Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Parts commonly used: Root and leaf.
Properties/energetics: Astringent, demulcent, nutritive tonic, vulnerary, expectorant/Cool; bitter, sweet.
Systems predominantly affected: Digestive, respiratory, musculoskeletal, urinary, skin.
Uses: Traditional names for this herb, based on empirical herbal science, range from Knitbone, Knitback, and Healing Herb to Bruisewort and Boneset, which partially indicates how Comfrey has been successfully used for centuries. (Note that a distinct herb named Boneset (binomial name Eupatorium perfoliatum) also exists. Comfrey is the classic folkloric remedy for human ailments. It stimulates cell proliferation, magnifying both internal and external wound healing. Its astringent action helps alleviate hemorrhaging wherever it occurs, be it in the stomach, the lungs, the bowels, the kidneys, or the rectum. Its demulcent components soothe bronchitis and irritating cough, and it acts as an expectorant. The highly demulcent mucilage inherent in Comfrey heals gastric, duodenal, and external ulcers.
Combinations: Combines well with Marshmallow and/or Meadowsweet for treating gastric or duodenal ulcer. Combines with Horehound and Elecampane for respiratory problems. Combines with Marshmallow, St. John’s Wort, and Calendula as a soothing, healing salve.
Precautions: See toxicity section below. This does not apply to use of Comfrey as a poultice, fomentation, or salve.
Affects on specific body types: Primarily demulcent and secondarily astringent, Comfrey soothes and strengthens inflamed, irritated mucosa of the respiratory and digestive tracts. It’s an age-old remedy for dry, irritable coughs, especially when they are accompanied by blood-streaked mucus. This, along with Comfrey’s very soothing effect on the digestive tract when inflammation or dryness is the aggravating factor, makes it an excellent tonic and remedy for Seers and Warriors presenting the above conditions. Comfrey’s salient allantoin content is an active cell proliferant. This, in combination with this plant’s demulcent and astringent actions, makes it a powerful (often bordering on magical) aid for all constitutional types in the repair of damaged tissue.
Preparations/dosage: Infusion: hot infusion (leaf), 1/2 cup three times a day; cold infusion (root), 1/2 cup three times a day. For internal bleeding, use 1 cup every two hours until bleeding has stopped. Tincture; 20 to 50 drops three times a day. Externally: Leaves are applied topically as a poultice or fomentation on bruises, sprains, athlete’s foot, wounds, and ulcers; the root is applied topically as a fresh preparation for wounds, ulcers, fractures, and hernia and to promote the suppuration of boils. (Note: Some wounds and/or ulcerations need to drain prior to healing on the surface. Also, deep wounds need to heal the deeper tissue prior to healing over the surface tissue. Before applying Comfrey externally to a wound, which will rapidly heal the surface tissue, make sure deeper tissue is appropriately healed. This is hastened by taking Comfrey internally.)
Toxicity: Pharmacologists have revved up a media-powered bandwagon concerning potential liver toxicity from long-term internal use of Comfrey, due to its pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) content. We have used Comfrey as a reliable healing agent for years and plan to continue using it in the same manner; however, we want to alert the reader to this current reductionist trepidation. It is not harmful for an adult to drink Comfrey leaf or root tea. For children, occasional use is okay. The precaution we suggest for pregnant and nursing women follows: Avoid taking Comfrey tea, for it can possibly harm the fetus and nursing infant, and do not use it internally with infants. Avoid use with children less than eight years old. Individuals experiencing any liver disease should avoid this tea as well. There are multiple species of Comfrey. Symphytum officinale leaves and roots are the lowest in PAs. Avoid using S. asperum (Prickly Comfrey) and S. uplandicum (Russian Comfrey). They contain echimidine, which is a toxic PA. External use of Comfrey in salves and poultices is safe and effective for all ages.
By James Green, Herbalist, copyright 2008
For more information please refer to James Green’s book, The Male Herbal, 2nd Edition