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Is comfrey that bad to ingest?  RSS feed

 
Thomas warren
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Location: Yakima County, E WA
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I was talking with my wife's mom a few days ago about the comfrey plants we have, and she mentioned how it's good to drink. I said what Ive heard, that it has toxins, and she told me about Tia Zenaida who passed away a couple years ago at the age of 103 and she would take a leaf and put it in a blender with water and drink it "every day." She had brought it with her from Mexico (they call it Milagrosa - miracle) and said it was why she lived so long.
I know anecdotes don't disprove things but this is most of the information i have available to me.
 
Roberta Wilkinson
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Location: Washington Timber Country
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Just saw this a few days ago from Susun Weed on Facebook:

Every time I mention comfrey (check out Youtube in comment section below), someone asks if it isn't "unsafe." When I identify with comfrey, I feel like a persecuted witch wrongly accused of evil-doing. Comfrey has so much to offer as an aid to health and healing. How did such a wonderful green ally come to have such a terrible reputation?

Perhaps it starts with confusion, aided by imprecise language. There are two species of comfrey: wild comfrey, Symphytum officinale, and cultivated comfrey, Symphytum uplandica x. (The "x" means it is a hybrid, a cross.)Wild comfrey (S. off.) is a small plant--up to a meter tall--with yellow flowers. Cultivated comfrey (S. uplandica x.) is a large plant--often surpassing two meters--with blue or purple flowers. Everyone I know grows uplandica and that is what is sold in stores. But gardeners and herbal sellers alike usually mislabel it, causing no end of confusion. To complicate the situation even more: the roots and the leaves of comfrey contain different constituents. Comfrey roots, like most perennial roots, contain poisons. Wild comfrey (officinale) leaves have some of the same poisons. But cultivated comfrey (uplandica) leaves don't.

How can I be so sure that cultivated comfrey is safe to consume internally? Three things have convinced me.

• One: An herbal group that I belong to sent three samples of comfrey leaf (one from the west coast, one from the east coast, and one from the Rocky Mountains) to a lab to be tested for the problematic alkaloids; they found none.
• Two: During the second World War, an Englishman named Henry Doubleday devoted himself to hybridizing comfrey and making it safe to eat as a cooked green. His crosses--sterile hybrids that don't produce seeds--are what we grow in our gardens. And several generations of comfrey-eaters at his research station have no comfrey-related health problems.
• Three: I have drunk a quart or more of comfrey infusion once or twice a week for twenty years with no problems.

Drinking comfrey infusion has benefitted me in many ways: It keeps my bones strong and flexible. (An old country name for comfrey is "knit bone.") It strengthens my digestion and elimination. It keeps my lungs and respiratory tract healthy. It keeps my face wrinkle-free and my skin and scalp supple. And, please don't forget, comfrey contains special proteins needed for the formation of short-term memory cells.

Comfrey leaves are not only rich in proteins, they are a great source of folic acid, many vitamins, and every mineral and trace mineral we need for a strong immune system, a calm nervous system, and a happy hormone system. See why I'm so fond of comfrey? What a marvelous ally she is! Not dangerous at all. When I identify with comfrey, I feel powerful and proud, beautiful and exuberant. When I identify with comfrey, I feel the flexibly that comes from being knit together. When I identify with comfrey, I feel very green.

How I do it: Two or three times a week, I drink a nourishing herbal infusion made by steeping one ounce (by weight!) of dried comfrey (uplandica) leaves and flowering stalks in four cups boiling water in a tightly-lidded quart canning jar for 4-8 hours. I rarely dig the comfrey root, but when I do, I tincture it in 100-proof vodka for external use only.

There's a small jar of ointment in my first aid kit that smells faintly of lanolin. The thick opaque goo inside is so dark brown as to be nearly black. Comfrey ointment (!) made at the Henry Doubleday Research Station in Bocking, Braintree, Essex, England. The color comes from alantoin, the healing constituent found in all parts of comfrey, especially the hard parts--such as roots, flower stalks, and leaf midribs. Alantoin extracted from comfrey roots is added to the salve made by steeping fresh comfrey roots in lanolin for many weeks. Stunningly effective is all I can say; too bad it isn't sold in the USA. Comfrey ointment is fussy to make at home; it has a tendency to spoil and to smell quite awful. To counter this, I steep fresh flowering stalks of comfrey cut in one inch pieces in olive, emu, or jojoba oil for only four or five weeks. And I never put it in the sun. After decanting the comfrey oil, I add a little of my black-colored comfrey root tincture and--because I want to thicken it into an ointment--heat it with some grated beeswax. Comfrey ointment heals wounds, cuts, burns, bruises, itches, and most skin problems. But it is most amazing when used to stop friction blisters from forming when you over use your hands or feet--walking, raking, rowing, hoeing, whatever. Even after the blister has swelled and filled with fluid--though better at the first twinge of pain--frequent applications of comfrey ointment will make it disappear as though it was never there. I apply the salve every five minutes for the first hour if I can, then 2-3 times an hour until I go to sleep.

There is so much more to be said about the healing powers of comfrey. Now you know she isn't a bad witch, so stop worrying. Start being happy that comfrey is easy to grow, easy to use, and filled with abundant green blessings.


We grow it and make moderate medicinal use of it here. Not dead yet.
 
Megan Palmer
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Location: Queenstown, NZ
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Roberta, i make my own comfrey salve by dehydrating the shredded leaves and scrubbed and sliced roots and steeping in olive oil for a few months then melt 1 part infused oil to 4 parts beeswax. not found it a fuss to make, grow my own comfrey and have beekeeping friends who gift the wax to me. I put the dehydrated leaves and roots in a muslin bag before I immerse in the oil - much easier to strain it afterwards. it's my go to ointment for insect bites, skin rashes, minor cuts and bruises. only wish I'd learnt to make it years ago
 
Roberta Wilkinson
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Location: Washington Timber Country
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I thought that was an odd thing to say too, Megan. I had to assume that Susun had something more thorough in mind than the simple salve I make in a very similar way to what you describe. I was actually just massaging some into my toe, where I scraped it open on the wheeelbarrow yesterday.
 
Henry Jabel
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Thomas warren wrote:I know anecdotes don't disprove things but this is most of the information i have available to me.


Anecdotes are pretty much all your going to find, apart from the cases about people using alot of comfrey root and dying a FDA study where they injected rodents extracts and they got various cancers etc.

This site makes some good points about the above cases mentioned and helped convince its pretty safe:

http://www.herballegacy.com/Contentions.html

To be prudent stick to the leaves ideally bocking 14 (edit: dont use bocking but oficinale) and dont use it continually. When I have used it been so effective you dont want to use alot of it anyway!
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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I thought oficinale, not uplandicum, was the safe stuff?
 
Nicole Alderman
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I'm glad I saw this, because a few days back I'd asked about using it externally as a poultice for an injured knee that just wasn't getting better. I'd already made one poultice out of one leaf and some stem, only to find out that even external use was considered dangerous for pregnant women. So I ended up not doing any more poultices, out of concern for my baby's forming liver.

It's good to know that the domesticated varieties don't have the toxin in their leaves/stems.

Question, is there an easy way to tell the difference between the wild and the blocking varieties? I was gifted some comfrey root, but wasn't told what type it was. Thanks!
 
Jason Hernandez
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Good to know the background. Here's my take: the FDA is in the pockets of the drug manufacturers. So anytime something people can grow themselves catches on as a medicinal, the FDA's job is to force feed massive amounts of it to rats, see that the rats get cancer, and duly declare that the herbal substance caused the cancer. This merits these comments:

1-- The amount consumed by the rats, pound for pound of body weight, is far more than any normal human would consume.
2-- Rats get cancer at the least provocation. Just ask anyone who keeps domesticated rats as pets.
3-- FDA approved drugs get recalled with alarming frequency.

As with everything, the poison is in the dose. You can actually be poisoned by water, if you drink too much of it in a short period of time. It's called water toxicity; Google it. That does not prove that water is unsafe for consumption.

The one caution I would emphasize: there are documented cases of foxglove poisoning which occurred because the victims mistook foxglove for comfrey. In these cases, the victims died in a matter of minutes or hours. I can vouch for the fact that, in the early spring when leaves have come out but nothing is in flower yet, foxglove at that stage can look just like comfrey. But the way to avoid mistakes is to pick your comfrey only from known patches, which are not near foxglove patches.
 
Todd Parr
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I'm glad I saw this, because a few days back I'd asked about using it externally as a poultice for an injured knee that just wasn't getting better. I'd already made one poultice out of one leaf and some stem, only to find out that even external use was considered dangerous for pregnant women. So I ended up not doing any more poultices, out of concern for my baby's forming liver.

It's good to know that the domesticated varieties don't have the toxin in their leaves/stems.

Question, is there an easy way to tell the difference between the wild and the blocking varieties? I was gifted some comfrey root, but wasn't told what type it was. Thanks!


I can't vouch for it being true 100% of the time, but my Bocking 4/14 has purple flowers and the wild comfrey I have seen has yellow ones. Edited to add, I spent some time looking, and I'm becoming more sure that color isn't a good indicator, so I probably wouldn't go by that, sorry. I can tell you it is true at my house, but it doesn't seem to be universal.
 
Henry Jabel
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:I thought oficinale, not uplandicum, was the safe stuff?


Your correct not sure why I wrote bocking 14. I thought they breed a bocking variety for medicine but I must be wrong on that. Does anyone have an idea what Bocking 4 is good for? I think That was the only other varieties that is still around from the Henry Doubleday Research Association.
 
Joshua Parke
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Location: Northern New Mexico, Latitude:35 degrees N, Elevation:6000'
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Comfrey is perfectly safe to ingest.  There are various reasons it has been slandered, but from what I recall, the slandering began from the government. So, that should be a big red flag to those who know.

I heard someone that had more knowledge and experience than I, state that, "you would have to drink 100 cups of comfrey tea to equal the amount of dangerous alkaloids present in a single bottle of beer."  Or to restate it, there are 100 times more dangerous alkaloids in a bottle of beer than in a cup of comfrey tea.
 
Joshua Parke
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Location: Northern New Mexico, Latitude:35 degrees N, Elevation:6000'
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Henry Jabel wrote:Does anyone have an idea what Bocking 4 is good for?


Copious amounts of garden mulch.  The bocking varieties from my recollection, "as far as I know, as I've only ever planted the officinale", will get much large.

Also the bocking varieties won't set viable seed.  Which is a benefit for some people who want it in their garden, for the garden, without it spreading.  And some people say that the officinale will spread quickly if it's allowed to go to seed.

The information of foxglove looking like comfrey that Jason metioned......most definitely learn your herbs before just going out willy nilly and consuming something that "looks" like an edible.  There are some toxic herbs out there, and I had mistaken foxglove before thinking it was comfrey, "I didn't consume it of course"....check out my signature link to a small food forest I began.  I took pictures of the foxglove, and then later on I put a link in there somewhere, after I learned what it really was, that has an excellent identification chart.  Early in the season, foxglove and comfrey look very similar.  Especially if you haven't been around the plants enough to be able to confidently identify them.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Another thing to keep in mind is that the alkaloids are much lower in the plant before it flowers so if you are wanting to harvest some for consumption I would do it then...just to be on the safe side.  Also I think the dangers of comfrey have been greatly exaggerated, people have been consuming it for generations without much in the way of ill effects.
 
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