comfrey thumbnail Comfrey - Symphytum sp.:


Comfrey is a broadleafed large plant with hairy leaves. The hairs of the leaves may sting and irritate if handled roughly. The stalk is hollow, and the small bell-like flowers may be pale purple or white.

Growing Info:

Hardy perennial, which tolerates at least some shade. Strong and deep root system. It may be adviseable to train it into one of those wire contraptions one commonly sees tomatos growing in, as otherwise the stalks and leaves may tend to fall over and smother nearby plants. It thrives in moisture, but seems to have some tolerance for dryness if shaded. It can be an impressive plant at the back of one's herb garden.

Culinary Uses:

Comfrey is not used, or recommended, for any culinary use. Before its liver toxicity was discovered, the flowers were sometimes used as a garnish in salads.

Medical Uses in Folklore:

Comfrey has been traditionally used in wound healing, both externally and internally. While the leaves of comfrey contain the same healing effects, it is the roots which are most potent. Typically, it would be recommended that comfrey root be boiled, and the decoction used. An ointment may also be made by digesting roots or leaves in hot parafin wax, then straining the mixture and allowing it to cool. The herb is known as knitbone for its alleged ability to help knit bones. Comfrey is said to help heal psoriasis.

Internally, comfrey allegedly helps internal wounds, and helps to expell phlegm. It is said to be good for the blood and humors. (However, please note the warnings below, in light of the great enthusiasm that herbal folkloric literature, both ancient and modern, place on this herb, when considering it for internal usage.)

Scanning the Scientific Literature:

NOTE: This is one of the 'Problem Herbs'.

There is no evidence that comfrey can actually knit bones; indeed this is highly unlikely. Comfrey may have once seen use as an aid to reduce the swelling around bone breaks, but it is not recommended today. All comfrey species contain hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Even more toxic is the compound echimidine, which is found in Russian comfrey and in prickly comfrey, but not in common comfrey. However, proper species identification is essential, and one cannot guarantee that it has always been done. Indeed, one study of several commercial comfrey supplies found the presence of echimidine in samples that were labelled (erroneously) as common comfrey. The roots contain far more of these alkaloids than the leaves. As noted, even the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that common comfrey contain can be hazardous with repeated use. Liver failure is a very real risk.

Rat livers were examined after low dose administration of comfrey-derived alkaloids (6 doses in 6 weeks). The livers exhibited vascular congestion, mild necrosis, and loss of definition of liver cell cellular membranes.

Comfrey contains allantoin, which promotes cell proliferation. (This may possibly be a basis for some of its wound-healing properties.)

Other Info:

Culpeper declares this to be an herb of Saturn.


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This information is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment. If conditions worsen, or persist, consult your healthcare practitioner.

Last Updated: March 7, 1999.