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What is Comfrey?

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Comfrey, Symphytum officinale, is an herb that grows in temperate climates. It was long known in Europe under names such as boneset, blackwort, slippery root, and gum plant. It is in the same family as borage. Various species of comfrey are grown in different countries.

Comfrey is considered to be one of the most valuable herbs known to botanic medicine because it has many beneficial effects on all parts of the body, and can be used as an overall tonic. It is a herbal medicine with a vast history of efficacious use in humans. As you will read below Comfrey is no longer recommended for internal use, but it can still be used externally, and is a strong grower.

Comfrey is an herb, which has a strong history, and is a famous herb with extremely important uses medicinally. It has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from bronchial problems, broken bones, sprains, arthritis, gastric and varicose ulcers, severe burns, acne and other skin conditions.

It is used often in the United States and has been claimed to heal the above mentioned conditions but also the following, hemorrhoids, inflammation and is renown for its cell regenerating properties. It is also often recommended as a gentle remedy for diarrhea or dysentery.

Uses and Benefits:
Comfrey is named from its ancient application in "bonemending" which means made firm; the Greek, Symphytum, which means to unite. Traditionally, its roots and leaves have been used to treat broken bones and wounds. The mucilaginous root content was formerly promoted as an expectorant and antitussive, and to treat gastrointestinal disorders.

Comfrey is promoted in Ayurvedic and other herbal systems, with claims for benefit in disorders such as peptic ulcer. Comfrey also has been commonly used as a topical anti inflammatory healing agent. Although still a component in some cosmetics, comfrey is no longer readily available as an herbal remedy in the U.S. due to its toxic potential.

Clinical Trials:
No significant clinical trials have been reported in humans. There is insufficient evidence of comfrey's value to justify clinical studies.

Adverse Effects:
The main toxic outcome of ingesting comfrey is liver disease, and several cases have been recorded of veno-occlusive disease of the liver, resulting in ascites and hepatic fibrosis. Other toxicity may be seen, including a curare-like defect, adverse effects in pregnant women, and possibly carcinoqenesis.

Presumably, individual patient factors affect susceptibility, but the dangers of the herb are unpredictable. Because of this, systemic use of comfrey has been banned in many countries, and the FDA discourages its use. Russian comfrey is said to be more toxic than the common comfrey of North America.

Side Effects and Interactions:
There are no recognized drug interactions.

Cautions:
Comfrey should not be used orally or internally. Although it can be used topically, it should probably not be placed on broken skin. All forms of comfrey should be avoided in pregnant and nursing women.

Preparations & Doses:
Preparations of root and leaf parts are now less readily available. Tablets and other herbal extracts have been employed, but very dilute teas or decoctions are safer; however, internal use is not recommended. The herb is used in topical preparations including lotions, creams, salves, and poultices, and it is sometimes used as a gargle. Herbal authorities recommend that it can be employed externally for contusions, bruises, and sprains for up to 6 weeks during a year, but such use is rarely justified.

Summary Evaluation:
No evidence exists to support the clinical use of comfrey, and it has been found to have significant hepatotoxic effects. The topical use of comfrey products for skin diseases may be safe, provided the skin is not broken and the preparation is not used chronically. Oral administration of dilute teas may be safe, but in view of the potential serious toxicity and the lack of proven value, oral intake of comfrey should be avoided.

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