Using Comfrey Salve for Injured Poultry
Learning how to make a comfrey salve for chickens and ducks is easy. Comfrey salve is such a useful item to have around — everyone should have a jar of it on hand. Make one for your backyard chickens and one for yourself! Let’s look first at the plant: What is comfrey? How do you grow it? What benefits does it offer?
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a fast-growing perennial herb in the borage family with large, bristly leaves.
The plant puts down a large black taproot and grows to up to four feet tall. The leaves at the base of the plant can be a foot long and get progressively smaller toward the top of the stem. Make sure to leave plenty of room for it to grow. Bell-shaped flowers can be white, pink, or purple. Though there are more than 30 species of comfrey, the most frequently used for medicinal purposes are common comfrey and Russian comfrey.
How to Grow Comfrey
Comfrey plants can be purchased at some nurseries or new plants can be cultivated from root cuttings if you know someone who already has a plant. Just one inch of root, best harvested when the plant has gone dormant, will grow into a new plant.
Because comfrey grows profusely, it benefits from an application of manure or compost for added nitrogen during the growing season.
Native to northern and central Europe, comfrey seems to do well in damp ground. It is a vigorous plant, though, and will adapt to most soil types. Once established, comfrey can be difficult to get rid of so pick a spot where it can stay for the long haul!
Comfrey Uses & Benefits
Comfrey is often included on a good healing herbs list. Common names for this useful plant, such as boneset or bruisewort, point to its medicinal uses in the treatment of sprains, bumps, and bruises. According to the National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs, “Comfrey contains allantoin, a chemical that helps tissues to regenerate and heal, and rosmarinic acid, an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving compound”(2010, pg. 215). Comfrey seems to promote healing while also relieving discomfort.
That said, there is also an important concern about an alkaloid contained in the plant, which is toxic to the liver. It is not recommended that comfrey is ingested or applied to large open wounds. There are also some commercially available comfrey options which manage to remove most of these alkaloids while preserving the medicinal qualities of the plant.
After reading that warning, you may be thinking, “why would I want to learn how to make a comfrey salve for chickens?” I keep a jar handy by our coop for small injuries or cuts. My most common use for comfrey salve is when a chicken has gotten pecked by her fellow flockmates. It is usually a small wound but seeing the blood on it only causes the bird to be pecked more. I have found that if I smear a dollop of comfrey salve on the wound, not only does it heal faster, but the petroleum jelly helps hide the color of the wound, so the bird doesn’t get further pecked.
I also keep a jar handy with my gardening tools. I find the comfrey salve helps sooth small scratches on my hands and arms from handling plants. I also smear a little on bug bites.
On a lighter note, a friend once gave me a book entitled Flowerspeak: The Flower Whisperer’s Guide to Health, Happiness, and Awakening (Elizabeth M. Patric, 2012). This book described the power of comfrey to unify heart and soul and improve our ability to nurture. It states, “I am ideal for a mother raising her children or for a pet owner longing to bring out the most nurturing aspects of his/her personality such that the animal will thrive” (pg. 73). Who knows, maybe adding a little comfrey salve to your routine will help you generally in the nurturance of your flock!
How to Make a Comfrey Salve for Chickens
Every chicken keeper eventually ends up with a bird exhibiting sick chicken symptoms or a wound of some kind. It’s important to keep some first aid supplies handy. It’s good to learn how to make a comfrey salve for chickens to include small scrapes and bruises. To begin, you’ll need to harvest either leaves or root. I usually use leaves because they are easier to harvest. You’ll need a half cup dried so pick about twice that fresh. It is commonly believed that the first leaves of spring are higher in the dangerous alkaloids described above, so pick those leaves and dispose of them. Use your later pickings to make your salve.
You can dry your leaves several ways. If you have lots of time, hang them in bunches to dry in a well-ventilated space. You can also dry them in the oven at a very low temperature.
My preferred method is to use my dehydrator. I wash and dry my leaves, then line several trays, leaving room between them for the air to circulate well. Within an hour or two, I have perfectly dried leaves.
Crumble your dried leaves with your hands, in a mortar and pestle, or by putting them in a baggie and crushing them.
Once you have your dried comfrey, you’ll need to melt one cup of Vaseline in a small pan over low heat. It melts fairly quickly even at a very low heat.
Add a half cup of the crumbled, dried leaves (or if you’re using root, add two tablespoons). Stir and let the mixture cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes.
Strain out the leaves by setting a fine mesh strainer over a bowl or jar. Take care as the oil will be very hot at this point! Pour your comfrey salve into a lidded jar while still warm and viscous. Let it come to room temperature before covering.
Clean-Up Tip: The easiest way to clean kitchen tools that have been used for Vaseline is to wipe them with a paper towel before using a grease-cutting soap like Dawn for washing.
A Floral Variation
Try this variation, especially if you’re making a batch for your own use. Melt one cup of Vaseline. Stir in one tablespoon each of dried calendula petals, dried lavender buds, and dried comfrey leaves.
Simmer 20 minutes then strain. Store at room temperature salve in a covered jar.
Calendula, too, has anti-inflammatory properties. It helps the body form new tissue to seal wounds and may inhibit some types of bacteria. Lavender comes from the Latin word “lavare” — to wash. Its antiseptic properties have long been used to cleanse wounds and speed healing.
A special thank you to my friend and neighbor Rita Heikenfeld for giving me my first comfrey plant and sharing her salve recipe.