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Herbal Monograph

Herb: COMFREY ROOT   (Symphytum officinale; Boraginaceae)

Other Names: Ass Ear, Black Root, Blackwort, Boneset, Bruisewort, Consound, Gum Plant, 

Healing Herb, Knitback, Knitbone, Salsify, Slippery Root, Wallwort  (2); Blackwort, nipbone, knitbone  (57)              

Character/Energetics:  bitter, sweet, cool    (6)  cool, moist, sweet  (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  lungs, stomach, kidneys  (6); bones and muscles, general effects on whole body (14);  bones, muscles, ligaments  (15)

Part used: the root (6); leaves and root (14)  (2)  (50)

Identification & Harvesting: Prolific growth once planted. (1)

Flowers are dull purple or violet.  The fruit are four smooth, glossy nutlets.

Leaves, Stem and Root:  The plant grows from 30 to 120 cm in height.  The root is fusiform, branched, black on the outside and white on the inside.  The stem is erect and stiff-haired. The leaves are wrinkly and roughly pubescent; the lower ones and basal ones are ovate-lanceolate and pulled together in the petiole.  The upper ones are lanceolate and broad.

Indigenous to Europe and temperate Asia and is naturalized in the US.  (2)

Harvest in spring or fall when the allantoin levels are highest.  (15)

Root is brownish black, deeply wrinkled, in pieces 3-6 inches long and 1/2-3/4 inch thick, greyish and horny internally.  Fracture is short.  Transverse section shows a thick bark, short wood bundles and broad medullary rays.  Tastes sweetish, mucilaginous, and faintly astringent.  No odor.    (57)

Active constituents: allantoin (.6-.8%), mucilage (fructans), tannins (4-6%); triterpene saponins; symphytoxide A, among others, silicic acid (4%); pyrrolizidine alkaloids (.04-.06%):  incl. echinatin, lycopsamine, 7-acetyllycopsamine, echimidine, lasiocarpine, symphytine, symveridine (not present in leaves), intermedin  (2); allantoin, mucilage, tannins, starch, inulin and traces of oil (6); mucilage, steroidal saponins, allantoin (mainly flowering tops), tannins, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (mainly root), inulin, vitamin B12, protein.  (15)

Actions: yin tonic, demulcent, expectorant, vulnerary, astringent  (6);   demulcent, expectorate, mucilage, vulnerary, alterative, astringent, nutritive  (14); cell proliferator, astringent, demulcent, heals wounds, expectorant.  (15); chiefly demulcent, slightly astringent  (50);  Demulcent, astringent.    (57)

Conditions and Uses: Has anti-inflammatory and antimitotic properties and promotes the formation of callus… blunt injuriesgastritis and gastrointestinal ulcers.  Rheumatism, bronchitis, pleuritis, antidiarrheal. (2)  Comfrey root is used to treat chronic lung diseases with dry cough and inflammation, sore throat, pulmonary catarrh, stomach ulcers, and wasting diseases. It is excellent both internally and externally for promoting the healing of sores, bones, muscles and other tissues, and is as powerful as some of the best oriental tonic herbs. (6); Comfrey is a powerful remedy for coughs, catarrh, ulcerated bowels, stomach and lungs.  It is one of the best remedies for internal bleeding anywhere in the body.  Use a strong decoction for bleeding and to build new flesh during wasting diseases.  It is excellent for dysentery and helps regulate blood sugar levels.  

Comfrey is a cell proliferator and will help heal broken bones, sprains and slow-healing sores.  

Anemia: decoction*, powder*, syrup*.  Arthritis:  powder*, decoction*.  Asthma:  powder, decoction, syrup.  Bleeding internally:  powder, decoction, infusion.  Blood purifier:  powder, decoction, syrup, infusion.  Bronchitis:  powder, decoction, infusion, syrup.  Calcium deficiency:  powder*, decoction*, syrup*.  Colitis:  decoction, infusion, powder.  Coughs: decoction*, infusion*.  Diarrhea, dysentery:  decoction.  Emphysema:  decoction, syrup.  Gall bladder inflammation: decoction*, powder*.  Inflammations:  infusion, decoction, syrup, powder.

* Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.  (14)

…similar properties to the leaves but tends to be colder and nourishing in action… can be used for varicose ulcers. (15);  Greatly esteemed as a remedy for catarrh and pulmonary troubles, and also for diarrhea and dysentery.  An excellent application for fresh wounds, sores, burnsand bruises.  (50)

Very highly esteemed as a remedy in all pulmonary complaints, and hemoptysis, and forms an ingredient in a large number of herbal preparations.  Wherever a mucilaginous medicine is required this may be given.  Has been used of late by the medical profession as a poultice to promote healing of obstinate ulcerous wounds. (57)

Combinations: Use as a simple to treat varicose ulcers, but apply a heating oil (such as cayenne) to the area around the ulcer (not directly to it) to help stimulate blood flow.  (15)

May be advantageously used for all purposes to which the Marshmallow is applied.  (50)

Precautions: General:  No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages.  One should entirely forgo internal administration of the drug, due to the presence, however small, of pyrrolizidine alkaloids which have hepatotoxic and carcinogenic effects.  It has been determined that traces of the alkaloids present a danger.  External administration where skin is intact appears to be defensible.  Nevertheless, no application of daily dosages containing more than 100 mcg pyrrolizidine alkaloids with unsaturated necic structure, to include their n-oxides, should be carried out.  The industrial manufacture of extracts virtually free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids is possible. The drug is contraindicated during pregnancy or while nursing.  (2)

          COMFREY ROOT   (Symphytum officinale; Boraginaceae)

Recent controversy suggests that prolonged internal use of comfrey root for more than two or three months at a time may cause liver impairment in some individuals. Until this is resolved, it may be

advisable to refrain from using it internally for no more than two weeks at a time and definitely not during pregnancy or small infants and children.    (6) 

Avoid using on dirty wounds, because rapid healing can trap dirt or pus.  Use is restricted in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Germany.  (15)

Toxic effect of pyrrolizidines worsens if the herb is combined with medicines like Dilantin or phenobarbital, which increase the activity of liver enzymes.    (1b)

Tincturing Process: Vita Mix:   (Speed 5) 1 gr: 3.7 ml. To prevent comfrey lumping, pour 3” vodka in brew jar prior to adding freshly process Comfrey root. Stir vigorously and often. 

        Purchasing Note: 1 lb of Vita-Mixed C. root fits well in 2-qt mason jar.   (1a)

Applications: Crushed root, extracts, and pressed juice of the fresh plant are used for semi-solid preparations and poultices for external use.  It is available as ointments and other preparations for external application with 5 to 20% dried drug and equivalent preparations.  The drug is a component of standardized preparations of analgesics, antirheumatic agents, antiphlogistics, antitussives, and expectorants.

        Decoction:  Pour boiling water over 5 to 10 g comminuted drug or powdered drug, steep 10 to 15 minutes, then strain (1 tsp = 4 g drug).  For external application, a decoction of 1:10 is used, or the fresh roots are mashed.  (2)

        Decoction: for internal hemorrhaging, the dosage is 2 ounces several times a day.  (14)

        Poultice:  Make a paste of pwd root with a little water and use on varicose ulcers and other stubborn wounds; cover with gauze and a bandage; also for bleeding hemorrhoids and diaper rash.  (15)


XXI The World

Demulcent, vulnerary (promotes healing), tonic, and alterative, comfrey is used both internally and externally to unite torn flesh and broken bones.  The tea of the leaf is a cooling alterative against fevers and lung infections.  The root is taken as a demulcent for ulcers, internal injuries, bleeding, as well as to moisten and strengthen the lungs.  u  (48) 

Symbolically used for: Healing.  Pulling things together both within oneself  and in one’s outer circumstances.

Divinatory Meanings: To unite. To join together.  To encompass the whole.  Supreme feeling of union, healing and success.                   

Reverse Meanings:   Premature assumptions of union and friendship.     Making light of genuine differences.  Trying to    unite and bring together before conditions are    appropriate.  Stagnation.  Inertia.  (52)

Dosage: decoction (root):  simmer 30 minutes, 3 oz. frequently

tincture:  1/2 to 1 tsp. three times daily

fluid extract: 1/2 to 2 tsp. three times daily

powder:  5 to 10 #0 capsules (30 to 60 grains), three times daily

For internal hemorrhaging, the dosage is 2 ounces of the decoction several times a day.   Comfrey is a cell proliferator… will help heal broken bones, sprains and slow-healing sores.  (14)

Daily applied dosage should not exceed 1 mcg of pyrrolizidine alkaloids with 1,2 unsaturated   necine structure, include their N-oxides.  Drug should be used maximum of 4 weeks.  When   using the infusion, take 1 cup 2 to 3 times daily, but not for a long duration.  (2);  6‑15 gms. (6); A         decoction is made by boiling 1/2-1 oz of crushed root in 1 qt of water or milk.  Dosage 4 fl. oz.    (57)

General Notes: …given to drinke against the paine of the backe, gotten by violent motion as wrastling or overmuch use of women…  John Gerard, 1597.

A country name for comfrey was knitbone, a reminder of its traditional use in healing fractures.  The herb contains allantoin, which encourages bone, cartilage, and muscle cells to grow.  When the crushed herb is applied to an injured limb, the allantoin is absorbed through the skin and speed up healing.  In the past, comfrey baths were popular before marriage to repair the hymen and thus “restore virginity.”  (15)

Despite considerable controversy concerning toxicity of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, actual incidence of toxic effects with comfrey in internal use has been extremely sparse, and non-existent in external use… Extrapolating from the HERP index, which classifies cancer-causing potentials of substances, USDA botanist James Duke calculated that .2 oz. of brown mustard is twice as cancer-causing as a comfrey tea, which has roughly the same cancer potential as a peanut butter sandwich.  (1)

Hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum officinale), a related species used for diarrhea, is less tonic and more astringent, owing to its higher tannin content.  (6)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Herbals Research Data, “Comfrey” file, Becca Harber, IT, 2/2/95

(1a) ibid “Comfrey Root” Tincture file

(1b) ibid Research Data, “If You Take Herbs, Tell Your Doctor”, Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, 3/98

(2) PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 1163-1165

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 325-325

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 106-107

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 101, 126-27, 160-61

(48) The Rulership Book by Rex E. Bills, p. 27

(50) The Practical Herbalist and Astrologer by Ira N. Shaw, p. 36-37

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin), p. 15


PHOTO: Unattributed