Returning from an afternoon walk, I spotted my neighbor, Mike Braal, tossing feed to the birds. His bag contained a coarsely ground suet compliments of one of the local grocery stores. Mike has always fed the birds and because of it I think they call his place home. He’s a naturalist at heart and in part, by profession. He’s a winter ski and snowshoe guide at a nearby guest ranch and in the summer he’s the captain of his own eco-tourism boat off the coast of southern Alaska. Several years ago we joined him for a week of touring around Gustavus and Glacial Bay National Park, Alaska. We watched grizzly hunt for salmon, cooked up halibut and crab for dinner, and enjoyed 500 year old glacial ice in our water glasses at night.
As we waved to one another, Mike asks, “Where are your snowshoes?”
I answer backed, “I broke my toe. I can’t go out in my boots, but my running shoes seem to work for at least a walk.”
In a thoughtful voice he asked, “Have you ever tried comfrey?”
“No, I haven't.”
He told me an old friend, who’s a massage therapist, recommended it to her clients who had broken bones, sprains, and bruises. He said, “Just make up a pot of comfrey tea and soak your foot in it. I usually collect it from the old garden out back. I’m sure you’ve seen it around here in the summer.”
I admit my lack of knowledge about comfrey and say, “I’ll look for it next summer. But I’m going to town tomorrow. Maybe I can find some at Bamboo Market(a natural health food store).”
Comfrey is a perennial herb with large broad hairy leaves and small bell shaped flowers ranging in color from white to pink to purple. The plant is native to Europe and parts of Asia and has been cultivated since 400 B.C. Its common name is “knitbone,” derived from one of its most common uses as a poultice to treat burns, bruises, swelling, and broken bones. Comfrey is considered toxic to the liver if taken orally as a supplement and has been banned for that purpose in the United States since 2001.
After catching up with the rest of our mid-winter lives, I headed on home. No sooner had I taken my shoes off than Griz started barking. I opened the door to find Mike driving up. Rolling down his window he said, “I checked to see what I had and I have plenty.”
I reached out to take a gallon jar filled two-thirds full of dried comfrey leaves.
“How many should I use? Are you sure you have enough?”
“I’ve got plenty at home. Go ahead and use it all. Just crush some of it up and pour hot water over it.”
After dinner I made Mike’s comfrey tea and enjoyed soaking my broken toe.
I never know what I’ll discover when I meet Mike on the road. Sometimes a critique of politics, sometimes an invitation to ski at the guest ranch where he works, or sometimes Mike’s making a delivery of canned salmon he caught and prepared on his boat in Alaska. In our meeting I enjoy our knowing one another for over twenty-five years: the naturalist, the guide, the fisherman, and today my herbalist offering the comfort of his summer harvest of comfrey.
To learn more about Mike’s charter tours in Alaska go to: http://www.whalebaycharters.com/