Also known as blackwort, gum plant, bruisewort, knitback, nipbone, wallwort, healing herb, slippery root and knitbone just to name a few.
Parts used: roots, leaves
Meridians/Organs affected: Lungs, stomach, kidneys, bone, skin, muscles
Properties: demulcent, astringent, pectoral, nutritive, vulnerary, mucilaginous, tonic, expectorant
Comfrey is a member of the Borage family. The term symphytum comes from the Greek word "sympho" which means 'to unite' (one of the reasons it is known as knitbone no doubt).
Comfrey grows best in shaded areas (although where I am located it seems to do just fine in full sun as well) and even a small portion of the root will stimulate new plant growth. It can be found all over the world, but the american grown comfrey is better than the European varities as the comfrey grown here contains alot less alkaloids than their European counterparts. In fact, most of the controversy over comfrey comes from the studies conducted on Russian comfrey. Even then it was done on isolated components known as pyroliziidine alkaloids, which are hepatotoxic. Rats were given a diet of 30-50% comfrey and ended up with tumors and malignant growths which have never happened in humans. (No one would make comfrey 30-50% of their diet either). Due to the controversy, it is suggested that one consume comfrey no more than 3 weeks at a time. This does not apply to the external use of comfrey which is deemed safe. However, people have been found to have some liver issues when ingesting comfrey over long periods of time. And even then no malignant growths were found. As pregnant women, fetuses and infants are particulary susceptible to those components it is best avoided during pregnancy and nursing.
Comfrey is best collected between April and September between 5-6 pm (when it is at it's most potent). The flowers are purplish blue, although some varieties vary in color from white to pink. It is suggested that gathering the lance-like leaves is best when the plant is flowering but there are mixed reviews over that as well. The root can be dug in the early spring or in the fall after the frost has killed off the greenery.
Comfrey is very high in nutrition being rich in minerals and vitamins. It contains vitamins B1, B2, B5, B12, C, E, iron, manganese, phosphorus, calcium and the much touted allantoin.
Allantoin is a substance that has been found to stimulate new cell growth. It has been isolated from comfrey and is now found commercially in all kinds of creams and ointments for bug bites, rashes, bruises, sprains, skin iritations and or damaged ligaments and tendons. It promotes the growth of connective tissue, cartilage, bone and is easily absorbed externally through the skin. More recent studies have shown that is also breaks down red blood cells, which speeds the healing of bruises, supporting its old name of 'bruisewort'. It has also been used externally for varicose veins and burns. (I find it extremely interesting that the pharmaceutical industry has no problem synthesizing isolated components of herbs and mass producing them for drug use but doesn't like you to use the whole herb to better yourself health wise - WITHOUT alot of the side effects of the pharmacy bred varieties).
Despite its controversial history, many people HAVE used comfrey internally with wonderful results. It has been used traditionally for colitis, bronchitis, respiratory issues, cirrhosis (the Japanese doctors actually recommend a vinegar extract of comfrey to their patients for this) and gastric ulcers.
In a London teaching hospital it was discovered that comfrey inhibits a prostaglandin that causes inflammation of the stomach lining. (Prostaglandins are a group of lipid compounds that are MADE at the sites of tissue damage and are involved in dealing with injury and illness. They are responsible for such things as swelling, pain, redness, stiffness and warmth. It is nice to know an herb can inhibit such things and make things less painful.
Actually, comfrey was used strictly as an external application until the early 1800's (at least from what I have been reading), when western herbalists started using it internally for things. Culpeper said that comfrey leaf was so powerful that it could probably join dismembered pieces of flesh together if boiled in a pot with them. (Interesting man with some strange thought processes....)
The leaf of the comfrey plant has been used in decoction form and gargled as a mouthwash for bleeding gums, sore throat and hoarseness. It has been used in green drinks and eaten as a vegetable. It has been used as a diuretic and a bulk laxative, and also found effective for internal hemorrhaging (from lungs, bowels, stomach and hemorrhoids), asthma, catarrh, tuberculosis and chest colds.
The leaves have been used as compost in gardens (stuck into a barrel of water and used as a liquid fertilizer) that is said to be better than its commercially offered counterparts. Something to think about when looking for a natural fertilizer.
A poultice of the fresh leaves is great for gangrenous sores, pimples, ulcers, insect bites, ruptures, bruises, burns, wounds, etc. It is often combined with other herbs for healing. For instance, it is used with mullein and oak bark in wound salves and for pain or inflammation. It is sometimes combined with calendula, chickweed, rose petals and plantain for all types of skin irritations. It has been found useful for regulating blood sugar and it also promotes the secretion of pepsin and assists in digestion.
Comfrey has the highest mucilage of any other herb known. As such it is used in many formulas for the lungs. This herb is amazing in its history and its uses. Clearly the powers that be don't want it to be used medicinal purposes as they have tried to make it harder to get, or to ban it from the market altogether. This is definitely an herb for the medicine cabinet. It is easy enough to grow and might just save the life of someone you love one day. Consider it for your medicinal garden. As is customary for my posts I have listed some links for comfrey below. Use them as you see fit.