This was the documentation for my (winning) entry for the A&S Open Competition at Michaelmas. I have added the two missing pieces of information mentioned in the judging notes (ie. why did you use almond oil and how did you decide on proportions of wax/oil).
This is my second year of growing comfrey in my garden. From a 2 inch tall purchased seedling in spring 2015 it is now a substantial and healthy plant.
It is not a difficult plant to grow (indeed it’s more difficult to stop it from growing everywhere). In John Gerard’s Herball (1597), from which the image below is taken, he notes: “Comfrey joyeth in waterie ditches, in fat and fruitful meadowes. They grow all in my garden.”
Comfrey was a common plant listed in monastery and infirmary gardens. Its common names of knitbone and bruisewort point to its uses to treat injury.
Gerard recommends several approaches to ingesting comfrey: crushed roots with wine for inward wounds, boiled to clear the lungs of phelgm, and “the slimie substance of the roote made in a posset of ale, and given to drinke against the paine in the backe, gotten by any violent motion, as wrestling, or over much use of women.”
Modern science revealed that the healing power of comfrey is due to its high allantoin and rosmaranic acid content, which promote cell growth and have anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately science also found that comfrey also contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can potentially cause severe liver injury when taken orally. It is thus only recommended for short-term topical use. Hence my decision to create a salve.
The creation of salves and creams using infused olive oil and beeswax dates back to at least 2nd century Greece, when Galen is credited with “inventing” cold cream. Galen writes about the use of oil and wax salves 200 years earlier at the court of Cleopatra.
Gerard says that many beneficial plants can be “stamped and boyled with oyIe, wax and Turpentine” and applied to injuries. As turpentine can cause contact allergies for many people I have left it out to avoid itchy A&S judges!
I followed the simple guidance of the book Beeswax Alchemy, by Petra Ahnert for making salves. She suggests using 4 parts infused oil to 1 part beeswax. I did this by eye rather than exactly.
I dried and crushed comfrey leaves, then slowly heated them in almond oil for 12 hours in a slow cooker. Almond oil was chosen because it was available in period and has minimal scent of its own (and also because I had some left over from making rose and lavender oils). The filtered oil was a deep green.
I grated beeswax, melted it, then added the infused oil. I poured into glass jars to cool and set.
The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes, John Gerard, 1597
Herbs and Healers from the Ancient Mediterranean through the Medieval West, Essays in Honor of John M. Riddle, Edited by Anne Van Arsdall, Timothy Graham, 2012 – Routledge
Beeswax Alchemy, Petra Ahnert, 2015, Quarry Books
The United States National Library of Medicine: https://livertox.nlm.nih.gov/Comfrey.htm
University of Maryland Medical Centre: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/comfrey