Comfrey: the best-known healing herb
by Tonya Banbury
Comfrey, Symphytum officinale, is a lovely herbaceous perennial and recent Herb-of-the-year. I mentioned having this plant to my acupuncturist and she suggested wrapping a sore wrist in the leaves for pain relief, making this the first medicinal reference I’d heard. Comfrey doesn’t extract into essential oil, my usual topic, but it has a long history of medicinal benefits that include ointments, liniments and salves.
The word Symphytum means to heal and comfrey is one of the best-known healing herbs of all time. Comfrey has been used for centuries for its bone-mending qualities as it relieves pain and inflammation caused by injuries and degeneration. Science confirms the healing effects of comfrey are due to allantoin, a compound shown to speed cell production both inside and outside the body. “Comfrey works so fast that many herbalists will add antibacterial herbs such as goldenseal or thyme to comfrey salves to prevent sealing bacteria inside a fast healing wound.”1
Comfrey is most commonly used to heal abrasions and cuts, and to reduce pain and swelling of bruises and sprains, as well as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. A University of Maryland article suggests using an ointment containing between 5-20% comfrey. Because of another of comfrey’s compounds, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, shown to cause liver damage in lab rats, the same University of Maryland article made the following recommendations: use no longer than 10 days at a time; do not use on open wounds or broken skin; do not use if you have liver disease, alcoholism or cancer; and finally, do not use on children, the elderly and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.2
Home preparations can easily be made using fresh or dried leaves as well as dried roots that are infused for 3 months in a base of certified organic olive oil. The oil can be blended with coconut oil and beeswax to form a salve. I found a couple of simple recipes online 3.
Tonya Banbury is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer with Mecklenburg County, NC. Her series of articles on Medicinal Herbs: Essential Oils is based upon documented research and personal usage experience.
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