comfrey large Comfrey

Comfrey | Symphytum officinale

general characteristics

general characteristics

Common names include comfrey, knitbone, boneset, knitback, bruisewort, backwort, get the general idea? The name is thought to derive from the Latin confervere, meaning 'to grow together' and the Greek symphis (same meaning), alluding to comfreys remarkable healing effect on bones and body tissues.

Comfrey is a perennial plant and a member of the borage family (Boraginaceae). It grows to over a metre tall with multiple branching stems and large spear shaped leaves which gradually get smaller near the top of the plant. It is common throughout most of the temperate world and will grow in almost any soil but grows best in areas that are a bit shaded and damp, moist or near water. Their are several different varieties of comfrey, all with slightly different appearance (white flowers, reddish flowers, less hairy etc) but Symphytum officinale is the variety most commonly used and its medicinal properties most studied.

It is a tough and hairy plant, both the leaves and stems are covered in hairs which can be irritating to the skin when handled. The profusion of purple flowers can be prolonged by cutting back the plant after the first flowers are fading and the plant quickly responds with quite rapid regrowth.
Its flowers are loved by bees whilst its leaves are loved by organic gardeners as a rich and nutritious feed for their plants. All in all a very handy plant to have in the garden but plant it in a corner of the garden that you are happy to 'give over' to it as it spreads quite readily and can be hard to eradicate.

 

Comfrey dried leaf and root are available to buy in our herbal shop.

 



harvesting and preparation

harvesting and preparation

The leaves and root are the parts used and both can be used in their fresh or dried state. The root (whether dried or fresh) is not normally taken internally - see 'dosage and cautions' page for more info.
Be extra careful not to confuse the plant with foxglove as they look superficially similar when not in flower, all parts of foxglove are very poisonous!
Pick the younger leaves that are still fresh looking, either as they are emerging in spring or by selecting the fresher looking top leaves throughout the growing season. Cutting the whole plant hard is another way of encouraging a further flush of young fresh leaves. Spread the leaves on a tray (away from direct sunlight) or hang loosely in bunches until they are dry enough to crumble when rubbed through the hands. Store in an airtight jar in a cool dark place.
Leaves can be eaten, raw in salads (use young non-hairy ones), steamed like spinach, fried in omelettes, pancakes and stir fries, dipped in batter and deep fried or used as a thickener in soups, sauces and casseroles. *See 'cautions and dosage' however.
The roots can be dug up in the early spring (the traditional time to harvest them), just as the very first leaf shoots appear or in autumn when the plant has died back. The roots can be grated and used fresh as poultices, healing plasters etc or can be dried for future use. If harvesting for drying, wash the roots thoroughly, cut into small discs with a sharp knife and lay on a tray to dry slowly. The fresh root is very rich in mucilage so don't line the tray with paper or the root will stick to the paper as it dries.... I once spent quite a long time picking bits of newspaper off my recently dried comfrey root!

Comfrey dried leaf and root are available to buy in our herbal shop.

 


therapeutic actions and uses

therapeutic actions and uses

Comfrey is a plant that no natural healer or herbalist would ever want to be without. It is so useful for all afflictions and breakages of the bones, connective tissues (eg. tendons, muscles, ligaments, cartilage but also tissues around the organs), heals broken skin or tissue anywhere inside or outside of the body and helps to bring down swelling, inflammation and ease pain as a result. The old herbal books describe comfrey as being able to heal 'all inward hurts", based purely on practical use of the herb over many hundreds of years.
 
it is rich in protein, vitamins A, C, E, some B vitamins (including B 12), calcium, silica, potassium, phosphorous and many other trace minerals and useful nutrients.
 
The main tissue repairing alkaloid present in the plant (much more concentrated in the root) is thought to be allantoin. Allantoin encourages the proliferation of cells when a wound is present.
 
The rich mucilage in both the leaves and root (mainly in the root) make it very useful in soothing and coating irritated tissues both internally and externally.
 
Comfrey leaf and root poultices have been used successfully for cancers that are near the surface such as breast cancer. The dried leaf as a tea may also be of use in cancer.
 
The leaves or root can be used to heal serious and life threatening conditions where internal tissues have ruptured such as in a perforated bowel. I have personal experience of giving comfrey root powder mixed with slippery elm and marshmallow powders to a very young baby born with a perforated bowel. The hospital had done all it could and told the parents to 'try anything' as there was nothing else they could do. Luckily they contacted me and I made a mix to be given to the baby as an enema (the baby's stomach had been disconnected from its intestines intentionally). A few weeks months later they contacted me to say that the baby was not only doing well but thriving. He was to have his stomach and intestines reconnected very soon. Last I heard, he was still thriving 6 years later. Even though there is so much written about the dangers of comfrey root internally, it can be a life saver.
It can also prove to be very soothing and healing for inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohns disease and colitis.
 
Comfrey root or leaves as a poultice, cream or ointment are one some of the finest and fastest acting herbs available for healing broken bones, sprains/strains, dislocations, reducing swellings and inflammation and pain caused by any of the previous. Use freshly root grated or use root powder and simmer with a little water, enough to make a paste which can be applied to the skin as a kind of fast acting cast. 
 
Comfrey leaf or root, used as a poultice or cream is a classic remedy for bruising, swellings and inflammation, varicose veins and haemorrhoids.
 
The cell proliferation encouraged by comfrey leaf and root makes it very useful for healing wounds *, cuts and grazes, fistulas, skin irritations and rashes, nappy rash, burns, sunburn, sore or cracked nipples (such as in mastitis-but remove before feeding if you are breast feeding), moisturising the skin, reducing wrinkles and smoothing the appearance of skin. It can also prove of benefit as a poultice or ointment in other skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, pruritus (itching), acne, reduces the formation of unsightly scars and stretch marks.
*Use caution using comfrey if the wound is deep...comfrey can close over a wound that still has infection below, an abscess could result. Use antiseptic herbs to thoroughly clean the wound and then apply the comfrey in liquid form (eg.as a strong tea), ensuring the liquid makes it down to the bottom of the wound.
 
Use a handful of comfrey leaves or root in the bath (or make a poultice of fresh or dried plant) to help heal perineal tears after giving birth. It also gives strength and tone to the vagina and reproductive tissues, ideal for preparing for pregnancy, recovering from giving birth, vaginitis and orchitis or testicular problems and makes a great soak for a torn or inflamed penis.
 
Comfrey has a long history of use in helping with all types of ulcer, whether they are internal and external ulcers. Persistent leg ulcers and varicose ulcers respond very well to comfrey poultices and wet applications. Comfrey leaf can also be a useful healing and soothing addition to a formula for erosive ulcers caused by stomach acids such as in acid reflux and heartburn.
 
The leaf in tea form can also help with hernia and hiatus hernia as well as prolapses of an organ due to its tissue strengthening abilities.
 
The ability to strengthen the connective tissues of the body makes comfrey root applicable as a poultice or ointment in all kinds of structural problems like backache (both upper and lower back), sciatica, joint pains, myalgia, pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatism, spondylitis/osis.
 
A poultice of fresh comfrey root or leaf or a foot bath is an old tried and tested remedy for gout.
 
Washing the hair with comfrey leaf tea can help to improve the strength and quality of the hair.
 
Has been used with success for eye injuries, kidney troubles (such as nephritis), frostbite and gangrenous or necrotic (dead) tissue.
 
Comfrey leaf tea makes a good mouthwash or gargle for gingivitis, bleeding gums, throat infections, hoarseness and loss of voice, pharyngitis, laryngitis and tonsillitis.
 
I also discovered recently that comfrey root powder is extremely effective for sensitive teeth. Dab a little comfrey root powder onto the tooth near the gum line and try to keep it there for an hour or so. Rinse out the comfrey and test with a glass of iced water! Use either root or leaf for toothache also.
 
Its astringent qualities make it suitable for stopping bleeding and haemorrhage anywhere in the body including the lungs, kidneys, digestive system and bladder.
 
Comfrey leaf tea has been used traditionally to strengthen the lungs and can be very useful in asthma, coughs, bronchitis, emphysema, pleurisy, tuberculosis, breathing difficulties and bronchial pneumonia.
 
Here is a link to the earthclinic website that includes personal stories of using comfrey to heal, including stories of taking comfrey tea internally.
 
Included here is a link to an extensive assessment of the safety and efficacy of comfrey root compiled by the European Medicines Agency.

dosage and cautions

dosage and cautions

* Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA's) which can be toxic to the liver. The root contains the greater concentration of PA's so it is recommended by some to avoid using the root internally. Caution is advised when taking regular doses of the leaf as a tea or food also, especially if the liver is already toxic, burdened or sick in some other way. Here is an interesting, informative and useful article on the safety issues of herbs containing PA's (including comfrey).

* It is advised to avoid comfrey internally when pregnant or breast feeding, taking medications for the liver, in alcoholics or heavy drinkers, cancer sufferers.

*These more recent findings contradict older knowledge and usage of comfrey. Country folk ate comfrey leaves regularly to gain and maintain physical strength, for its nutrients and when needed for healing. The root was consumed as a tea for back pains, internal ruptures/perforations, ulcers and other internal wounds etc. Common sense is advised and if you decide to use comfrey in any from, use it sparingly and for as short a period as possible.

*The wise and well respected herbalist Dr Christopher has this to say regard the use of comfrey internally ...."The root and young leaves contain a toxic alkaloid which....may cause liver damage if take in large amounts (more than the liver can process and eliminate). If the liver is congested or weak, it is better to use mature leaf for internal use, avoiding the root and young leaf if possible".

*For what its worth, my own opinion is that the root should be used internally if it is the only herb that will do the job, it can literally safe lives in certain circumstances. Use for as short a time as possible.

*Be mindful that comfrey will be more readily absorbed into the bloodstream when applied to broken skin.

Adult 

 

Tincture (root): with a 1:5 root tincture (one part herb to 5 parts alcohol) a maximum weekly dose of 80ml is advised for up to 8 weeks.

Tincture (leaf): with a 1:5 leaf tincture, take 2.5-5ml up to 3 times daily for no more than 8 weeks. Maximum weekly dose of 100ml.

Dried leaf in tea form: up to 1 teaspoon of leaves per cup, up to 3 times daily.

 

The leaves can be eaten when cooked like spinach or dipped in batter and deep fried for a nutritious and healing treat. Old country folk have been known to eat a small leaf daily.

Fresh root as poultice or plaster: grate the root and place over the affected area. In a short while the whole thing will set quite hard and can be used to help stabilise and immobilise sprained/broken limbs or joints etc.

 

*Here is a lovely article on comfrey and how to make a magical healing comfrey oil from the leaves.

 

Children

Add 12 to the child’s age. Divide the child’s age by the total.
E.g. dosage for a 4 year old...... 4 {age} divided by 16 {age + 12} = . 25  or 1/4 of the adult dosage.
* Many medical references suggest not to use comfrey in younger children. Marshmallow root or slippery elm powders would make a good substitute.
 

 

 

 

 


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