Wild Comfrey

Cynoglossum virginianum

The genus name for Wild Comfrey, Cynoglossum, can be translated as “dog’s tongue”. The name refers to the shape of the plant’s leaves, which are ovate to narrowly elliptical, smooth on the edges, and 2 to 8 inches long —just like a dog’s tongue! In fact, another common name for this native plant is Blue Houndstongue.

Comfrey
Flowering wild comfrey or blue houndstongue

You will find wild comfrey growing in the forest, or along forest roads and paths, in late spring and early summer. It is a simple plant that begins life as a basal rosette of soft green, oval leaves. It soon puts up a tall stalk that rises above the lower leaves to a height of 2 feet or more. The stalk bears alternating leaves that are narrowly elliptic, with heart-shaped bases that clasp the stem. The stalk, leaves, and petioles are covered with bristly hairs.

ComfreyAt the top of the stalk is a coiled-up inflorescence. As it unwinds, flower buds develop. Each bud produces one small flower, blue to white in color, each with five fused petals that form a tube. The small mouth of the tube is crowned by a white ring.

These tiny flowers (less than 0.5 inches across) are not showy, and they open slowly over time. Consequently, the blooming period for wild comfrey can go unnoticed. If you do happen to find it in bloom, get close enough to observe the details. You’ll discover a strong resemblance between comfrey flowers and common, garden forget-me-nots. (They are in the same family.) Later in the season, each flower will eventually be replaced by a 4-sided, bristly seed pod. (See photos below.)

Although wild comfrey has several historic medicinal uses, the plant is considered toxic in large quantities and the fruits can cause skin irritation for some people. Use caution.

Also note: Despite very similar common names, Wild comfrey is not the same thing as Common comfrey. The latter is in a different genus (Symphytum officinale), but both are in the borage family.

 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. So that’s what wild comfrey looks like! Charming little things, aren’t they? I’m somewhat familiar with comfrey as a cultivated herb from reading stories set in Colonial America and old English novels but could never find it in the nurseries here. I suppose I could try ordering seeds but I really don’t do well getting them to germinate.

  2. Katha Bollfrass says:

    Found one in bloom late last month while pulling garlic mustard in old growth forest at Montpelier

    1. Gloria says:

      Nice! We are a bit behind up here in the mountains. Wild Comfrey is in bloom now (mid-May).

  3. katha bollfrass says:

    Thanks for your posts.  Always enjoy them.I came across one in bloom late April while pulling garlic mustard in old growth forest at Montpelier.

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