I've been experimenting with making and using infused herbal oils lately, so here's my recipe for a healing oil and salve made from Comfrey and Plantain. But first, a few interesting notes about these wonderful plants!
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Comfrey is a magnificent plant, although somewhat unruly. It grows about 3 feet high and almost as wide, and can send its root down to a depth of 10 feet! I used to regard it almost as a pest, but since learning how to put it to good use I've grown quite fond of it.
Being ignorant of its uses for several years, I never dreamed of using it topically and actually avoided handling it as much as possible, since the whole plant is, as Gerard says, "rough and pricking withall, something hairie, and that being handled, make the hands itch". I have since learned that it "contains great virtues".
Traditionally, it was used internally for stomach ulcers and internal bleeding but is now considered toxic by most. However, it is still widely used as a poultice and in salves to speed the healing of cuts, sores, bruises, and burns, and I have read some pretty amazing testimonies to its healing powers on broken bones as well. I have used it myself on some minor cuts and bug bites and it really does work!
It is also a lovely plant in the flower garden if you have space, and is beloved by bees!
Plantain (Plantago major)
That pesky little weed that grows in most lawns is actually very useful, and quite fascinating if you love finding references to familiar plants in literature like I do!
It is a native of Europe and parts of Asia but has spread throughout most of the world. Mrs. Grieve writes: "The Broad-leaved Plantain seems to have followed the migrations of our colonists to every part of the world, and in both America and New Zealand it has been called by the aborigines the 'Englishman's Foot' (or the White Man's Foot), for wherever the English have taken possession of the soil the Plantain springs up". Longfellow refers to this in The Song of Hiawatha:
"Whereso'er they tread, beneath them
Springs a flower unknown among us,
Springs the White-man's Foot in blossom."
I have noticed that it really seems to prefer areas of our yard where we walk the most. Maybe it just likes us!
The plantain has been used for centuries as a remedy for wounds, broken bones, and even snake bites. In The New Family Herbal (ca. 1863) Robinson writes: "It is remarkable that it is the chief remedy for the cure of the rattlesnake, for which discovery an Indian received a great reward from the assembly of South Carolina". Mrs. Grieve also recounts an incident when a dog who was bitten by a rattlesnake was cured after a mixture of plantain juice and salt was applied to the wound.
Shakespeare mentions it twice in his plays as an excellent remedy for a broken shin...
Moth: "A wonder, master! here's a costard broken in a shin."
Adriano de Armado: " Some enigma, some riddle: come, thy l'envoy; begin."
Costard: "No enigma, no riddle, no l'envoy; no salve in the
mail, sir: O, sir, plantain, a plain plantain! no
l'envoy, no l'envoy; no salve, sir, but a plantain!"
~Love's Labour's Lost
Romeo: "Your plantain-leaf is excellent for that."
Benvolio: "For what, I pray thee?"
Romeo: "For your broken shin."
~Romeo and Juliet
Whether it really is helpful in either of these maladies I do not know, but the plantain is still highly esteemed for its antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties, which make it useful in treating cuts, sores, burns, insect bites, etc. From the many recipes I've seen in old herbals, it seems to have been combined with comfrey quite often.
Comfrey/Plantain Oil and Salve
The first step is to make the oil. I simply picked a good handful of comfrey and plantain leaves and laid them out to wilt for a few hours (this gets rid of any excess moisture). Then chop them into small pieces and pack into the jar (I used a pint jar, but you can make as much or as little as you like!). Pour in just enough olive oil to cover all the leaves, and then heat in the oven at 170 F for about an hour. Then put the lid on, and allow it to steep for at least 2 weeks, stirring daily. I've read several different recipes with some saying to keep the jar in a dark pantry, and others saying to keep it on a sunny windowsill! Apparently, both ways will work and I really couldn't make up my mind what to do! But the solar infusion method just makes more sense to me, so I usually kept mine on a west-facing windowsill on sunny afternoons, and on the kitchen shelf the rest of the time.
On the 5th day, I opened the jar to stir it and noticed that it was starting to smell something like dead raccoon! Ugh! I assumed it had gone bad and was about to throw it out, but fortunately decided to do a little research first and found this article. Don't worry if it starts to smell bad...as long as you don't see any mold, it's probably normal. Aha! So that's why the salve recipe calls for lavender oil!
After about 2 weeks, the oil is ready to be used! Strain it through a couple layers of cheesecloth and then squeeze the leaves to get out all the oil. The finished oil is a very dark green.
To make the salve you will need:
- 1-1/2 cups finished comfrey and plantain oil
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup grated beeswax
- 3 tsp. Vitamin E oil
- 15 drops lavender essential oil (optional, but it will make it smell a lot better!)
- Small canning jars or tins (I used half-pint jars.)
*Note: You can adjust the amounts for the rest of the ingredients according to the amount of comfrey/plantain oil you have to use.
Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan over very low heat until the beeswax melts. At this point, you can take a spoonful and put it in the freezer for a couple minutes. If it firms up to the consistency you want, it's done. If not, add a little more beeswax and test it again until it's just right!
Pour the hot salve into jars (it won't take long for it to solidify).
Allow the salve to cool completely before putting the lids on. Stored in a cool, dark place, it should last from several months up to a year. Enjoy!