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The Fine Print: Cautions and Guidance for Working with Comfrey

Comfrey is an amazing herbal ally for stitching together the muskuloskeltal system and speeding up the recovery process for broken bones, torn ligaments and other related injuries. However, there is a lot of controversy and confusion around the safety of interacting with this herb.


Many caution against taking Comfrey internally and it can also cause serious problems if misused on open wounds. In this post, we go over the precautions associated with Comfrey and give you an excellent salve recipe for scrapes, stings, bruises and wounds.


Comfrey is NOT safe for the following populations:

  • Babies

  • Children

  • Nursing mothers

  • The elderly

  • Anyone with a history of kidney/liver/heart disease

  • Anyone on medications that affect the liver


A photo of Comfrey flowering

Precautions with Comfrey

Comfrey is a powerful herb that warrants caution and respect. There is a lot of controversy over whether or not this herb is safe to take internally. It contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) that are potentially toxic to the liver and can induce veno-hepato-occlusive disease (literally meaning blocking off or narrowing of veins in the liver). The FDA and many herbalists caution against taking this herb internally.


The safest way to interact with Comfrey is through external use only, but this herb has been used internally for hundreds of years and some herbalists would argue that it is still safe to take this herb internally in small, limited doses for specific purposes. Whenever working with Comfrey internally, make sure to partner with a well-trained herbalist and consult your healthcare practitioner for supervision and guidance to ensure you are being safe.


In Making Plant Medicine, Richo Cech states that it is generally safe to take Comfrey internally in a 3-week course but advises against taking this herb internally if you are pregnant or nursing. In the Earthwise Herbal, Matthew Wood argues that “the pyrrolizidine alkaloids may be dangerous for persons with weak liver function, though most of this is speculative.” Again, work with an experienced herbalist and consult your healthcare practitioner whenever taking Comfrey internally.

The root has a higher concentration of PAs than the leaf and there is very little risk of absorbing PAs through the skin when Comfrey is used topically, as long as it is not placed on open wounds. Studies show that the leaf has a particularly low PA content if harvested when the plant is flowering.


Herbs can be dangerous when not used appropriately, and if you do not have a solid understanding of the way Comfrey works it is strongly recommended that you avoid internal consumption of this herb at all. 

Another risk with Comfrey is that it can heal wounds too quickly and trap dirt and infections inside. Comfrey heals from the inside out, which can lead to abscesses in deep wounds if the top heals too quickly before the inside of the wound has properly recovered.


There is also a risk of applying Comfrey to unset bones as it can cause the bones to stitch up improperly. Matthew Wood cautions that this is an herb to work with carefully, not exuberantly. It can cause excessive growth, including overgrowth of tissue and generate calluses if used improperly.


Make sure you really understand how Comfrey works before you engage with this plant and only to use it in appropriate circumstances. And because we can't emphasize this enough, make sure to work with an experienced herbalist and consult your healthcare practitioner before taking this herb internally.


Here are some additional resources to learn more about the risks and benefits of working with Comfrey:


A photo of Comfrey flowering

Medicine Making with Comfrey

The safest way to work with Comfrey is topically and keeping salves around means you are always prepared to support injuries like cuts, scrapes, burns, bruises and more.


In Artemisia Academy's Medicine Making for Beginners class, we learn the following recipe for a truly magical salve. I highly encourage that you consider taking this class if you want more in-depth instruction on how to safely and effectively make herbal remedies to incorporate into your daily wellness routine.


Cuts and Scrapes Salve:

  1. Make an herbal oil infused with 1/4 ounce each of Yarrow, Calendula, Plantain and Comfrey. If you'd like instruction on how to make an herbal oil, please check out this blog post.

  2. Heat herbal oil to 100-140 degrees over a double boiler.

  3. Add 1 ounce of shredded beeswax for every 8 ounces of oil and let dissolve.

  4. Test the batch by letting a spoonful of mixture cool in the freezer. If consistency is too thin, add more beeswax. If too thick, add more olive oil.

  5. If adding essential oils, add to salve tins, pour salve oil on top and mix together.

  6. Let salve cool in open containers for 30-40 minutes before adding lids.


Uses:

  • Bee stings

  • Bug bites

  • Cuts/wounds

  • Rashes and itchy skin

  • Splinters

  • Chapped lips


Herbal Apprentice Program description

Herbal Apprentice Program

If you want to learn how to safely and effectively work with herbs like Comfrey and make incredible herbal remedies, Artemisia Academy's Herbal Apprentice Program may be perfect for you. This 150-hour program is hands-on, interactive, and will give you the skills and knowledge you need to form deep and healing relationships with the herbal allies all around us.


Sources Used


About the Author

A headshot of the author, Alicia Cielle Heiser

Alicia Cielle Heiser is an Astrologer, Herbalist and student at Artemisia Academy. Her work centers on facilitating a greater understanding of the cyclical nature of the world and the ways that we as humans fit within the greater whole. She is writing a series of materia medica blog posts for Artemisia to make the wisdom and knowledge of herbal medicine more available to more people. Alicia also has a podcast called Conversations with the Planets and she offers herbal astrology readings and crafts personalized herbal tea blends. You can find her at www.aliciacielle.com. 


 

Disclaimer: Information presented on this webpage is for educational purposes only, and does not include the diagnosis and treatment of disease nor replace the advice of a licensed physician. Please refer to a licensed health professional for any illness or persistent symptoms before using herbal remedies.


Herbs can sometimes cause discomfort or side effects, and may interact adversely with pharmaceutical medications. Do not use herbs internally without the approval of a doctor or medical professional if you are currently on medications or have a history of medical conditions.

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