Plant Profile: Comfrey




Comfrey (A.K.A. Knitbone)
(Symphytum officinale)



Family: BORAGINACEAE 

Energetics: Cooling, Drying 

Taste: Bitter, sweet. 

Parts used: Leaf & Root 

Key components: Alantoin (increases cell proliferation), Mucilage, Tannins, Starch, Inulin, Traces of Liver-toxic pyrrhoizidine alkaloids (root and less so in leaves before flowers bloom so best to harvest leaf after flowers bloom). Root contains steroidal saponins (partially accounts for the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties of Comfrey). 

Preparations & Dosage: Infusion (leaf), Decoction (root), poultice, capsule, powder, herbal oil, salve, ointment.  

Systems affected: Lungs, Stomach, Kidney, Bone, Muscle. 

Actions:
Foundational: Astringent. Demulcent (root)
Primary: Expectorant. 
Secondary: Tonic. Vulnerary. 

Uses: Promoting healing, broken bones, lungs, diarrhea, hemorrhage/bleeding, lack of pepsin for digestion of protein. Comfrey loves to mend… Skin, bones, soil… Dives deep, rebuilding broken chains, restocking cells into tissue and tissues into muscle… Promotes rapid healing in tissues, muscle, ligaments, tendons & bones. The allantonin increases cell proliferation causing its rapid healing powers as well as being an anti-inflammatory that supports the immune system. Valuable for regenerating bone tissue growth. The leaf is a mild anti-inflammatory that “knits” together skin tissue. Use internally or externally to speed healing of fractures, wounds, sores & ulcers.  Astringent properties help in stopping hemorrhage from stomach, lungs, bowels, kidneys or hemorrhoids

Emollient & vulnerary for external use for postpartum tissue care (such as tearing or episiotomy). 
Helps relieve irritation associated with gallbladder, kidneys, bladder, small intestines & stomach.

Gastric & duodenal ulcers, hiatal hernia & ulcerative colitis.
Helps promote the secretion of pepsin.

Helps Pancreas regulate blood sugar levels.

Demulcent property in root is soothing to lung troubles & irritating coughs such as with bronchitis.
Comfrey root has highest content of mucilage of any root.

Indicated for strong bones, hair & nails, elimination system & healthy skin.

Indications: Used for “hot”, sore & inflamed conditions. 

Combinations: For gastric ulcers and inflammation consider combining with Marshmallow Root and Meadowsweet.
For bronchial issues try combining with Coltsfoot, White Horehound or Elecampane. 

Growing: Perennial. Start from cutting or divided roots. A small piece of the root will reproduce itself in short time. Will spread throughout the garden easily if not contained. This is one of 4 comfrey plants I have in my garden at the moment. 1 of them was a re plant from my neighbor, 2 were transplants from a local farm friend and one came from Perennial Pleasures in East Hardwick, VT. A wonderful heirloom medicinal plant nursery and garden spot. It's really an incredible spot that we plan on visiting annually from now on. We make it a day trip since it's a 3 HOUR drive from us, but SO worth it. You can see a short video below of our trip. 







So, the flowering stage doesn't appear to last very long. When I came outside this morning
I discovered that where the flowers had once been and fallen had these little stamens protruding from them. It's so cool to be able to go outside each day (Ok, I go out MULTIPLE times) and watch each stage of a plants life. The garden is forever changing. 

The above photos are from one of 4 comfrey plants I have in my garden at the moment. 1 of them was a re plant from my neighbor, 2 (Including the one photographed here) were transplants from a local farm friend and one came from Perennial Pleasures in East Hardwick, VT. A wonderful heirloom medicinal plant nursery and garden spot. It's really an incredible spot that we plan on visiting annually from now on. We make it a day trip since it's a 3 HOUR drive from us, but SO worth it. You can see a short video of our trip below. 



Sadly, my cell phone memory became full (64 Gb, how does that even HAPPEN???) and the video ended long before I was done. But no worries, you can see it yourself OR wait until next year when I'll be sure to make sure I have plenty of memory. 

Harvesting: Harvest leaf any time after flowers bloom. Harvest root in spring or fall. Possible that leaf harvested in late summer or early fall has only trace amounts of Pyrrolizidine alkaloids compared to leaf harvested earlier in the season. To dry root, cut down the middle the long way and dry in temperatures about 100-140 F. 

Contraindications: 


  • Comfrey contains potentially dangerous compounds known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
  • Slightest controversy as to whether or not the alkaloids, when taken with the whole plant can cause liver Veno occlusive disease. The roots contain higher levels of these compounds and mature leaves contain very little, if any, of these alkaloids. Fresh young leaves contain higher amounts (up to 16 times more than mature leaves) and should be avoided. There has however, been no conclusive cases or historical records of this disease among humans who have been known to take large doses of Comfrey long term.
  • Best avoided internally during pregnancy, breastfeeding or with infants.
  • Some say Comfrey Root should not be taken internally at all while the leafs can be taken safely for up to 6 weeks at a time safely. HOWEVER, Herbalist Susan Weed states she has been drinking more than a quart of Comfrey Leaf tea a day for 20+ years with no ill effects.
  • Can cause stomach upset.
  • Do not use Comfrey on deep cuts or exposed tissue as it can cause the top to close before the deep part has healed, potentially trapping bacteria inside. For deep wounds, St. John’s Wort is better suited.

    Mistaken Identity: Before it flowers, Foxglove leaves can be mistaken for Comfrey. However, once it flowers, there is no mistaking the two as Foxglove has flowers (while similar themselves) that appear on a tall stock. 
           

Foxglove in Flower                                          Comfrey in Flower    Photo by Dušan Smetana on Unsplash                  Photo By Wandering Earth Herbals



Sources:

Illustrated Herbiary. Maia Toll, Pg 100-103; 
An Herbalists Guide To Formulary, Holly Bellebuono. Pg 34, 100, 194, 196, 243, 300, 304, 314;
Great blog post about pyrrolizidine alkaloids in herbs: https://celticherbalist.blogspot.com/2013/08/borage-borago-officinalis-folks.html ; 
The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra. Pg 121-124. (This book also has great information about the PA’s in Comfrey and studies done on it). 
Backyard Medicine, Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Pg 39-41. 



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