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Medicinal Herb: Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)


Biological Name:
(Symphytum officinale, S. officinale) 


Other Names:
Ass Ear, Black Root, Blackwort, Bruisewort, Consolidae Radix, Consound, Consoude, Consuelda, Gum Plant, Healing Herb, Herbe aux Charpentiers, Herbe à la Coupure, Knitback, Knitbone, Langue-de-Vache, Oreille d’Âne, Salsify, Slippery Root or Wallwort.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Introduction to Comfrey (Symphytum officinale):

Symphytum officinalis, is a herbaceous plant that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for its potential healing properties. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale/S. officinale) is a perennial herbaceous plant that belongs to the Boraginaceae family. It is known scientifically as Symphytum officinale. S. officinale is native to Europe and parts of Asia, but it has been naturalised in various regions around the world.

The plant has a robust, hairy stem that can reach a height of 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 centimeters). It features large, rough leaves that are often covered in coarse hairs. The leaves are lance-shaped and alternate along the stem. Symphytum produces bell-shaped flowers that come in colors ranging from white to pink, purple, or blue. These flowers are arranged in clusters and bloom during the summer.

S. officinale is highly valued for its medicinal properties and has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine. The plant contains various beneficial compounds, including allantoin, rosmarinic acid, and tannins. These constituents are believed to contribute to its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and wound-healing effects.

Due to its healing properties, comfrey has been used topically as a poultice or salve to treat bruises, sprains, strains, wounds, and skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis. However, it’s important to note that internal use of S. officinale, such as consuming its leaves or extracts, has been associated with liver toxicity and should be avoided.

In addition to its medicinal uses, S. officinale has been utilised as a natural fertilizer and compost activator due to its high nutrient content. It has deep taproots that help draw up nutrients from the soil, making it a valuable plant for improving soil quality.

Comfrey has traditionally been used to treat wounds and reduce inflammation associated with sprains and broken bones. The roots and leaves of comfrey contain allantoin, a substance that promotes wound healing and tissue regeneration.

Species and Varieties:
Symphytum x uplandicum: This is a hybrid between Symphytum officinale and Symphytum asperum, known as Russian comfrey. It is often cultivated for its larger leaves and vigorous growth.

Growing Conditions: Comfrey is a hardy plant that prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial to full sunlight.
Propagation: It can be propagated from root cuttings or seeds. Comfrey can have both positive and negative impacts on local ecosystems. Its utility for pollinators is a plus, but its potential invasiveness, especially in non-native areas, can be a concern.

Traditional Applications of S. officinale in Herbal Medicine:

Therapeutic actions of Comfrey:
Vulnerary, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, astringent, expectorant.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) has traditionally been used to treat wounds and reduce inflammation associated with sprains and broken bones. The roots and leaves of comfrey contain allantoin, a substance that promotes wound healing and tissue regeneration.

S. officinale was once used in treating fractures and hence the alternative name ‘Knitbone’. The pounded root forms a mucilaginous mass, which can be bound around a fracture and which, when dry, holds the bone in place.

Symphytum is an excellent wound-healer. This is partially due to the presence of allantoin. This chemical stimulates cell proliferation and so aids wound-healing both internally and externally.

The root, used internally, is useful in the treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers, and diarrhoea
. The leaf is used in pleurisy and bronchitis.

For wounds, bruising, ulceration and dermatological complaints, the leaves or macerated root may be applied as a poultice, lotion or decoction.

S. officinale is considered of benefit in neuralgia and rheumatism, applied externally.

The whole plant, beaten to a cataplasm and applied hot as a poultice, has always been deemed excellent for soothing pain in any tender, inflamed or suppurating part. It was formerly applied to raw, indolent ulcers as a glutinous astringent. It is useful in any kind of inflammatory swelling.

S. officinale should always be used together with an anti-septic, for example Echinacea purpurea, Calendula, or other anti-septic herb. An example of this is Wildcrafted’s Comfrey Plus Cream, which contains several ingredients including antiseptic herbs.

Other indications include:

  • Supportive of cell regeneration and normal tissue replacement.
  • Used externally for skin problems and infections (extract).
  • For bruises: crushed leaves applied directly.
  • Poultice form is used for cuts, boils and abrasions.
  • Used in ointment or salve form for abrasions, wounds, burns, swollen breasts and skin problems.
  • A fomentation (roots and leaves) is used for sprains, swellings, bruises.
  • For bruises, inflammations, ulcers, and sores, dampen the root powder with water until it’s a wet, gummy mash; place in a clean cloth and apply.
  • A hot decoction of the root is used for styes.
  • Used as a “cast” for broken bones by pounding the root then binding the mash around a break; the mixture will set when dry.
  • Tea was traditionally used for colds.


Clinical Studies on Topical Applications

Wound Healing and Skin Repair:
There have been several studies examining the efficacy of comfrey in wound healing and skin repair. These studies generally focus on comfrey’s ability to reduce inflammation and speed up the healing process due to its allantoin content.

> Results have been promising in some cases, showing that comfrey-based creams can significantly improve healing rates of bruises, sprains, and skin abrasions.

Osteoarthritis and Pain Relief:
> Clinical trials have also investigated comfrey’s effects on osteoarthritis and general pain relief. Some studies suggest that comfrey creams can reduce pain and improve mobility in patients with knee osteoarthritis.

> However, these studies often note the need for larger, more comprehensive trials to confirm these findings and establish clear clinical guidelines.

Further Research into fully understanding S. officinale‘s therapeutic potential and safety profile, broader clinical trials involving larger sample sizes and diverse populations are needed. In addition, there’s also a need for long-term studies to assess the effects of prolonged comfrey use.


The TGA (Therapeutic Goods and Administration) approves the use of S. officinale for external use only

Cultivation of Comfrey (S. officinale)

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a perennial herb that is known for its medicinal properties and is commonly grown for various uses, such as herbal medicine and organic gardening. Here are some guidelines for cultivating comfrey:

1. Climate and Soil:

  • S. officinale thrives in a variety of climates but prefers temperate regions.
  • It grows well in full sun to partial shade.
  • The plant prefers moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter.

2. Propagation:

  • Comfrey can be propagated through seeds, root cuttings, or crown divisions.
  • Seeds can be sown in early spring or fall, but keep in mind that comfrey plants grown from seed might not be true to the parent plant.
  • Root cuttings or divisions are more commonly used for propagation. Planting root cuttings or dividing established plants is a faster way to get new comfrey plants.

3. Planting:

  • When planting S. officinale, space the plants about 2 to 3 feet apart to allow for their spreading habit.
  • If planting from root cuttings or divisions, plant them at the same depth as they were in their previous location.

4. Watering:

  • Comfrey requires regular watering, especially during dry periods. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Once established, comfrey is relatively drought-tolerant.

5. Maintenance:

  • S. officinale is a fast-growing plant and can become invasive if not properly managed. Regular pruning can help control its growth.
  • Prune comfrey plants back to the ground several times a year to encourage fresh growth and prevent them from becoming too woody.
  • Mulching around the plants helps retain moisture and suppress weeds.

6. Harvesting:

  • The leaves of comfrey are typically harvested for medicinal and gardening purposes.
  • Harvest the leaves in the morning when the plant’s essential oils are most concentrated.
  • For medicinal use, harvest leaves before the plant flowers for the best quality.

7. Uses:

  • Comfrey leaves are commonly used to make a nutrient-rich compost or liquid fertilizer. The plant’s deep roots bring up nutrients from the soil.
  • Comfrey is also used in traditional herbal medicine for various ailments (see above).

8. Pest and Disease Resistance:

  • Comfrey is generally resistant to pests and diseases.
  • However, be on the lookout for aphids or spider mites, which can sometimes affect the plant.

9. Legal Considerations:

  • Check local regulations before planting comfrey, as it is considered invasive in some regions.

Comfrey is a robust and useful plant when cultivated with care. It is essential to be aware of its potentially invasive nature and to use it responsibly, especially in garden settings. Additionally, if you plan to use comfrey for medicinal purposes, it’s advisable to seek guidance from a qualified medical herbalist.


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Page last updated: 26th June 2020

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