Sunday, September 18, 2011

Comfrey: Part 1, Natural Dyeing

Comfrey [Symphytum officinale] is a most useful plant.    We were lucky enough to inherit a couple of wild-ish ones when we moved here.    I say wild-ish because I'm pretty darned sure that the previous owners didn't know what they were, and I know they didn't plant it, but it's not the kind of thing that shows up by itself.   Someone, sometime planted it.

Then it was neglected.  Ignored.  Abused, even.   Poor thing.

But here's the deal:  These things don't die.   They are some of the toughest plants I have ever seen.   Seriously.    When I put in the veg garden, I laid gravel walks.   I dug up one of these that had been in the middle of the path and put 4 inches of gravel on it. 

It lived.   It thrived.  It grew up through the gravel and stayed put.   It didn't die even this summer when it was 9 million degrees and the sun beat down on it for months at a time.    I'd like to be that tough. 

As you can see in the pic above, these are beautiful leafy plants.   They have a wonderful flowers and some day I'll find my photos of them and show you.   Hopefully by the time I write up Comfrey:  Part 2, Medicinal Herb.   Hopefully. 

We used comfrey leaves in our natural dye study group to see what kind of color we could get. 

The pics aren't great, but they give you an idea of what we got.   Lovely sage greens and tan!

Notice that the samples on the left are a lot lighter than the samples on the right.   You're looking at the difference between how this particular dye takes on cellulose fibers [left] and protein fibers [right].    With comfrey, it makes a big, big difference.     With other dyes, like osage orange, it isn't nearly so noticeable.

The cellulose samples were so light, the only color on there was probably from the mordants.

Next time we try it we're going to use alum acetate to treat the cellulose stuff to get better colors.   Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, the protein fibers look wonderful.   [They're greener in person than they are in the pic - a beautiful sage-y green.]

Comfrey dyes more than just fibers.  I've been reading up on using natural stuff to color hand made soap with and comfrey is the most recommended material to use for green.   Here's a tutorial at  

By the way, if you haven't looked at Jenny Dean's Wild Color website, go there now!   You'll find a wealth of great information and beautiful colors from all kinds of natural dyes.


  1. I may have to buy some undyed yarn to try this! Our chickens don't seem to care much for comfey.

  2. Actually, forget the yarn...think I'll try it on handmade soap instead. ;)

  3. Comfrey has tons of good uses: helps wounds heal, helps burns, blisters, inflammation, and can also be used for respiratory and digestive disorders. My RS President has studied herbs for many years and taught a class on them. She showed us how to made a poultice out of comfrey. It's an amazing "weed"!!!!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...