Comfrey - Symphytum Officinalis

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This Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) monograph is an excerpt from the 1999, first edition of Dr. Sharol's book "Herbal Medicine From The Heart of The Earth." You can purchase the 2020, third edition of this book with an expanded materia medica/monograph section, herbal formulas and directions on making herbal products in Dr. Sharol's Book Store. You receive free shipping in the USA. The expanded 3rd edition materia medica, and additional herbal tidbits are also available as a kindle ebook at Amazon and details about this e-book are here.

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Comfrey - Symphytum officinalis in the Boraginaceae or Borage family

Parts used: Root and main rib of leaf have the most mucilage and allantoin.

Taste/Smell: Mucilaginous, nutritious tasting, bland.

Tendencies: Cooling and moistening.

Dosage: Used externally as a poultice, paste, or fomentation.

Use: Externally: (a) Contusions, (b) Sprains, (c) Dislocations, (e) Wounds, (f) Burns, (g) Ulcers, (h) All inflammatory skin disorders.

Comfrey's demulcent and anti-inflammatory effects have been used historically as an internal agent for soothing mucous membrane irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract and urinary tract. It acts as an anti-inflammatory when there is damage to the periosteum, promotes callus formation in fractures and decreases inflammation of tendon sheaths. It has been used for arthritis, dislocations, contusions, hematomas, thrombophlebitis, phlebitis, parotitis, and glandular swellings. Comfrey can also be used as a gargle in periodontitis and pharyngitis. But internal use is no longer advised due to the possibility of pyrrolizidine alkaloid poisoning inducing veno-hepato-occlusive disease.

Externally it decreases the healing time for skin wounds and irritations and has been shown to act as a mild analgesic.

Contraindications: Do not use internally unless using a product with low/no pyrrolizidines listed on the label.  Pyrrolizidine poisoning is known to cause veno-occlusive disease. Pyrrolizidines are potentially hepatotoxic, pneumotoxic, genotoxic and carcinogenic. It is also contraindicated in pregnancy and nursing mothers. The FDA warns people not to use this plant internally or even externally on open wounds or on mucous membranes due to the pyrrolizidine content. In a 2016 experiment where scientists looked for veno-occlusive disease, rats were given 250 mg/kg of Symphytum root with a 0.375 mg/kg pyrrolizidine content on a daily basis for 28 days and they found no histopathological damage to the liver. There was a slight increase in weight of the rats. I have not seen any human studies. Evidence from the literature suggests that bioactivation of pyrrolizidine alkaloids by cytochrome P450 enzymes is required for their toxicity. If so, someone with an active phase I biotransformation system and a slow phase II biotransformation  would be more likely to show toxicity.

If you are looking for directions on making teas or tinctures, please see our "Making Herbal Products" page.

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Copyright 1999 by Sharol Tilgner, N.D. (ISBN 1-881517-02-0) - all rights reserved.

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