October 28, 2010
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is an important medicinal herb that grows in moist valleys and meadows in Europe (especially throughout the British Isles) and the Middle East, in the areas with a temperate climate.It has very beautiful bell-shaped flowers of various colors (from purple and dark blue to pale yellow and white), which bloom all summer long. For centuries comfrey has been used as a food crop, until the sixteenth century when some of its therapeutic properties were discovered. In those times, comfrey was used as an external remedy in the forms of formentations, ointments and poultices for treating wounds and various skin problems.
Those comfrey preparations were mostly made from the stems, leaves, flowers and roots of the medicinal herb. It turned out that comfrey is rich in natural substances which speed up skin regeneration, like tannins, allatonin, mucilage, rosemarinic acid, and other components. Also, comfrey is rich in vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium, potassium and others. Health benefits of comfrey include anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, soothing, expectorant, astrigent, proliferant, slight sedative, haemostatic, anodyne and other properties of this herb.
Externally, comfrey can be used to treat any sort of inflammations, including acne, insect bites, inflammatory swellings and arthritis pains, ill-conditioned ulcers, bruises, conjunctivitis and many more. Health benefits of comfrey include several powers of this plant discovered by our ancestors in the Middle ages. In particular, this medicinal herb can be used as a great natural cure for broken bones, fractures, dislocations, strains, ligaments and so on.
As to internal use of comfrey, there’s a certain controversy here as this medicinal herb is considered to be quite toxic due to a high content of very toxic compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can cause serious damage to human liver and even cause cancer. That is why in some countries like the US, Germany, the UK, Canada and others, marketing of oral products containing comfrey is banned. In 2001, the FDA withdrew all dietary supplements and oral remedies with comfrey from American market.
At the same time, historically, this natural remedy was extensively used as a component for homemade remedies for various conditions, including all sorts of intestinal disorders, internal bleeding, digestion problems and irritable bowel syndrome. Health benefits of comfrey include its properties to treat internal inflammatory diseases like dysentery, gum disease and others. Finally, researches have shown that comfrey can assist in lowering cholesterol levels. However, remember that internal use of comfrey is connected with quite high risks of intoxication, that is why in the most situations it is advised to refrain from it.
Author Info: Hi! My name is Carla and I am a 5th year medical student at HYMS. I am interested in alternative medicine and I have done months researching the topic of herbal medicine. Besides, I like interviewing people and learning more about their experiences with one or another type of herbal treatments. I am willing to contribute to this site with my knowledge, and I would be happy to help you out to the best of my ability with any specific questions or problems related to alternative medicine.
Comfrey Health Benefits
Comfrey is a perennial shrub that is native to Europe, and its roots and leaves are sold as ointments, compounds oils, creams, compresses and leaf extracts for a variety of medicinal purposes. Comfrey was historically used orally to treat gastrointestinal illness, bronchitis and peptic ulcers, however comfrey has been found to be toxic to the liver when taken internally, and may cause hepatoxicity. As such, oral use of comfrey has been banned in North America and the UK and comfrey is currently only sold for topical purposes.
Beneficial Compounds in Comfrey
Comfrey contains minerals, vitamins and numerous phytochemicals, which are potent antioxidant compounds found in plants. The leaves and roots contain the phytochemicals allantoin and tannins, which both help new skin cells to form and they thereby promote wound healing and healthy skin. Comfrey leaves and roots also contain rosmarinic acid, which is a phytochemical that helps to reduce inflammation.
List of Topical Benefits
Comfrey is used topically to reduce the inflammation of, and promote the healing of, strains, fractures, pulled muscles and broken bones, states the University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC. It is also used to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. According to Phyllis Balch in her book “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” comfrey helps to speed the healing of various skin conditions including skin rashes, sunburns, dermatitis and psoriasis. Comfrey is also used for the treatment of bedsores, bites and stings, bruises, inflamed bunions, burns, dry skin, leg ulcers, nosebleeds and scabies.
The benefits of topical applications of comfrey are based primarily on anecdotal evidence, and little research has been done to confirm the efficacy of comfrey for its purported uses. A study was done however by the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” regarding the use of comfrey for the treatment of back pain. The study, which was published in the July 2010 issue, concluded that there was a significant difference between the comfrey extract and placebo group regarding pain intensity. In fact, the comfrey extract caused a 95.2 percent decrease in perceived pain during standard movements and it produced the pain-relieving effects rapidly.
Topical use of comfrey is generally considered safe, however substances called pyrrolizine alkaloids are found in comfrey and they can be harmful in large amounts. When comfrey is used on open wound or applied excessively, it can build up in the body and become toxic. As such, UMM states that you should follow the instructions on comfrey products, making sure not to use more then is recommended and not use comfrey for more then 10 days at a time. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should avoid comfrey products altogether.
- “Prescription for Nutritional Healing”; Phyllis Balch; 2003
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Comfrey
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Comfrey
- British Journal of Sports Medicine ; Efficacy and safety of comfrey root extract ointment in the treatment of acute upper or lower back pain: results of a double-blind, randomised, placebo controlled, multicentre trial; Giannetti BM et al.; July, 2010
About this Author
Megan Ashton began writing professionally in 2010. When she isn’t writing, she works with clients as the owner of Total Health & Hypnotherapy. She graduated from Western University with a Bachelor of Arts in communications then continued her education at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, where she became a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. Megan is also a Clinical Hypnotherapist.
Comfrey Benefits and Information
Comfrey grows in moist ground in valley and meadows in regions from Newfoundland south to Georgia and west to Louisiana. Comfrey can also be found growing in similar climates and geographies in Europe. Comfrey is a large plant that can reach up to 5 feet in height. The narrow oval, alternate, dark green leaves grow on the erect, upper branching stem with downy, pale yellow to purplish bell-shaped flowers that bloom from May through September. The comfrey root is black on the outside, fleshy and cream colored on the inside, and contains a glutinous juicy substance.
Mucilage and allantoin are the primary constituents in comfrey which are responsible for the herbs soothing and anti-inflammatory effects.Comfrey has a wide range of medicinal uses for both internal and external ailments. Its actions are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. Comfrey is an anodyne (alleviates pain), astringent (constricts blood vessels), expectorant (expels mucous), emollient (used to soften body tissues including skin), haemostatic (helps blood clotting), proliferant (increases cells growth), refrigerant, mild sedative, and vulnerary (ability to heal injuries). Dried comfrey leaves are especially popular when used in connection with internal disorders, such as lung ailments, and when used as an expectorant. Comfrey acts as a natural laxative and the mucilage as a gum-based substance relieves diarrhea and also helps with the digestion of food, a great benefit to people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. Reports indicate that comfrey is useful for individuals suffering from ulcers and diabetes. Mucilage created by comfrey delays the emptying of the stomach and reduces after-meal peaks of glucose and insulin. It also helps to remove cholesterol, and the high nutrient content helps people feel better.
Dried comfrey leaves are especially popular for treating internal disorders such as lung ailments and is considered a power expectoran. Comfrey acts as a natural laxative and the mucilage, a gum-based substance relieves diarrhoea and also helps with the digestion of food (a great benefit to people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome). Reports indicate that comfrey is useful for individuals suffering from ulcers and diabetes. Mucilage created by comfrey delays the emptying of the stomach and reduces after-meal peaks of glucose and insulin. It also helps to remove cholesterol, and the high nutrient content makes one feel a whole lot better.
Comfrey is most commonly used in connection with the following conditions:
- Sprains and Strains
Comfrey as a Food supplement
Comfrey’s high nutrient content makes it an excellent tonic. Comfrey contains a number of very beneficial nutrients and chemical compounds including:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B12 (There are only two plants that contain Vitamin B12 naturally Alfalfa and Comfrey)
- B Complex Vitamins
- Mucilaginous fibre
Duke JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1992.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, eds. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 2nd ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Co; 2000:212-213.
Miller LG. Herbal medicinals: selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(20):2200-2211.
Mills SY. Out of the Earth: The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine. New York: Viking Arkana, 1991, 544-547.
Miskelly FG, Goodyer LI. Hepatic and pulmonary complications of herbal medicines. Postgrad Med J. 1992;68:935-936.
Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd., 1988, 334-335.
Comfrey – Uses and Benefits
Scientific Name: Symphytum Officinale
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a perennial herb of the family Boraginaceae with a black, turnip-like root and large, hairy broad leaves that are about 2 to 3 feet high, is stout, angular and hollow, broadly winged at the top and covered with bristly hairs. The lower, radical leaves are very large, up to 10 inches long, ovate in shape and covered with rough hairs which promote itching when touched.
The stem-leaves are decurrent, i.e. a portion of them runs down the stem, the body of the leaf being continued beyond its base and point of attachment with the stem. Comfrey is mainly grows in Europe in damp, grassy places, and is widespread throughout the British Isles on river banks and ditches.
Although comfrey has been used as a food crop, and as a forage crop, in the past 20 years scientific studies reported that comfrey may be carcinogenic, since it appeared to cause liver damage and cancerous tumors in rats. Comfrey-pepsin capsules, which are sold as a digestive aid in herbal and health-food stores in the USA, have been analyzed and found to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
Uses and Benefits of Comfrey
Comfrey leaves are of much value as an external remedy, both in the form of fomentations, for sprains, swellings and bruises, and as a poultice, to severe cuts, to promote suppuration of boils and abscesses, and gangrenous and ill-conditioned ulcers. The whole plant, beaten to a cataplasm and applied hot as a poultice, has always been deemed excellent for soothing pain in any tender, inflamed or suppurating part.
It is useful in any kind of inflammatory swelling.
Fresh leaves are eaten by pigs, sheep, and poultry, but are frequently unpalatable to cattle and rabbits. Cattle and rabbits will eat the wilted forage. Horses, goats, chinchillas, and caged birds are also fed this forage.
Comfrey may be eaten as a cooking green, used as an herb, or planted as an ornamental. Many medical remedies have been proclaimed for this plant, and its advocates associate an assortment of health benefits with it.
Comfrey leaves and stems rot very easily and rapidly turn to a black yucky liquid.
Layers of comfrey can be placed on the compost heap from time to time to act as a compost accelerant.
Spread a layer in the sweat pea, potato or bean trench.
Comfrey (both the above-ground plant and the roots) has been used on the skin for the relief of swelling (inflammatory disorders such as bruises, sprains, pulled muscles or ligaments). Some herbal/diet supplement products have been found to contain possibly harmful impurities/additives. Check with your pharmacist for more details regarding the particular brand you use. The FDA has not reviewed this product for safety or effectiveness. Consult your doctor or pharmacist for more details.
Preparations and Dosage for Comfrey
Preparations of root and leaf parts are now less readily available. Tablets and other herbal extracts have been employed, but very dilute teas or decoctions are safer – however, internal use is not recommended. The herb is used in topical preparations including lotions, creams, salves, and poultices, and it is sometimes used as a gargle. Herbal authorities recommend that it can be employed externally for contusions, bruises, and sprains for up to 6 weeks during a year, but such use is rarely justified.
What Happens if I Overdose?
In such a case, the thing you can do is seek immidiate medical attention as symptoms of a comfrey overdose are not known.
Side Effects of Comfrey
Side effects from correctly administered Comfrey usage are thought to be minimal. Some think that comfrey is a beneficial herb, but scientific studies show that this herb can sometimes prove to be very toxic. If you drink comfrey preparations or take it internally in other forms you run the risk of being poisoned. Below, there is given some list of side effects, if you experience any of the side effects below, stop usage immediately and report them to your family doctor
- This plant contains small quantities of a toxic alkaloid which can have a cumulative effect upon the liver. Largest concentrations are found in the roots, leaves contain higher quantities of the alkaloid as they grow older and young leaves contain almost none.
- Excessive fatigue.
- Extreme widespread itchiness.
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
- Pain or swelling in the upper right part of the abdomen.
- Yellowing of the skin or the white parts of the eyes.
Do not use preparations containing Comfrey root. Ointments containing Comfrey leaf are considered safe when applied to unbroken skin for limited periods of time.
The Many Health Benefits Of Comfrey
The many health benefits of Comfrey have been well-known for centuries. There are several varieties of Comfrey found worldwide, but the most common found in natural food and herbal shops is Symphytum uplandicum. This type, also known as bruisewort, blackwort or Russian Comfrey, is a sterile plant, which means that it will not produce seeds. It grows by root cuttings, and, therefore, growth is easier controlled than the other Comfrey types.
Another old name for Comfrey is “knitbone.” This is due to the increased healing Comfrey brings to fractured bones, and is likely the most common use for this herb. However, there are other, less known, ways in which Comfrey brings health.
Comfrey, when made into a poultice and placed over sprains and bruises on the body, reduces swelling swiftly, especially above broken bones. One may use the same technique to bring relief to cuts and scrapes, reducing pain, and, since the herb has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, acting as a disinfectant.
The Comfrey plant is useful in promoting cardiovascular health, as well as sores in the mouth and respiratory disorders. Many times, it is made into a tea to allow a potent amount of the herb to enter the body.
The herb, eaten like any other green, leafy plant, such as lettuce or parsley, aids in the healing of intestinal disorders, as well as internal bleeding and haemorrhoids. The mucilaginous qualities of the Comfrey may grant relief from dysentery and diarrhea
The plant is high in Vitamins A, C, B12 and is high in protein, as well as high in minerals, such as iron, magnesium, and potassium.
The healing properties of the herb in regards to broken skin are so potent that it is important to make sure any open wounds you will be treating with Comfrey are cleansed of any dirt and debris. This is because the skin will grow back so swiftly with the aid of the herb that any foreign material will actually be stitched under the new skin. This property of Comfrey has even been used as a battlefield treatment throughout history by combat medics and battlefield doctors.
This process is due to a component in Comfrey called Allantoin. Research has shown how effective Allantoin towards regenerating new cells, and pharmaceutical companies are developing artificial compounds derived from Allantoin.
Each part of the Comfrey plant is useful, and the plant grows in mainly watery, temperate climates. It is generally cultivated multiple times during its growing season.
Comfrey has a great amount of health benefits and is easily administered. Most herbalists and homeopathic practitioners depend highly on this herb, and mix it into many remedies.