Recently I was sitting in my garden one late afternoon trying to pull myself together after a very scattering day. (You know those days, the ones when you plan to do certain things, but instead, everyone and everything else draws your attention away?) I happened to look down and see the great Puller-Together herself, comfrey.
But I didn't see the normal comfrey plant I usually find. Instead, late afternoon sunlight shone through the side of the leaves revealing one of the most incredible patterns I've ever seen. It looked like a garden of emerald crystals tightly woven together. And each of these encased multiple smaller crystals and so on down. It was amazing.
The pattern in each leaf seemed to tell me comfrey is used for '" knitting together, not only skin, muscle and bone, but also the very network of the plant itself. What a great demonstration of the Law of Signatures (from homeopathy), where what a plant looks like suggests what it is good for. Ginseng is a good example, for the root looks exactly like a man, complete with head, arms and legs; of course, ginseng is good for the energy of the entire body.
So here I am, trying to pull myself together and comfrey gives her gift again. It immediately sparked such creativity '" I had to photograph and write about her immediately '" that it pulled me together from my scattered place and I felt much better. Plants provide such meditative spaces '" what a gift! No wonder so many people love to garden.
Uses for Comfrey
Comfrey's nickname, knitbone, is highly appropriate as one of its constituents (allantoin) actually causes cellular proliferation, quickly healing broken bones, fractures, torn skin (try it on torn perineums after childbirth, using the fresh herb poultice daily), and strengthening tendons, bones and ligaments (take internally and apply externally). It is the fastest wound healer around. Comfrey also stops bleeding from the stomach, lungs, intestines, kidneys, ulcers and piles.
Because comfrey has the highest mucilage content of any herb, it is very moistening and lubricating. As a poultice or salve it soothes burns, wounds, psoriasis, eczema, inflammations, ulcers, varicose veins and draws out poisons from boils and insect bites or stings. I have found comfrey, along with perhaps plantain and echinacea, to be incomparable in drawing out the poison from spider bites, healing them quickly and painlessly.
A wonderful herb for the lungs (tonifies Lung Yin), comfrey's cooling moistening effect heals bronchitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, pleurisy, pneumonia, pulmonary TB, coughs (including whooping cough), expels phlegm, soothes the throat, lowers fevers and overall, rejuvenates the Lungs and mucous membranes.
It helps the pancreas regulate blood sugar levels and promotes the secretion of pepsin, thus aiding digestion.
The root can be used as well as the leaf, and is stronger in tonic properties for healing lungs and mucous membranes, especially in cases of Dryness, Heat, Deficient Yin and inflammation. The leaves are more astringent and anti-inflammatory.
The Comfrey Controversy
While comfrey is a powerful nourishing tonic that rapidly promotes tissue growth, it is a controversial plant because of its pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA's) which may cause liver disease in humans. Many herbalists feel the plant causes no threat to humans if consumed only as needed and avoided in prolonged high doses, while others have stopped using it altogether.
It is important to realize that a constituent with a negative effect may be neutralized, or greatly diminished, when combined with other herbs in formulas. To help make your own choice, those with a personal and/or parental history of alcoholism, hepatitis or mononucleosis, a history of drug use (recreational or otherwise) and caffeine users should all probably avoid using this herb internally. However, it may safely used externally by everyone. Further, certain herb companies offer PA-free comfrey products.
Symphytum officinale; Boraginaceae W
Parts used: leaves and root
Energy, taste and Organs affected: cool; bitter, sweet; Lungs, Stomach, bones, muscles
leaves: allantoin, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, tannins, mucilage, starch, inulin;
root: allantoin, mucilage, tannins, starch, inulin and traces of oil
Actions: tonify Yin
Properties: demulcent, vulnerary, expectorant, nutritive tonic, alterative, astringent, antitussive
Biochemical constituents: allantoin (this constituent increases cell proliferation), mucilage, tannins, starch, inulin, traces of oil, pyrrolizidine alkaloids; steroidal saponins in root
root: 6-15 gms; decoct 1 tsp./cup water;
leaves: 3-9 gms; infuse 2 tsp./cup water, acute - drink 1/2 to 1 cup tea every hour until condition lessens, then drink 2 cups a day until problem is gone; 10-30 drops tincture, 1-3 times/day
Precautions: Because of its pyrolizidine alkaloids (PA's), it should be avoided internally in pregnancy, children, nursing and liver disease. Mainly use the leaf from S. officinalis, as both are lower in PA's than other species or plant parts.
Indications: fractures, skin wounds and tears, bites, stings, boils, sores, ulcers, hemorrhage, bleeding from stomach, lungs, bowels, kidneys, ulcers and piles, broken bones, diarrhea, bronchitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, pleurisy, pneumonia and consumption, coughs, including whooping cough, expels phlegm, sore throat, fever, poor digestion rejuvenates the lungs and mucous membranes