the skin at the top and bottom to help the bones heal strong and healthy.

Simple St John’s Wort Lip balm for Cold Sores:
Ingredients:
60ml St John’s wort infused oil
15g Cocoa butter
15g Shea butter
10g beeswax
25 drops Melissa Essential Oil
25 drops St John’s wort tincture
25 drops Melissa tincture

  • Melt the cocoa butter, shea butter and beeswax in a bain marie over a low heat and when completely liquid add in the infused oil and mix thoroughly.
  • Add the Melissa oil and the tinctures and whisk lightly with a fork to ensure the tinctures are well mixed with the oils.
  • Pour into small jars and use liberally when you feel the first tingle coming on.

St John’s Wort and Melissa are both anti-viral and therefor helpful for treating the herpes virus that causes cold sores.

Rosemary Warming Massage Oil:

  • Infuse fresh rosemary in oil according to one of the methods detailed above.
  • To 100ml of the oil add 10 drops rosemary essential oil, 5 drops ginger, 5 drops black pepper and 5 drops cardamom.
  • This would be a wonderful oil for promoting circulation and easing sore muscles and joints.

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