This revered herb is a member of the Borage family, the Boraginaceae. A strong and invasive plant, Comfrey always grows back from the smallest piece of root left in the soil. For this reason, we keep it out of the garden and in more manageable, “wild” clumps far from the cultivated beds. It emerges early from the spring soil, and flowers in late June (the best time for picking the leaves). Its root is also used, usually harvested in the fall, to yield a rich and dark-colored preparation for healing the skin.
Elemental associations: Air
Phytochemistry: Allantoin, mucilage, pyrrolizidine alkaloids
Actions: Demulcent, vulnerary
Specific systems: Digestive, muscolo-skeletal, skin
Allantoin, a chemical component Comfrey possesses in abundance, has almost miraculous power to stimulate tissue growth and regeneration. For this reason, the oldest use of Comfrey is as an external remedy to speed the healing of cuts and wounds, and prevent scarring. To this effect, a poultice or compress of the leaves is quite effective, as is a salve of leaf or root. Just be sure that the wound is properly cleaned and disinfected before applying Comfrey, as it will close the lips of the cut and could lock in an infection!
Its demulcent, soothing property is invaluable in healing ulcerations and inflammations of the digestive tract, especially in the lower intestine (in cases of ulcerative colitis, for instance). Its regenerative and healing action to the irritated digestion is easy to overlook, since we are used to using Comfrey externally, but should always be remembered for short-term treatment while the longer-term issues are being addressed.
Taken internally, Comfrey can also speed the regeneration of bone, and is quite useful as a simple tea or extract if any part of the skeletal structure is broken (again, all its uses point to its power to stimulate the regeneration of tissue).
The alkaloid content of Comfrey has sparked some controversy, as the pyrrolizidine alkaloids it contains have been shown to damage liver tissue during metabolism. While the concentration of alkaloids used in the trials was much higher than that found in Comfrey, it is still advisable to limit the internal use of this plant to no more than 3 months – which is usually fine given that it works best for acute, limited physical injury conditions.
Indications: Wounds, broken bones, inflamed digestive tract
Contraindications: The external use is perfectly safe. Make sure that deep cuts are properly disinfected before applying. The internal use is contraindicated if there is liver disease, and theoretically if there are malignancies (aggressive tumors) in the digestive tract, as these may be stimulated. Long-term use should be approached with caution.
Preparation/Dosage: Make a tea of the leaves, 3-4 TBS in a quart of water, and drink daily to help mend broken bones. A stronger tea of the leaves and root, 4 TBS in a quart of water, can be used for digestive symptoms. The tincture, 1:5 in 40% alcohol, can be taken in ½ tsp. doses up to 4 times daily. Externally, apply a tea, compress, or poultice of the leaves and/or root to speed the healing of cuts and wounds and to minimize scarring.