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Lanita Adams

Herb Report on Comfrey

Holistic Nursing

Fall 2016

Herb Report on Comfrey

Comfrey is a plant that grows in Europe, temperate Asia, and North America in shady,

wet places (Shapira, Schapira, & Shapira, 1982). Comfrey grows to be two to three feet tall, has

flowers that range from white, cream-yellow, pink and blue (Shapira, Schapira, & Shapira,

1982). It is called “the healing herb” and in 1912 it was found to contain allantoin which causes

cells to proliferate and injured cells to heal rapidly (Shapira, Schapira, & Shapira, 1982).

Allantoin content is not found in equal amounts in the roots and rhizomes in each plant and

varies from season to season (Castro, Young, Alvarenga, & Alves, 2001). The tea is made from

ground root and the leaves (Shapira, Schapira, & Shapira, 1982). There are also different

varieties of comfrey that have different amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which are

toxic, in them (Annie’s Remedy, 2016).

Besides being used in teas comfrey can be used topically in creams, salves, oils and even

applied topically in the tea form. Comfrey is beneficial for relieving pain, healing wounds, and

treating skin irritations. It can cause a wound to heal so fast that bacteria is sealed into the

wound, and to prevent that using an antimicrobial product like goldenseal or thyme can help

address the microorganisms that may be in the wound (Annie’s Remedy, 2016). Comfrey can

also heal bone, but Rose (2008) recommends not using it on a bone that needs reset or healing

wounds that are not infection free. Rose (2008) talks about how comfrey can heal a bone so

quickly that a callous forms on it. According to Mei, Guo, Fu, Fuscoe, Luan, & Chen (2010)

both comfrey leaves and roots in the form of extract, ointment, or compress paste are

applied externally in the treatment of inflammatory disorders of joints, wounds, bone

fractures, gout, distortions, hematomas, and thrombophlebitis. For internal applications as


infusions and extracts, comfrey is used to treat gastritis, gastroduodenal ulcers, and lung

congestion (p. 511)

It is unclear whether comfrey is a safe product to use because of how it can damage the

liver and cause cancer. Though it has pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) which have been shown to

damage the liver, Mei, Guo, Fu, Fuscoe, Luan, & Chen (2010) talked about how the PA in

comfrey has lower toxicity than PA found in other plants. Annie’s (2016) talks about how

occasionally having comfrey tea is not something that she is worried about but each individual

has to make their own decision.

If a patient or client asked me if I recommended comfrey I would be inclined to say that

they could drink it safely in tea but at this point I would recommend using store bought tea.

Because there are so many variables involved in how many PAs are in homegrown comfrey I am

not comfortable with the idea of making tea out of it or recommending that patients make their

own comfrey tea from scratch. Also it can be hard to tell different comfrey varieties apart and the

prickly comfrey contains more PAs and is not recommended (Annie’s Remedy, 2016). Rose

(2008) does not use comfrey much internally because of the concern with PAs causing liver

damage. It was good to find someone who felt like the internal approach is not as advisable as

the topical use of comfrey.

There are quite a few recipes on the internet for comfrey salves. I would recommend one

that has some sort of antibiotic in it. Comfrey has been used for over 2,000 years and has

definitely been proven effective at treating joint issues, skin issues, and helps with healing and

pain. I do not think that there is enough evidence to show that if comfrey is used holistically or in

moderation that it is harmful. Rose (2008) speaks enthusiastically about how effective it is at

healing difficult pressure sores and raw skin along with broken bones and sprains. It seems that a

novice at making the salves and other topical applications might need to seek advice from

someone who has experience with using the herb and mixing it with other herbs and oils. Since

there are so many recipes and it does act quickly, doing it unguided is not something I would

recommend to a patient, or do myself. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, (2016) do not

recommend using comfrey to treat cancer. In conclusion, comfrey is beneficial but must be used

with caution.


Annie’s Remedy. (2016). Comfrey Symphytum officinale. Retrieved from

Castro, A. H. F., Young, M. C., Alvarenga, A. A. D., & Alves, J. D. (2001). Influence of

photoperiod on the accumulation of allantoin in comfrey plants. Revista Brasileira de

Fisiologia Vegetal, 13(1), 49-54.

Giannetti, B. M., Staiger, C., Bulitta, M., & Predel, H. (2010). Efficacy and safety of comfrey

root extract ointment in the treatment of acute upper or lower back pain: results of a

double-blind, randomised, placebo controlled, multicentre trial. British Journal of Sports

Medicine, 44(9), 637-641.

Mei, N., Guo, L., Fu, P. P., Fuscoe, J. C., Luan, Y., & Chen, T. (2010). Metabolism,

Genotoxicity, and Carcinogenicity of Comfrey. Journal of Toxicology & Environmental

Health: Part B, 13(7/8), 509-526. doi:10.1080/10937404.2010.509013

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (2016) Comfrey. Retrieved from

Rose, K. (2008). Bone deep beauty: Notes on comfrey Retrieved from

Schapira, J., Schapira, D. & Shapira K. (1982). The book of coffee and tea: A guide to the

appreciation of fine coffees, teas, and herbal beverages (2nd Ed.) New York: St. Martin’s