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Comfrey Comfort

Written by

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.

COMFREY

Symphytum officinale; Boraginaceae        W

Parts used: leaves and root

Energy, taste and Organs affected: cool; bitter, sweet; Lungs, Stomach, bones, muscles

Biochemical constituents: 
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

Dose: 
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

4 comments

  • Comment Link Jeff Mason Saturday, 21 January 2017 02:10 posted by Jeff Mason

    I am an Herbalist myself, and while Comfrey Root does contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, there is actually more danger drinking a beer to your liver than taking Comfrey Root internally. Several hepitotoxic compounds have been identified in beer with far greater ability to injure the liver, and yet, people drink beer all the time. Comfrey root's dangers to the liver has been, and continues to be grossly over-exaggerated by the FDA.When it comes to the lungs, Allantoin is superb in combination with the high levels of Mucilage in the root. In addition to this, while Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are injurious to the liver, when in high concentrations, I strongly suspect these same alkaloids are healing to the lungs. I believe this based on both suggestive studies and my own observations over the years and I also believe my views will one day be proven to be a fact in clinical studies of these alkaloid substances. Until then however, if people are worried about comfrey's potential liver injuring effects, they can always make tinctures and teas with Milk Thistle Seeds added in equal amounts. This precaution will shield the liver from toxic effects and greatly reduce the potential (if any) dangers associated with the pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

  • Comment Link sharon ledbetter Friday, 20 November 2015 01:44 posted by sharon ledbetter

    I have heard from a local gardener that comfrey is good to plant under apple trees. Some how it is nourishing to the tree.

  • Comment Link tess Monday, 21 July 2014 15:21 posted by tess

    great bath herb for emotional upsets... and in a honey poultice for sprains!!

  • Comment Link Pamela Shaw Monday, 14 July 2014 16:16 posted by Pamela Shaw

    Do you have a preferred couple, or more, herbs that you like to combine comfrey with to reduce its possible toxicity? Ginger, licorice, milk thistle, burdock?

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