Comfrey the Pros And Cons Of A Traditional Folk Remedy

Comfrey The Pros And Cons Of A Traditional Folk Remedy (Opinion)

Comfey article contributed by IE Smallbones.

Disclaimernote that this is an opinion piece. All natural folk medicines should be approached with care. Never take or use any home-based recipes without first consulting a medical professional. The recommendations in this opinion piece are not endorsed by Sans Newsfeed. This article is intended for information purposes only.

It never ceases to amaze me that modern man, influenced by pharmaceutical companies and practitioners of
orthodox medicine, prefers to use man-made, chemical medications. People mostly prefer pharma medications despite their warnings of possible serious side-effects. For millennia, folk medicine used natural plants like comfrey. But like many natural medications, past history records several instances of governments banning the use of commonly available weeds that grow in the countryside.

Comfrey, aka Symphytum officinale or Knitbone

Comfrey. Symphytum officinale or Knitbone comes with some controversy because medical research indicated that it MAY damage the liver. An alkaloid in comfrey is similar to one found in ragwort, which causes liver damage in cattle. Alkaloids are nitrogenous organic compounds of plant origin, many of which are used in drugs such as morphine and quinine. However, according to The Practical Book of Herbs by Yvette van Wyk
published in 1986, a study was conducted some years ago by The Department of Chemistry at the University of Exeter.

Together with The Toxicology Unit of the Medical Research Council at Carshalton and the Michaelis Nutritional Research Laboratory at Harpenden, the co-ordinated study found that “the use of comfrey as a food for mankind and animals does not present a toxic hazard from alkaloids.” Notably, though, it is banned in some countries like Australia and New Zealand. WebMD (USA) notes that “Comfrey is LIKELY UNSAFE for anyone when taken by mouth” In fact, “the FDA recommended that all oral comfrey products be removed from the market.”

While the plant is recognized to have some healing properties when applied to the skin, the website adds cautionary notes. They note that people should not use it on broken skin. People with poor liver function should avoid it. And, it’s not recommended for pregnant women.

Where is Comfrey found?

This herb grows wild in Europe and Asia, but now grows well in several other countries of the world, so long as it has plenty of water. It is very rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Interestingly, it’s the only plant known to take up vitamin B12 from the soil. This potentially makes it a valuable food source for animals. In ancient days, it possibly played a part in the diet because of its high vitamin B content. And certainly animals,  seemingly enjoy it.

I gave a plant to a family member to grow on a small property, but as soon as it flourished, local horses devoured it. An acquaintance had an old dog that suffered from severe arthritis. Every morning the dog would go and eat some of the comfrey that was growing in a corner of the garden. Within two weeks of being unable to get his daily dose of comfrey, the dog died. A friend told me that her dogs love comfrey and eat some from her bushes every day.

Other interesting applications

Old leaves are an excellent addition to the compost heap and can be used to make a liquid fertilizer. Some vegetarians enjoy the leaves. (Note the disclaimer at the start of this article.) Young comfrey leaves dipped in a batter and fried, make a tasty, light, wholesome meal when served with a salad. Alternatively, leaves are sometimes steamed and served as spinach, and chopped and added to soups and casseroles. The leaves and stalks of comfrey are prickly (but not when dipped into hot water), so it may be wise to wear gloves when
harvesting.

Comfrey was referred to as “Knitbone” because when the root was pounded, it formed a mucilaginous mass that could be bound over a fracture. This hardened as it dried and helped keep the bone in place. Comfrey is used to treat ulcers, tuberculosis, pneumonia, bruises, and burns. WebMD, however, notes that there’s insufficient evidence of proof that the herb works.  Nevertheless, I can personally vouch for it helping with burns.

Whilst carrying a kettle of boiling water into the garden to pour onto weeds that were growing between some paving blocks, I tripped and some of the water spilt onto my knee, badly scalding it. After bathing the area with cold water, I rubbed on some comfrey ointment that I had made. No blisters formed and in less than a week, there was no sign of the burn.

More burn treatments

On another occasion, a neighbour asked me if I could help her gardener. A few days previously, a blazing log had fallen out of his cooking fire, onto his foot, burning a large hole in it. The woman had given him a bandage to cover the wound. But, by the time I saw him, the bandage was filthy and the suppuration so bad that the bone became exposed. I did not have much hope of it healing because his employer also mentioned the fact that he had AIDS and he was only expected to live for a couple of months.

Anyway, to relieve the man’s agony, I bathed the wound with a cool infusion of Thyme (a natural herbal antiseptic) and then applied comfrey ointment to the wound and covered it with a new bandage. I sent him home with a jar of comfrey cream and some clean bandages, with instructions to clean and dress the wound every day. His wound healed completely within a week.

Another time, someone came to see me with her daughter. The child’s face was covered in what appeared to be large, pustulous blisters. They were painful and itchy and she had scratched her face, causing the blisters to open and spread. There were also a few on her body. I was told that her father also had these blisters on his mouth and chin. The mother wanted to know if I could help her as nurses at the clinic had not told her what had caused the blisters. Rubbed as a cream, both the child and her father’s skin healed in a couple of days.

Can it cure certain cancers?

WebMD notes that there is insufficient evidence that comfrey cures cancer. However, it cleared up a nasty patch on my husband’s face. It is soothing and healing for the skin and when applied overnight will help to reduce wrinkles. A tea made with chopped comfrey leaves may help cleanse the bloodstream and clear the complexion. (disclaimer). Some pharmacies and health shops sell comfrey cream, but why not try growing comfrey for yourself? There are many herbal books available to help you make good use of this plant, besides being an attractive addition to your garden. However, it does die down in the winter in the southern hemisphere.

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