Comfrey leaf has been used globally for over 2000 years, since around 400 BC, to treat everything from skin conditions to bone fractures, to liver problems, to lung conditions to rheumatism. Symphytum Officinale, belonging to the Boraginaceae family, is the scientific name of Comfrey leaf but it is also called other names including Comfrey, Comphrey, Blackwort, and Bruisewort. The Latin name of comfrey derives from the Greek word symphis, which means joining together of bones, and phyton, which means plant.
In the USA, Comfrey leaf is primarily used for skin problems. It contains substances that promote new skin growth (encourages cell division), reduces inflammation, irritation, rashes, pain, and soothes bruises (blunt injuries). Comfrey leaf products can be applied topically to help scars, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, rashes and other skin ailments.
Comfrey Leaf has an expansive variety of medicinal uses throughout the world.
Here are a few:
- Bone fractures
- Back pain
- Sprains and strains
- Liver problems
- Pressure ulcers, wounds and open sores
- Bruises (contusions)
- Skin problems
- Joint pain and arthritis (OA)
- Lung problems and thrombophlebitis
- Relieving pain of jaw and tooth fractures.
Comfrey root extract contains allantoin, phenolic acids, saccharides, terpenoids, fatty acids and sterols. This combination of properties is responsible for Comfrey’s significant anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive (pain relieving) effects. Comfrey also displays remarkable antioxidant effects which are attributed to the allantoin and phenolic acids (e.g., rosmarinic, p-hydroxybenzoic, caffeic, chlorogenic and p-coumaric acids). Comfrey is well recognized as useful for medicinal preparations, due to their healing and therapeutic properties.
Randomized controlled trials and observational studies have shown clear evidence of comfrey benefits in ankle distortion, back pain, abrasion wounds and osteoarthritis treatment, with few adverse events reported. No adverse events have been reported when externally used; indeed, pharmacokinetic studies have reported a very low cutaneous absorption.
History of Comfrey Leaf
The use of comfrey leaf can be traced back to ancient Greece and Native American tribes, where it was known as “knit bone” or “boneset” (not to be confused with the herb named Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)) due to its ability to promote the healing of broken bones and wounds. In medieval times, comfrey leaf was used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections, digestive issues, and skin conditions.
This perennial herb was also used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine for everything from healing bone and skin to supporting lungs.
In Europe, comfrey was introduced by colonists and became popular as a food and forage crop.
Fun Fact: Comfrey is used in Romania to treat not only human conditions but also animal disorders.
Comfrey preparations, which have often been relegated to “folk lore” therapies have strong clinical records, which substantiate their longstanding traditional topical use in the treatment of musculoskeletal problems, osteoarthritis (OA), back pain, ankle sprains, joint distortion, myalgia and rheumatism. Clinical effectiveness of the topical preparations has been well established through individual case reports, clinical trials and post-marketing surveillance. Comfrey leaves-derived extracts also displayed a great inhibition on fungal pathogens.
There are over 1000 patents that reference allantoin. It is frequently used in oral hygiene products, haircare and skincare products, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Benefits of Comfrey Leaf
The reported healing properties of comfrey are vast:
It has been used for its properties as an anti-fungal, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, Anti catarrhal (helps remove excess mucous from the body), astringent, sedative, expectorant, hepatoprotective (liver support), and for its support of the immune system and to enhance wound healing. Comfrey salve has been used in many cultures for its broad spectrum of skin healing properties.
Its skin supporting traits have been used for the bases of producing comfrey leaf oil, comfrey cream, comfrey salve, comfrey ointment and comfrey balm throughout many parts of the world. Comfrey poultices have been used for century to help soothe and support soft tissue and bone injuries.
Comfrey leaf is rich in allantoin, a compound that stimulates the growth of new skin cells and can help sensitive skin to become more resilient. The anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties of allantoin can help reduce skin redness, swelling, and infection.
Some of the skincare benefits of comfrey leaf are:
- Moisturization: Comfrey leaf oil, comfrey cream or comfrey balm can nourish and moisturize skin leaving it soft and supple. It is suitable for dry and sensitive skin types.
- Skin Toning: Comfrey leaf has astringent properties that help tighten the pores and tone the skin. It can also help smooth out rough and damaged skin and remove dead skin cells.
- Removal of Blemishes: Comfrey leaf can help fade dark spots and blemishes on your skin by stimulating cell renewal and protecting against bacteria and other microorganisms.
- Helps Skin Diseases and Conditions: Comfrey leaf can help heal various skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, viral skin infections, burns, insect bites, rashes, skin ulcers, and bed sores by reducing inflammation, pain, itching, and scarring.
Precautions and Side Effects of Comfrey Leaf
Comfrey leaf is generally safe when used topically, however, it may cause some side effects and interactions in some people when consumed internally.
Although a large amount of research has not been done, some of the precautions and side effects of comfrey leaf are:
- Liver Damage: Comfrey leaf contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which are toxic to the liver and can cause liver damage, cirrhosis, and cancer. Comfrey should not be taken internally for long periods without the supervision of a healthcare provider.
- Allergic Reactions: Comfrey leaf can cause allergic reactions in some people, such as skin rashes, itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing if taken internally.
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Comfrey leaf is not recommended to be taken internally for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Drug Interactions: Comfrey leaf when taken internally can interact with some drugs and supplements, such as anticoagulants, antiplatelets, hepatotoxic drugs, and herbs that affect the liver. These interactions can increase the risk of bleeding or liver damage. Comfrey leaf should be used with caution and under medical supervision if you are taking any of these medications or supplements.
Some preparations of Comfrey salve are made from comfrey root rather than comfrey leaves. The salves made from the roots have up to 16x more pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which are toxic to the liver. This is the reason comfrey preparations are usually made from comfrey leaves rather than comfrey roots.
Comfrey leaf is a healing herb that has been used for thousands of years across the globe. As well as helping support the immune system, bone healing and the lungs, it has amazing skin supporting properties. Comfrey’s skin medicinal attributes include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and astringent properties, as well as enhancement of cell division which aids in new skin growth. Comfrey Leaf is a gift from Mother Nature that can help moisturize, tone, clear, and heal your skin naturally.