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 Herbal Materia Medica: Comfrey 
Symphytum officinale


Names: Knitbone


Collection: The roots should be unearthed in the spring or autumn when the allantoin levels are the highest. Split the roots down the middle and dry in moderate temperatures of about 40-60 degrees C.

Part Used: Root and rhizome, leaf.


  • Allantoin
  • Pyrrolizidine alkaloids, including echimidine, symphytine, lycopsamine, symlandine. The alkaloids are found in the fresh young leaves and in the root, but in two separate investigations were found to be absent in the dried herb.
  • Phenolic acids; rosmarinic, chlorogenic, caffeic and lithospermic acids.
  • Mucilage, about 29%, composed of a polysaccharide containing glucose &fructose.
  • Miscellaneous; choline, asparagine, volatile oil, tannins, steroidalsaponins, triterpenes
Actions: Vulnerary, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, astringent, expectorant.

Indications: The impressive wound-healing properties of Comfrey are partially due to the presence of allantoin. This chemical stimulates cell proliferation and so augments wound-healing both inside and out. The addition of much demulcent mucilage makes Comfrey a powerful healing agent in gastric and duodenal ulcers, hiatus hernia and ulcerative colitis. Its astringency will help haemorrhages wherever they occur. It has been used with benefit in cases of bronchitis and irritable cough, where it will soothe and reduce irritation whilst helping expectoration. Comfrey may be used externally tospeed wound-healing and guard against scar tissue developing incorrectly. Care should be taken with very deep wounds, however, as the external application of Comfrey can lead to tissue forming over the wound before it is healed deeper down, possibly leading to abscesses. It may be used for any external ulcers, for wounds and fractures as a compress or poultice. It is excellent in chronic varicose ulcers. It has a reputed anti-cancer action.

Priest & Priest tell us that it is a "soothing demulcent, gently stimulating to the mucous membranes, allays irritation and encourages cell growth. Increases expectoration and tones the bronchi, especially suitable for conditions involving capillary haemorrhage or excessive mucous." They give the following specific indications: coughs & colds, gastric & duodenal ulcers, gastro-intestinal inflammation, haemoptysis, haematemesis, pruritus ani, chronic suppurative ulcerations, bruised & damaged joints and muscles or pulled tendons, delayed union of fractures, traumatic injury to the eye.

Ellingwood recommends it for the following patholgies:bronchial irritation, pneumonia, inflammation of the stomach, and quotes `old European writers' as being useful in all hurts and bruises both internal and external.

Combinations: For gastric ulcers and inflammations it combines well with Marshmallow and Meadowsweet. For chest and bronchial troubles use it with Coltsfoot, White Horehound or Elecampane. For wound healing use with Calendula.

Preparations & Dosage: Decoction: put 1-3 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb in a cup of water, bring to the boil and let simmer for l0-l5 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: take 2-4 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Citations from the Medline database for the genus Symphytum

ComfreyBehninger C Abel G Roder E Neuberger V Goggelmann W [Studies on the effect of an alkaloid extract of Symphytum officinale on human lymphocyte cultures]

Planta Med 1989 Dec;55(6):518-22 (Published in German)Brauchli J Luthy J Zweifel U Schlatter C Pyrrolizidine alkaloids from Symphytum officinale L. and their percutaneous absorption in rats.

Experientia 1982 Sep 15;38(9):1085-7Culvenor CC Clarke M Edgar JA Frahn JL Jago MV Peterson JE Smith LW Structure and toxicity of the alkaloids of Russian comfrey (symphytum xuplandicum Nyman), a medicinal herb and item of human diet.

Experientia 1980 Apr 15;36(4):377-9Fell KR Peck JM British medicinal species of the genus symphytum.

Planta Med 1968 May;16(2):208-16Franz G [Studies on the mucopolysaccharides of Tussilago farfara L., Symphytum officinalis L., Borago officinalis L. and Viola tricolor L]

Planta Med 1969 Aug;17(3):217-20 (Published in German)Gracza L Koch H Loffler E [Biochemical-pharmacologic studies of medicinal plants. 1. Isolation of rosmarinic acid from Symphytum officinale L. and its anti- inflammatory activity in an in vitro model]

Arch Pharm (Weinheim) 1985 Dec;318(12):1090-5 (Published in German)Hirono I Mori H Haga M Carcinogenic activity of Symphytum officinale.

J Natl Cancer Inst 1978 Sep;61(3):865-9Wagner H Horhammer L Frank U [Lithospermic acid, the antihormonally active principle of Lycopuseuropaeus L. and Symphytum officinale. 3. Ingredients of medicinal plants with hormonal and antihormonal-like effect]

Arzneimittel forschung 1970 May;20(5):705-13 (Published in German)

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 About The Author
David Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMHWhilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it......more
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