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Comfrey (Symphytum officinale L. Boraginaceae)

Comfrey is a perennial plant of bright purple clustered flowers, fleshy leaves anda thickened tree covered with hairs. The root is extremely branched, black on the outside, whitish and slimy on the inside. It is widespread in the temperate climate zone of Europe, Asia and North America.

Historical and traditional use

Comfrey is traditionally used to treat wounds, sprains and fractures. The root and leaves contain allantoin, a substance that helps the growth of new skin and tissue cells, along with other substances that reduce inflammation. Comfrey in the form of ointment was often used to treat ulcers, remove bruises, and stretch muscles and ligaments. Particularly effective was the so-called “Comfrey milk” obtained by cooking comfrey root in milk, which was then applied as a coating to the affected area.

Comfrey tea was once used to treat stomach ulcers and cough bronchitis, however because it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are toxic to the liver, this application has been abandoned today. The opinion of most experts in the field of herbal medicine is that comfrey in the form of preparations for internal use, due to the danger of liver damage, should not be used at all. However, this does not apply to the external use of comfrey in the form of ointment-type preparations or gels applied to the skin. This method of application is relatively safe, without the risk of poisoning.

In July 2001, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) of the US Department of Health recommended the removal from the market of all dietary preparations for internal use, which contain comfrey. In Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Germany, the sale of preparations for internal use that contain comfrey is prohibited. However, the ban does not apply to preparations such as ointments and gels for external use. In the case of preparations for external use, additional warnings have been issued not to apply to open or bleeding wounds.

What does comfrey contain and how does it work?

Comfrey contains allantoin, then tannins, mucus, steroid saponins, rosemary and caffeic acid, choline, inulin, resins and other ingredients, then toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Allantoin, as the most important active ingredient, activates the growth and renewal of skin cells, bones and ligaments, which is especially important in bone fractures, sprains and sprains. For the treatment of wounds and ulcers on the skin, the so-called “patch-effect” of toning the affected area due to the presence of mucus and tannins, while allantoin prevents the formation of scars
by accelerated renewal of skin epithelial cells. The astringent properties of tannins in comfrey preparations help with varicose veins.


What do modern medical research say about the effectiveness of comfrey?

In recent years, modern medical research has shown that comfrey in the form of ointments or gels can treat certain diseases equally or even better than conventional drugs.

Ointment containing root extract is suitable for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee, which reduces pain, increases knee mobility, and thus quality of life. It has been confirmed that the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of ointment enable its use in the treatment of certain types of back pain.

In the treatment of sprained joints, ointment has been shown to be more effective than diclofenac gel. When examining the efficiency and harmlessness of comfrey fat in the treatment of acute joint dislocation, the results showed that its application reduces pain during active movement, as well as pain at rest, and notices significant functional improvement, reduction of swelling, with extremely good tolerance.

Studies of anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of gel in the treatment of bruising, sprains, sprains and painful conditions in muscles and
joints have shown that its use significantly reduces pain at rest, as well as during movement. The duration of morning joint stiffness is significantly reduced. During the study, two-thirds of patients reduced or even stopped taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The results confirmed the efficacy and good tolerance of gel in the treatment of bruising, sprains, sprains, as well as painful conditions involving muscles and joints.

Is comfrey harmful?

If applied correctly in the form of ointment or gel for external use, comfrey is not
harmful. However, the use of comfrey in the form of tea or other preparations for
internal use is not recommended, due to the content of toxic pyrrolizidine
alkaloids, which can damage the liver.

In what medicinal forms and what part of the plant is applied?

Comfrey is now applied in the form of ointments or gels exclusively for external use, which contain fresh root extract or less often leaves.

For which medical conditions can it be effectively applied?

Modern herbal medicine recommends the use of ointment or gel for the treatment of: bruising, sprains, sprains, bone fractures, osteoarthritis os the knees, pain in muscles, back and joints, varicose veins, wounds and scars.

Special warning about the poisonous ingredients of comfrey?

It contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are toxic to the liver. Therefore, the use of this plant in the form of teas for internal use is not recommended. It preparations in the form of ointments or gels should be kept out of the reach of children. When applying it ointment or gel, do not apply the product to open or bleeding wounds or burns.

How is this plant dosed?

Ointment or gel is applied two to three times a day to the affected area.

Is there an interaction with any medications?

No interaction of preparations with drugs is known.

Can it be used by children, pregnant women and nursing mothers?

Although there is no evidence of harmfulness of comfrey ointment or gel for external use, due to toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, the use of these preparations is not recommended for children under 6 years, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Image by Annette Meyer, TheOtherKev from Pixabay


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Comfrey (Symphytum officinale L. Boraginaceae) Comfrey is a perennial plant of bright purple clustered flowers, fleshy leaves anda thickened tree covered with hairs. The root

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