Comfrey

Symphytum officinale, Boraginaceae. This plant is also known as knitbone, boneset, bruisewort, consormol and knitback.

The roots of the plant are used externally only. The leaves can be used internally (with caution and not in excessive amounts) and they can be used externally.

The roots can be dug in the spring or autumn when the allantoin levels are the highest. The roots are split down the middle and dried in moderate temperatures of about 40-60 degrees C.

The leaves can be collected when they are needed.

Functions of comfrey

Comfrey:

  • when applied to the skin, diffuses readily into the underlying tissue so that when it is applied over a fractured bone it can accelerate the healing and closure. This wound healing property is due to the presence of a chemical called allantoin. The chemical stimulates cell proliferation and therefore supports healing. It can be applied to fresh wounds, sores or ulcers where it also inhibits infection. Where the wound is fairly superficial it will heal the skin with little scaring.
  • can be used as a poultice or ointment for:
    • bruises,
    • sprains and strains,
    • gout and arthritis,
    • tendinitis,
    • varicose veins, phlebitis,
    • ulcers,
    • swellings and
    • burns.
  • can be used as a compress for skin problems such as psoriasis, eczema, acne and boils.

Notes on comfrey

  • The presence of liver toxic substances in comfrey have raised doubts over the safety of the herb when taken internally. These are likely to prove ill-founded but it is better to be on the safe side and avoid taking the root internally and avoiding excessive use of the leaves internally.
  • Do not use on open, unclean wound or very deep wounds as fast healing can mean that dirt and bacteria are trapped inside.

Dosages

Decoction: put 1-3 teaspoonsful of the root in a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. This should be taken three times per day. Do not exceed the recommended dosage for internal application.

Tincture: take 2-4 ml of the tincture three times per day. Do not exceed the dosage for internal applications.

For the gardener

Grow new plants:

  • from seed sown in spring and autumn, or
  • by digging up mature clumps and cutting off most of the leaves and slicing through the crown and root. This can be done in the early spring. Replant the pieces in the ground.

Comfrey can become a problem weed as any small amount of the root can grow and it can also self-seed.

In a small garden you can grow it in a container. It will grow in full sun or part shade and it will tolerate long periods without water.

References

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

Hoffmann, F. and Manning M. 2002, Herbal Medicine and Botanical Medical Fads. The Haworth Press.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books.

Mills, S. Y. 1989, The A-Z of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Thorson.

Woodward, P. 2003, Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies. Hyland House.

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