Common Name: Comfrey
Latin Name: Symphytum officinale
There are so many benefits to comfrey but it is also one of the most controversial herbs out there.
The plant (symphytum officinale L) belongs to the borage family and has been valued in traditional medicine since 200 AD for its miraculous healing properties. Its latin name symphytum means “to heal”, while historically two of its common names were boneset and knitbone relating to its ability to mend and heal broken bones. It has also been used medicinally to heal wounds, ulcers, colitis, inflammation, skin ailments and many other illnesses.
In our practise we use comfrey in our All Heal Salve and the numerous reports over the years of the salves healing abilities has always amazed me! One of my favorite stories was of a customer in Calgary who owned a restaurant and burned her arms very badly in her commercial oven - she instinctively reached for our All Heal Salve and continually put it on while rushing to the hospital, evading severe scarring from second degree burns.
Controversy & Toxicity:
Although it was a favourite herb in European folk medicine and used widely internally for medicine and as a nutritive, it has become increasingly controversial because of a toxic constituent called pyrrolizidine alkaloids known to cause liver damage. PLA is most found in high concentrations in the Russian variety of comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) as opposed to (symphytum officinale) which is the variety used medicinally by herbalists.
There is much debate in the herbal community around the safety of comfrey internally as some of the earlier studies done were inconclusive amongst which to consider are amounts found in varying plants, plant type and dosage. While debate continues, current evidence does suggest that it is difficult to indicate whether some comfrey preparations are derived for S. officinale or the more toxic Russian variety. Hence, most clinical herbalists will only use comfrey in small amounts internally and recommend it externally in which there is no evidence or indication that it is harmful. In Canada comfrey is banned for internal use.
Parts Used: Entire plant (leaf, stem and root)
Constituents: Mucilage, allantoin, tannin, alkaloids, resin, volatile oil
Actions: Vulnerary, demulcent, astringent, expectorant.
One of the best herbal healers, comfrey’s impressive wound healing properties is partially due to the rich presence of a constituent called allantoin. Allantoin is a cell proliferant that stimulates the growth of connective tissue and cartilage making comfrey specific for broken bones, torn cartilage, swellings and bruises.
Along with allantoin, comfrey is high in mucilage content and tannins, both helping soothe and constrict open wounds, cuts and tears. It is helpful to speed up wound healing and guard against scar tissue developing incorrectly. Care should be taken with very deep wounds as the external application can result in tissue forming over the wound before it has healed, possibly leading to abscess.
Used on inflamed irritated skin comfrey is exemplary in conditions of eczema and psoriasis both soothing and healing to flare ups and broken and cracked skin. Use externally in a poultice or sitz bath for fractures and external ulcers and hemorrhoids . Its healing properties are incredible!