Comfrey (scientific name Symphytum officinale L.) is also known as knitbone or common comfrey and belongs to the Boraginaceae family. It is a perennial herb having black roots resembling turnips and bears broad leaves with bristles. The herb is indigenous to Europe and grows in soggy and lush green areas, especially along the river banks and ditches. The flowers of this herb are bell-shaped and vary in hue from white to pink or purple. It is widely used for treating a number of conditions.
In traditional herbal medicine, this herb is used externally as a poultice to heal lesions and injuries. In addition, the herb is also used internally and consumed as a tea or a combined plant infusion, often referred to as a ‘green drink’, to cure ulcers in the stomach as well as to function as a ‘blood purifier’. Emotional advocators of comfrey, usually talk highly regarding the usefulness of the herb in healing cuts and injuries, burns, respiratory disorders pertaining to the lungs and the bronchial airways. In addition, they also claim that the herb is extremely effective in healing ulcers of the stomach, bowels, gallbladder as well as the liver. Many of them also claim that the herb is very useful in healing fractured or broken bones. It is possible that at some point of time the herb was used to heal the swelling and tenderness in the region of a fractured bone.
It is believed that any and all the remedial characteristics of comfrey perhaps owe to allantoin – an active element of the herb. Allantoin is basically a mediator that endorses propagation of cell. The herb also encloses some amounts of tannin and mucilage. The parts of the herb under the ground, especially the root, encloses around 0.6 to 0.7 per cent of allantoin and approximately 4.0 to 6.5 per cent tannin. On the other hand, comfrey leaves contain lesser amount of allantoin (approximately 0.3 per cent), but more of tannin (anything between 8.0 to 9.0 per cent). However, the roots as well as the leaves of the herb contain considerable quantities of mucilage or binding substances. Although, the advocators of the therapeutic use of this herb speak highly about the content of vitamin B12 in the herb, the fact remains that in comparison to the more traditional sources of vitamin B12, such as the liver, the presence of this substance is not really high in comfrey.
Comfrey and therapeutic preparations containing this herb are among the most common products that are being marketed among the Americans for over three decades now, but there are enough reasons to consider that using this herb or preparations containing it has a perilous effect on the overall health of the individual using it. In fact, various species of comfrey that have been examined by scientists so far have shown to contain hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), but literature on this subject is confusing owing to an obvious absence of focus on adequate botanical recognition of the different Symphytum species researched till now.
Generally, comfrey encloses mainly 7-acetylintermedine and 7-acetylly-copsamine. This is in addition to the unacetylated forerunners as well as symphytine. However, this herb does not have a rich content of echimidine, perhaps the most venomous comfrey pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA). Along with symphytine presence of six other pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), especially found in Russian comfrey, have been identified in this herb. During the back-to-the-land movement, many people endorsed the use of Russian comfrey and, ironically enough, majority of the comfrey grown in the home gardens are hybrids of the Russian comfrey. In fact, the roots of this herb enclose around ten-fold more of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) intensity compared to what is present in the leaves.
Normally, echimidine, probably the most toxic comfrey pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) is used as an indicator to find out if the samples of common comfrey are labeled appropriately. A research undertaken by Canadian scientists of 13 different commercial samples that were tagged as ‘comfrey’ or ‘comfrey/ Symphytum officinale’ exposed that as many as six of these samples actually enclosed echimidine and were, thus, in all probability not drawn from common comfrey (Symphytum officinale), but instead obtained from the prickly comfrey (Symphytum asperurn) or Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum). It may be mentioned here that the sale of all products containing echimidine are prohibited in Canada for therapeutic uses. However, owing to the absence of chemical analysis, it is always not possible to correctly verify whether any remedial herbal product actually contains this toxic element. In fact, the commercial labeling system in the country is very undependable. It needs to be emphasized here that simply because the sale of products enclosing echimidine is banned in Canada, people should not underrate the possible perils of using common comfrey, which encloses other different hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). In general, sale of any product containing the comfrey roots are now not allowed in Canada.
In fact, comfrey is often considered to be a major first aid medication. When comfrey is applied topically over a fractured bone, its prime element allantoin simply disseminates into the tissues below and helps in speeding up the healing and closing processes. Allantoin is known to encourage cell growth and, thereby, mend damaged cells. When fresh comfrey leaves or roots are topically administered to sores, injuries or ulcers, the mucilage or adhesive agents present in the herb trickles out onto the damages skin. It first dries on the wound and then coagulates and contracts bringing the sides of the damaged skin closer and also slows down contagion at the place. In places where the injury is somewhat shallow, comfrey is effective in healing the skin leaving behind a small blemish.
A poultice or balm prepared with comfrey roots may be used to heal an assortment of conditions, including blemishes, twists and strains, gout, arthritis, varicose veins, ulcers, swellings, burns and phlebitis (inflammation of veins characterized by pain, swelling and change of skin color). Again, a decoction prepared with comfrey root or an infusion prepared with the leaves of the herb serves as an effective eyewash for tender, inflamed eyes as well as a cleanser for skin conditions like eczema, acne, psoriasis and boils.
Comfrey leaves possess substantial therapeutic properties and are especially effective in healing digestive, respiratory and urinary problems. The leaves of the herb act as a comforting expectorant for dry coughs, bronchitis and pleurisy and are also used to cure tender throats and laryngitis. Comfrey is also useful for treating various conditions of the alimentary canal. The herb provides comfort as well as cures gastric and duodenal ulcers, gastritis and may also be used to lessen the inflammation responsible for dysentery, diarrhea and ulcerative colitis. As mentioned earlier, the herb is also effective for treating a number of conditions in the urinary system. It loosens up the spasm, comforts cystitis and, at the same time, helps get rid of inflammation and contagions. Herbal medicine practitioners also recommend comfrey for treating gout and arthritis. It is also used to cure other excruciating or irritated conditions like sprains, tendinitis and fractures.
Aerial parts, root.
Comfrey has several therapeutic uses. Traditionally, the herb has been prescribed for treating ulcers in stomach, an assortment of respiratory conditions, inclusive of pleurisy and bronchitis, as well as irritable bowel syndrome. For thousands of years, effectiveness of comfrey has been recognized in healing injuries, fractures as well as sprains. It has been established that the herb helps in firmly binding the ligaments to bones. When a compress prepared with comfrey is applied to a strained ankle instantly, it helps appreciably to lessen the acuteness of the damage. The presence of tannins and mucilage in the herb is effective for alleviating injuries and scratches on the body.
The oil extracted from comfrey, or lotions prepared with it, are recommended to cure acne and boils as well as alleviate the skin condition called psoriasis. In addition, the herb is also effective in healing scars.
Habitat and cultivation
Comfrey is native to Europe and thrives well in all temperate climatic regions across the globe – and this includes North America, Australia as well as the western regions of Asia. The herb grows best in soggy and marshy areas. The herb can be propagated from its seeds during spring or by root division during autumn. The leaves and the flowering acmes are usually collected during the summer months. The root of comfrey is harvested during autumn.
Several scientific researches have established that comfrey encloses an element called allantoin. Allantoin encourages cell growth and, thereby, aids in mending spoiled tissues. In addition, the herb encloses rosmarinic acid and additional phenolic acids that enable comfrey to function as an anti-inflammatory agent.
During studies undertaken to ascertain the elements present in comfrey, scientists have noticed that when pyrrolizidine alkaloids are present as solitary substances, they are extremely poisonous for the liver. However, the scientists are yet to ascertain whether pyrrolizidine alkaloids are also toxic in the perspective of the entire plant. In any case, they are present in tiny quantities in comfrey and sometimes they are totally lacking in samples of the dehydrated aerial parts of the plant. It has been found that the greatest intensity of pyrrolizidine alkaloids is in the roots of the herb. Hence, till the time the scientists are able to validate or deny the safety of using the comfrey roots, it is not recommended to use the roots or herbal products enclosing them for internal use. However, it has been established that internal use of the aerial parts of the comfrey plant is harmless. Many herbalists are of the view that the legal question raised over the safety of using comfrey as a medication requires to be secured by undertaking a more profound perception of the herb’s remedial aspects.
- Allantoin (up to 4.7%)
- Mucilage (about 29%)
- Phenolic acids (rosmarinic acid)
- Pyrrolizidine alkaloids(0.02-0.07%)
A tincture may be prepared with comfrey leaves and used to treat stomach ulcers and other conditions. This tincture may also be used to treat problems in the respiratory tract, such as bronchitis. However, it is essential to note that the tincture should be used internally with great caution and only under the supervision of a qualified herbal medical practitioner or healthcare professional. The leaves of the comfrey plant may also be utilized in preparing poultice or compress and applied externally to treat sprains or injuries. In addition, infusion oil may also be prepared with the leaves of this herb and applied topically on the skin in areas where there is a bone fracture or the bone has broken. It may also be applied on scar tissues to remove the blemishes. The infused oil prepared with comfrey leaves may also be used as a massage oil to alleviate inflexible and sore joints in people enduring arthritis conditions. As an alternative, you may also use comfrey lotion instead of the infused oil in all the conditions discussed above.
How it works in the body
Allantoin, the main element present in comfrey, promotes cell proliferation and, thus, is effective in healing the issues in our body. Allantoin is balanced by the presence of rosmarinic acid that functions as an anti-inflammatory agent. The mucilage or the substance that binds these two elements is analgesic by nature and facilitates in calming down the exasperating conditions, both on the external as well as internal parts of our body. Tannins present in comfrey function as an astringent, while the pyrrolizidine alkaloids enclosed by the herb, especially in the roots, are believed to be toxic for the liver. As the intensity of pyrrolizidine alkaloids is the maximum in the roots of the plant, associations of herbal medicine practitioners worldwide have taken a concerted decision not to recommend the comfrey roots or any remedial products prepared with the roots or containing the roots for internal use. Nevertheless, since it has been established that the comfrey leaves contain minute amounts or none of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, they do not cause any harm to the body when taken internally. However, any medication prepared with the comfrey leaves should be used internally only under the direct supervision of a competent herbal medicine practitioner or qualified healthcare professional. Apart from these precautions, medications prepared with comfrey leaves as well as the roots may be safely used externally.
- Aerial parts:
- POULTICE – Pound the comfrey leaves to prepare a puree and apply it externally on areas where there is any minor fracture, which would usually not be possible to mend by using plaster. In fact, the best places to apply this puree are broken ribs, toes or hairline cracks in any larger bone.
CREAM – Cream prepared with comfrey leaves may be applied on the damaged bones and muscles. It is especially effective in osteoarthritis conditions.
INFUSED OIL – Comfrey leaves may be used to prepare infused oil by adopting the hot infusion procedure. The infused oil may be used on wounds, arthritic joints, sprains as well as other distressing injuries. It may also be applied to get relief from inflamed bunions.
- POULTICE – Take some amount of powdered comfrey root and prepare a paste by adding water to it. This paste should only be applied externally, as any internal use of the comfrey root is believed to have a toxic effect. This paste may be applied topically on varicose ulcers, to stop bleeding hemorrhoids as well as to heal other obstinate injuries.
As the name suggests, the reconstituting ointment prepared with comfrey roots and other elements is effective in rejuvenating the different injured body parts. This ointment is basically a multi-purpose balm used to heal cuts, injuries, bruises, tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon), and fractures as well as to wipe out wrinkles when applied externally.
In order to make this reconstituting balm, you need to macerate around three ounce or 100 gm of cut and dehydrated comfrey root and add 3 T or 50 ml of superior variety olive oil to it. Leave the substance as it is for around two weeks. You also need the following items to prepare the reconstituting ointment with comfrey roots:
- Twenty drops of lavender essential oil
- One cupful (250 ml) of castor oil
- One and a quarter ounce (40 gm) of beeswax
After two weeks, filter the liquid extract from comfrey roots and
olive oil in a separate pot. Next, thaw the beeswax in a saucepan and add the two types of vegetable oils. Keep stirring the mixture on the oven and when they are properly blended, add 20 drops of the lavender essential oil. Decant the blend in a small dark green colored jar and allow it to cool. Store the balm in a cool dry place for use when necessary.
Brewer’s yeast and comfrey face mask
This face mask is suitable for people having dry skin and you need the following ingredients to prepare the recipe at home:
- 1 teaspoonful (5 ml) runny honey
- 1 teaspoonful (5 grams) of regular yoghurt
- 1 teaspoonful (5 ml) of either olive oil or avocado oil
- 1 teaspoonful (5 grams) of brewer’s yeast
- 3 teaspoonfuls (15 ml) of a potent infusion prepared from comfrey leaves
Mix the yeast and honey collectively and, subsequently, add the comfrey infusion and yoghurt to the mixture and keep stirring till it forms a paste. Pat your face with some oil and then apply the face mask mixture evenly.
- From Nina P – Jul-11-2020
- While constructing a bookcase, I foolishly hurt the inner side of my hand, making a mess of the veins. The result was a bluish mess and I was very concerned. I had a homemade cream made of beeswax, comfrey oil and helichrysum essential oil which I used immediately. The result between uses was impressive. I applied three times per day and upon each use I would see visible results. I even gave this cream to my homeopath doctor who had and accident resulting in a bruised eye. She was equally impressed with the speed of the recovery.