Ask the Perfumer 5/12/2013 – Mothers, Herbs and of course, Fragrance

by | May 12, 2013 | Herbalism | 17 comments

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!  I offer that greeting to all females, because we are blessed with the mothering ‘gene’ from the earliest age, so I honor every female on this day.  Today I’m going a little off-topic, and honoring a plant that I regard as the most mothering, comforting, healing plant: comfrey, aka Symphytum officinale in the botanical world.  Please feel free to ask your perfumery questions, that’s the purpose of this forum, and I’d love you to take you on a little side trip to my other love, herbalism (and aromatherapy, too).

A comfrey salve recipe from

Click to enlarge: A comfrey salve recipe from 

I started to reconnect with comfrey and my decades of herbal study a few weeks ago when I attended a comfrey salve workshop at the local urban farm Earth N Us given by Julia Onnie-Hay of Bless Botanicals.  I went home with a jar of salve we made that day, and it came in handy yesterday.  Let me give a little backstory.

My intuition told me it was time to reconnect with herbalists, they’re always lovely people, and I felt I had neglected my herbalism for too long.  Then, Julia’s workshop popped up, and I loved it. Well, yesterday, against my inner voice, I decided to go to several yard sales.  It was hot, steamy, and despite my inner voice, I went. And I fell, and hurt both knees and sprained a big toe.  My knees started swelling before I made it back to my car.  At home, I immediately started putting Julia’s salve on my injured parts, and also some of a great herbal/aromatherapy pain relief oil I make.

I did the RICE routine without the C (compression): rest, ice and elevation. Started around noon, kept it up until bedtime. I dug out some dried comfrey root pieces from my apothecary stash, poured hot water over them, blended them, and started to make poultices.  Luckily, I had a lot of 4×4″ gauze bandages left from when my mother was living with me (mothers day bonus!) and gauze tape, and I rubbed some salve on, sprinkled some of my pain relief oil on the root smush on the gauze pads, and taped them on.  Hobbled back and forth to the freezer for the ice packs, and just chilled, thinking about the lessons in listening to “inner voices” can bring.

I don’t regret the fall: it taught me a big lesson!  I’ve been soured on garage sales for some time, and this was a bit NO! against me going to any more.  Don’t ask me why I’ve soured.  Maybe it’ll protect me in the future from bringing home a desk infested with termites, which happened once.  I truly have not found any treasures at them, so they’re in my past now. For sure.

What’s really in my future now is a return to my herbal roots (pun intended!).  I have to give thanks to Jeanne Rose, author of Herbs and Things (among many other books on healing) for first turning me on to comfrey in 1975.  It was her enthusiastic sharing of information and stories that first made me love that plant. Time advances to 2013 and a new herbalist, a young master of the flowers, leaves and roots enters my life: I loved how Julia called the comfrey plants “her” at the workshop, and reminded us to ask “her” for permission to harvest some leaves.  Women helping and educating women about herbs – a perfect theme for Mother’s Day!

Everyone who’s had a bad fall knows that the pain and stiffness are far worse the next day, and pretty bad for days afterwards. When I’ve fallen in the past few yeas, I’ve used my oil, and RICE, but never had the results I had today.  Before I got out of bed today, I realized, upon flexing my knees and big toe, that 90% of the pain was gone!  Yes, my knees are stiff, but the pain is negligible.  My toe started to hurt a big when I walked around doing morning stuff, so I’m still going to rest today, but know that my knees are not swollen, my toe is no longer swollen and discolored, and I’m as happy as can be.  Lessons learned, old ways revived, and a great relaxed feeling. Happy Mother’s Day everyone!


  1. Hemla

    wow, Anya, I’m so happy to hear of your smooth recovery. may it continue to heal as quickly and smoothly.
    You’ve reminded me of how much I love Comfrey too, and I think it would do well in my garden, I will look into finding a plant to bring home.


  2. Mary H Anderson

    Thank you for this great article, Anya. Yes, comfrey has bee in my thoughts for awhile also since I had learned of its great healing powers and it is usually not readily available. I acquired some dried herb a few months ago and was going to use it as a tea to drink. Would you please recommend any other ways to use the dried comfrey? And, where would I find the live herb so I could grow it myself? I live in So. CA and have not seen it in any nurseries. Hope your recovery is speedy and complete.

    • Anya

      Hi Mary:

      I wouldn’t advise drinking it as a tea, due to the alkaloid question. You can google it. I use it as a first aid remedy, so it’s only occasional use. The leaf is also good for poultices. Comfrey needs a ‘winter’ rest to *not* develop the alkaloids, IIRC. I’d only use my plant in an extreme emergency, since I’m in Miami. it doesn’t grow like comfrey grows in temperate zones, it just kinds of sits in one spot, although I did see a big stand of it at the Earth N Us farm. See if there are any herb nurseries and call them to see about obtaining the plant. They’ll know if it does well there. If not, try Mountain Rose Herbs. I buy mine from them: organic, great prices. I just ordered two pounds of the powdered root, and one of the leaf. I’m going to make some emergency ‘flat’ poultices and freeze them, and free the unused comfrey in jars.


      • Mary H Anderson

        Thank you so much, Anya, for your suggestions.

  3. einsof

    just wanted to add my voice to the celebration of motherhood. <3

    (and quicksilver healing!!)

    random Comfrey trivia: the trademark flower of Aveda is the Comfrey.

    • Anya

      Hi einsof:

      Thanks for stopping by. I have to go out and water (mother) some of my plants, wish me well navigating the steps! I just went to Aveda – that little five-leaf image is comfrey? Didn’t know that. Didn’t see a flower.


  4. Sheree Tompkins

    Greetings Anya,

    Love your story and I also love comfery. I’ve always had some growing no matter where I’ve lived in the past and found it grows well just about anywhere! It’s such a valuable plant to have in the garden. I infuse it along with poplar balsam and arnica for use it in my Sports Rub .

    Just curious….I bought a Heliotrope plant the other day because the blossoms smell so wonderful. The fragrance reminds me a bit of baby powder scent with a touch of vanilla thrown in. I got to wondering if there is an essential oil or absolute made with the flowers and did an online search but I am not finding anything other than from the Indian import sites which I do not trust. So, I thought perhaps you would know if there is in fact, a true floral absolute made from this plant and if so, where one might find it.

    All good things,

  5. Suzinn

    Happy Mother’s Day to all women who love and nurture people, animals, plants and more…
    Hope your feeling better Anya!
    My alley is INVESTED with giant blue flower comfrey and I’m trying to keep it from getting into my yard because it smothers out other plants. Good to know I can use parts of the plant as I dig it up. A friend told me that I can use the leaves as a good fertilizer in my veggie beds by ripping them up and burying them mid way into the soil where they release nutrients. Just make sure that none of the roots or flower heads are attached to prevent infestation.
    I admit to loving the beautiful blue flowers and as we have 4 beehives on the block I’m happy to see that all our bees love this plant too. I’ve left clumps of it here and there and as I have time I’ll experiment with making salve.
    Thanks good care!

    • Anya

      Hi Suzinn:

      Sounds like you have the hybrid S. officinale x uplandium (Russian comfrey). Here’s lots more info but I really advise to visit trusted herbal sites.

      It’s great as an animal food, too!

      Just make sure you wear globes when harvesting leaves, because they’re quite bristly. The bristles dissolve with cooking, or when ‘smashing’ the fresh leaves for a raw leaf poultice.


  6. Sheree

    Thanks for the heads up on the heliotrope plant. I was aware that it is poisonus. Since it will not survive the winters here, I will keep it as a potted house plant; up and out of reach of my dogs. I would be devistated if one of my goats or dogs ate it and got sick or worse….died!
    Hope you had a blessed day,

  7. Anna

    I have yard full of comfrey and I’m glad for the post to remind me to use the beautiful stuff! I have used the plant for paper making and that was quite fun! I shall now use the roots too.
    Thanks again,

  8. Patti Grinds

    Comfrey is abundant in the PNW, When “decocting” the roots for a powerful wound repair, be very careful to clean the wound well, the plant will literally heal your skin quickly “over” any debris/dirt you’ve overlooked. April 2013 my second trip to Peru and the Amazon, this time I picked up an Amoeba and landed in a hospital when I’d left there and went on to Cusco. The use of plants through out Peru are just so beautiful, I collapsed in a public market place and those women dove under their tables grabbbing various herbs they surounded my face with, something so strong it then burned but I was able to get up. When I discharged and a few days later could fly and back at Lima, the tour company I used, had us picked up at the airport, rather than spend 12 hours shopping we got a motel room for the day to return to the airport to fly. I was still very ill, he went to his physician uncles house, boiled down a certain apple and returned with warm apple fluid and a fresh apple, like a cross between an apple and papaya nearly, still trying to find out the name of that apple, working on it. The relief was seconds, it’s different from our species here. I again spent time with the healer in the amazon, and learned the name of what it was he used that faded out a large red spot I had from pregnancy (I had had it 27 years, he saw it and smeared something on it, that within a few days was fading out never to return as large and vivid as before- so much for the OB/GYN telling me there was nothing that could be done) i tracked that down this time, It is
    The sap from the Bellaco Caspi C tree. That’s all I’ve got. And Anya a list a 7 plants fermented into rum for Arthritis- which you drink. I get better every day, but this time, I was very sick with the Amoeba I picked up, followed by or exacerbated by, or which also led to altitude sickness etc.
    I have to get back and finish my journey again, Peru draws me like a magnet, I just treasure the few days in the Amazon, I need “unscheduled much longer period, like a few months. A problem with comfrey I have been known to issue a challenge, when not in bloom the leaves look a lot like foxglove, an untrained eye can confuse them easily, only the use of the foxglove is fatal. People here do drink tea of the leaves of comfrey however as an infusion. My challenge is to lay down a leaf of each and ask my challengee which is which? it’s a quick education. both grow prolifcally around my property.

  9. Eileen

    Me too I have to reconnect with my astrological and naturalist societies too. They have helped me a lot to guide my life to the right direction. I like herbals because I did not wanted to take much medine and quemicals to be healthy and fit. The herbalist are a fun and or practical group to be with!

    • Eileen

      Oh also I fortgot to say about your comment about the “feet”. Take care of your “feet”. Healing has begun….the feet is symbol of Picics the 12th house of healing! When it hurts means “I need support”. We will support you…most of natural perfumer are already learning herbology. It will be a balance venture! Picics and Virgo balance!

  10. Donna

    Anya I am so glad I found your site! Or more correctly your site found me!
    Just recently I have become enarmoured with all things plants – finally realizing consciously that each carry specific vibrations/energies endowed by the Creator. Have never ever been interested in a garden but all of a sudden I have the strongest desire to plant, tend, and honor ……trying to figure out which plants I should choose for my magical garden.
    Just by spending moments on your site I realize I have discovered a wealth of information. Thanks!

    • Anya

      Hi Donna:

      I started the blog here in December, but I have five years of blogging archived at if you wish to visit there. LOTS on plants!



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