Comfrey or Symphytum officinale is a perennial shrub native to Europe and parts of Asia. It belongs to the Boraginaceae family. Comfrey has been known as a medicinal herb for a long time. It has been traditionally used to treat aches, open wounds, reduce inflammation from sprains, superficial phlebitis, joint pain, female reproductive problems and inflammation from insect bites. Comfrey is used to treat sore muscles and bruises. Comfrey was known as "knit bones" in Britain as this herb was used to treat broken bones. It is popular in organic gardening for its use as a fertilizer.
Confrey is generally grown in moist soils. This herb can reach up to 5 feet tall. The stem is thick and hairy. The flowers are generally dull purple, white or bluish in color. They are arranged densely in clusters. Black roots are filled with white, cream-colored juice. Leaves are oblong shaped. The lower leaves are broad at the base and taper towards the end, whereas, upper leaves are broad throughout. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are a group of naturally occurring toxic substances present in comfrey. Newly grown leaves tend to have more of these toxic alkaloids than old leaves. Comfrey roots contain up to 16 times the amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids than older leaves. Comfrey can grows comfortably in sun, partial shade or nearly full shade. Comfrey being a fleshy plant requires a lot of water to grow, and hence a soggy patch would be ideal. They yield best results when planted in the months of March, April, May or September. Comfrey is a hardy plant that grows even from small section of the root. Comfrey grows very densely and is difficult to weed.
Comfrey is available in the form of ointments, creams and liniments. Comfrey products are made from fresh or dried leaves or roots. Oral consumption of Comfrey has been banned in the US and many European countries.
Comfrey contains toxic substances like pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause severe liver damage and even death. Comfrey supplements should never be taken orally. Hence it is advisable to use Confrey products only for shorter duration.
Comfrey ointments should never be applied to open broken skin or wounds directly. People with liver ailments or cancer should completely avoid the use of Comfrey. Children, the elderly, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use any comfrey products (even topical ones).