Saturday, March 3, 2012

Herbal Medicine Part 5: Comforting Comfrey

Comfrey in bloom

The herbalist/instructor at the herbal medicine workshop I attended told this story about one of her comfrey experiences...

Early in Robin McGee's herbalist life, her daughter injured her collar bone... off to the doctor they went, x-rays were taken, and sure enough, the collar bone was broken... after returning home, Robin decided to treat her daughter's broken bone with comfrey salve as it is said to heal broken bones... AND she wanted to prove to the doctor that it worked... so for three weeks she applied comfrey salve topically to the area 2-3 times a day. When it was time for her daughter's 3-week check of the afflicted area, back to the doctor they went, where she requested another x-ray of the area. The doctor told her there was no need for another x-ray... there wouldn't be enough healing so soon to warrant another x-ray... Robin was determined, she needed to prove to the doctor, but mostly to herself, that her methods were making a difference (remember this was early in her career as an herbalist)... She told the doctor, "Hey, dude, you're working for me... take the x-ray!" He did...

The results? The doctor, after reading the x-ray, said, "The first x-ray must have been incorrect, I see no broken bone here." Hmmm... Victory! The comfrey had worked... Robin does say that looking back, she might have used mullein along with the comfrey due to the fact that comfrey alone heals so quickly that sometimes it "over-heals" leaving calcium deposits... but she had proven to the doctor, and to herself, that she was right.

Comfrey plant
Comfrey speeds the healing of cuts, ulcerations, bruises, broken bones, pulled muscles and ligaments, and sprains.

The root and/or leaf of the the plant can be harvested any time during its growth cycle, but preferably not when in full flower... it can be used fresh or dried. After flowering, the plants are cut back, mulched with their own stems, leaves, and flowers, and allowed to grow back through the green mulch.

An infused oil may be made using dried comfrey leaves or roots to make a healing salve. Cover the dried comfrey with a good oil (I use olive), set it in a sunny window for 3-6 weeks, then strain out and use as is or add beeswax to make a salve.

The best comfrey for use in medicine is symphytum officinale... Russian comfrey (symphytum asperum) and other hybridized types are much higher in echimidine (a liver toxic PA) and should be avoided.

Contraindications: Comfrey should not be used during pregnancy or while nursing. Comfrey tincture should not be taken internally for more than 3 weeks at a time as a tonic. Comfrey should not be used externally on new puncture wounds or deep cuts, due to the likelihood that the outer skin layers will be stimulated to close up and heal prior to the draining and regeneration of deeper tissues. Instead, first use Epsom salt soaks containing calendula or chamomile tincture. Once the swelling and pain have subsided and the wound is clean and healing normally, comfrey may be safely and effectively applied to speed the process.*

*From the book Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech
Gaia Herbs Comfrey Compound
Not long after I attended the herbal medicine workshop, I got to try out what I learned... On Mr. Granny! He was chasing an escape parakeet through the house before the dog got her, and kicked the pedestal on the dining room table... after a few French words, and getting the bird safely back in her cage, we checked out the injury... his pinky toe was black and swollen, three other toes were purple, half his foot was blue and swelling quickly... knowing that there isn't much a doctor will/can do for a broken toe, we made a trip to the local health food market in town, our wonderful little Rosewood Market, and bought a jar of Gaia Herbs Comfrey Compound (contains comfrey root, marshmallow root, mullein herb, skullcap herb, black walnut hulls, white oak bark, gravel root, lobelia, St. John's wort flower bud oil, olive oil and beeswax) and some bulk dried comfrey root and leaves (to mix up my own later)

We began treatment... by soaking in Epsom salts, followed by an application of the Comfrey Compound twice a day... the swelling was gone after two days, the bruising lessening every day until it disappeared by day 3... the pain was gone within a week. I felt victorious!!!!


  1. Do you know how you can grow this your self? Or can you dry it and keep stored for when needed?

    1. Ali, Until now, I've bought comfrey leaf and root already dried to make into infused oil... from my local health food store. I recently bought seeds and plan to grow it this spring, from my understanding once you get it started growing, it is pretty low maintenance, grows like a weed, and can actually be invasive if not kept in check. ~~Granny

  2. I am really enjoying reading about the differant herbs and uses. Thank you for putting this up for those of us that are to lazy to do learn all this ourselves. LOL
    Although, just a few days ago you were talking about 'spagettie herbs' and I havn't seen that post. Did I miss something? I was really looking forward to that info.
    I have been enjoying your blog a lot. Thanks so much.

    1. You didn't miss anything... I did... I never posted the Spaghetti Herbs post... Uh Oh... REALLY thought I did! LOL! I will get that done by the end of this week! I promise! ~~Granny

  3. A number of years ago a friend separated her comfrey plant (which does grow like a week once it gets started) and gave me some to plant. She told me how to make creamed comfrey like she did, and I did make it and served it to my family several times. Since then, I have read that it should NOT be eaten. Oh well! We're still here! But I won't be eating it again! After reading your post, however, I may try to grow it again and use it for making the salve you describe. Thanks for all your interesting and helpful posts.

  4. Comfrey is on my list of herbs to grow this year, but I mainly wanted it to add to compost. I didn't know about it's other great uses!

  5. My grandmother used Comfrey as her "secret ingredient" in her very yummy homemade soup. Dad kept a plant, just for her, under one of our apple trees. Now, like Anonymous above, I've learned that it may not be wise to consume this plant. I'm still here after 20 years of eating that soup, so I guess my family and I beat the odds...Yike!

  6. What is the best way to dry it?...and does it need to be dried to make a lotion/salve, or is the 'recipe' just for those who do not have the plant readily available? Thanks!

    1. You can dry comfrey in a food dehydrator or hang in bunches. To infuse in oil, comfrey does, indeed, need to be dried. Thanks ~~Granny

  7. How do I know which variety of comfry is growing in my yard in Illinois.

  8. Comfrey is safe to consume if you have a healthy liver. The "cautions" against internal use put out by the FDA, etc. are not based on any scientific studies.

  9. Could you use Comfrey as a chronic pain reliever/ neuropathy pain reliever? If so, what do you recommend, and if not, can you recommend something? Great blog by the way!

    1. I've only used comfrey externally, there is some controversy taking comfrey tincture internally due to possible liver damage. WebMD published an article on comfrey easing chronic back and knee pain using comfrey salve. Here's the link

      Comfrey regenerates skin cells so quickly I would hesitate to use it constantly, it can build up calluses. ~~Granny

  10. hi there,
    i have comfrey growing but it is coming out of full flowering mode but i still want to make the oil with the leaves. is it just that there is less energy in the leaves at this point or will the oil still be effective? i want to use it on lumbago.

    1. Sabine, there is still plenty of goodness in the leaves even after flowering... go for it! ~~Granny

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  18. Not sure if you are still answering questions on this post, but I think I fractured my foot. There is a knot at the fracture and lots of bruising. I have dried comfrey, but I don't have 3 weeks!!! How can I use it dried to aid healing immediately? I am not sure of the condition of my liver, I was going to do a cleanse. I have sore muscles and joints and thought my liver may be the culprit. Thank you!


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