Bryce Wylde and Frankie Flowers On Growing Purposeful Gardens
Spring isn’t far away. April is the perfect time to plan your garden. Whether you are a novice or have a green thumb, a garden offers a number of health-promoting virtues. Plants don’t just provide great nutrition – we all need to eat more of them – they help promote healing in cases of non life- threatening common ailments.
I recently collaborated on a book with my good friend Frank Ferragine aka “Frankie Flowers”. The goal was to demonstrate how to grow your own remedies: organic and local alternatives to over-prescribed drugs and expensive health store cures. It turned out to be a perfect partnership: I explain how and why each plant is used in medicine, and Frankie shows you how to grow them at home in an all-new book we called Power Plants.
Neither Frankie nor I see gardening as a chore, or even a job—we never have. We find tilling, weeding, and growing to be relaxing, rewarding, and enjoyable. And in fact, the latest research supports our notion showing that gardening really does help you “ground” yourself (excuse the pun!) and manage the stress of day-to-day life.
Our new DIY guide “Power Plants” combines our expertise and our passions to create an instructional guide—step by step, plant by plant, ailment by ailment, recipe by recipe—to help you achieve better health. It includes profiles of 49 different plants with medicinal value, all of which can be grown at home by anyone with modest gardening skills.
Having your own garden – whether it is in your backyard, on your porch, or even in pots indoors – means you’ll know exactly where your food and medicinal plants came from: they won’t have travelled thousands of miles, and you can be certain that no chemicals, growth hormones, synthetic fertilizers, or preservatives have been used. And your garden won’t just benefit your health: it will also give you the sense of ownership and pride that comes with being your own urban farmer.
Here is an exclusive sneak peek at what you can expect from Power Plants to get you thinking about your garden. It’s nearly time to get growing!
This book is full of our favourite power plants, but one we suspect will become popular due to its many uses is comfrey. It’s easy to grow and can be used as a wonderful natural cure for the unavoidable bumps, scrapes, bruises, and incidental injuries that come about when people get more active in the spring months . Comfrey is a member of the borage family (Boraginaceae), which also includes forget-me-nots. It is a large plant (2 to 5 feet/½ to 1½ metres tall) with broad, hairy leaves and purplish, blue, or white flowers. Native to Europe, it has long been cultivated for its remarkable healing properties and for use as an organic fertilizer. Its Latin name, Symphytum, is derived from the Greek symphyo, meaning to “grow together,” and its folk names include bruisewort, boneset, and knitbone.
Comfrey is nature’s answer to the Band-Aid. In the past, its leaves were sterilized in boiling water and applied directly to wounds to reduce swelling and bruising, and even to promote rapid healing of broken bones. Comfrey’s ability to help heal wounds comes from a compound called allantoin (present in both the leaves and roots), which is believed to reduce inflammation and promote new cell growth.
Modern science seems to back up traditional beliefs. In one study, for example, a 35% comfrey cream applied topically to ankle sprains was very effective even when compared with anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical creams.
In the past, comfrey was also taken orally for gastrointestinal, respiratory, and gynecological concerns. However, it is now known that the plant contains toxic compounds, and it is listed as “topical use only” in herbal and medical textbooks.
Growing comfrey is easy. It is perennial – zones 4 to 9 and for best results sow seeds directly into garden in early spring or purchase transplants in mid-spring. Comfrey needs full to part sun and the soil type is variable. It will grow in clay. Comfrey is a hardy perennial that is extremely easy to grow: its vigorous roots will even break through clay. It blooms throughout the summer and spreads rapidly, so it will thrive in most gardens. But Frankie Flowers heeds a word of warning: comfrey is a big plant that will easily grow ½ to 1 metre (2 to 3 feet) tall and wide and can take over its location.
Comfrey should be located in the middle or at the rear of a garden, since this large plant has been known to shade out its medicinal friends. Comfrey is propagated from seed, root cuttings, crown divisions, and transplants. Plant it in mid-spring after the risk of hard frost, or directly sow seeds in the ground in early spring, as soon as soil is workable. Divide plants in early spring or early fall. For best results, locate common comfrey in full sun in rich, well-drained soil and space 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 feet) apart.
The biggest challenge with growing comfrey is getting it established: after that it will take care of itself. Water deeply and infrequently, ensuring new transplants never dry out. Regular applications of general-purpose water-soluble fertilizer or compost tea will also help.
Once established (give it about a year), comfrey is extremely winter-hardy, drought-resistant, and unlikely to be bothered by diseases or insects, but inspect it occasionally and remove any brown side shoots as necessary. Ensure adequate airflow by not over-planting.
Harvest mature plants only: wait for a plant height of at least 60 cm (2 feet) before cutting leaves. Harvest during mid-morning on a sunny day after the dew has dried. Wear gloves as the plant’s hairy leaves have been known to cause rashes.
Remove entire stalks by cutting to just above the base of the plant. You should not harvest more than a third of the plant at a time, but comfrey is an incredibly tough plant that will bounce back even after aggressive harvesting. In fact, it will produce additional growth and can be harvested up to 3 times per season.
Dry the stalks and leaves by hanging them upside down in a dry space out of direct light (the garage will do). Comfrey has dense foliage and will take longer to dry than other herbs. After drying, store the foliage in airtight containers or sealed bags out of direct sun.
There is a lot you can do with comfrey especially in the spring and summer months.
Roll an ankle? Sit down and get comfrey! You don't have to be an athlete or weekend warrior to sprain an ankle—just walking over a curb or an uneven surface can end up in a painful ankle roll. It is always best to start treatment for this type of injury with ice, but after several minutes it’s time to slip into something a bit more “comfrey.” This poultice will work on more than just a sprained ankle: apply to any sprained, strained, bruised, or battered body part.
Collect about 20 fresh comfrey leaves. In a food processor, chop the leaves and add enough water to make a thick soup . Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add enough psyllium husk (unflavoured Metamucil) to make a thick and sticky “porridge.”
Divide the mixture in half and spoon equal amounts into an old pair of socks. Flatten the poultice within the socks and seal the tops using elastic bands. Apply the socks to both sides of your hurt ankle and cover with plastic wrap to hold the socks in place and prevent leaking. Leave on for 15 minutes. Do not re-apply more than hourly, and no more than 4 times in one day.
Trauma? Rub on some relief! Comfrey cream should be in everyone’s first-aid kit. It can bring comfort to aching arthritic joints and sore muscles without the strong smell of most topicals—and it’s easy to make your own!
10 fresh comfrey leaves
¼ cup coconut oil
5 tablespoons beeswax
In a blender, purée the comfrey leaves with enough water to get a thick, soupy consistency. In a glass or stainless steel bowl over a small pot of boiling water (acting as a double boiler), melt the coconut oil and beeswax. Add the puréed comfrey and mix thoroughly. Transfer to a resealable glass jar (like a small Mason jar). Once the cream has cooled and solidified, apply it liberally to the affected area .
If you can’t wait to grow your own—or you don’t have the ability to do so—then Fast forward to the health food store to purchase Comfrey Compound or equivalent. Gaia Herbs makes a great commercially available product. Follow the instructions on the label.
Many countries, including Canada and the United States, have banned oral medicines containing comfrey. Comfrey (especially the roots) contains potentially dangerous pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Avoid ingesting comfrey, as these compounds are toxic to the liver.
Just as with calendula cream, do not use comfrey on deep, puncture-type wounds, as it can cause the skin to heal over and seal infection inside.
Comfrey should also be avoided if you are allergic or hypersensitive to any member of the borage family (Boraginaceae). If you have never used comfrey it may be prudent to first test your sensitivity by firmly rubbing a leaf on the skin of your inner wrist. If a rash or irritation presents, do not use.
Power plants is available in bookstores everywhere and on Amazon.ca