Interesting herb of the month - Comfrey August 2010
HEALTH FOOD OF THE MONTH -
Interesting herb of the month - Comfrey.
For many gardeners, comfrey is invaluable. This native of Britain is easy to grow – in fact it is a prolific perennial herb, so it can take over! It grows in damp, grassy places and is widespread on river banks and ditches, with a black turnip like root, large, hairy leaves and small bell-shaped white, cream, light purple or pink flowers. Its use as a fertiliser is well recognised; its roots draw up nutrients from deep in the soil and organic growers especially love it.
Comfrey has also been known for centuries as invaluable in the treatment of various ailments including wounds, sprains, bruises and even broken bones. One of the country names for comfrey is “knitbone” which obviously comes from its early use in healing. The flower was used in the Middle Ages to help relieve lung problems caused by black death.
However, today much more is known about the plant and taking comfrey is now recognised as dangerous. The plant contains hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) which can lead to liver failure. The Food and Drug Administration in America has taken action against the use of comfrey in herbal products that are taken internally, and while some herbalists see the arguments as controversial, there is little doubt that taken in large quantities, it can certainly be a major threat to health.
At the moment some herbal manufacturers are working on removing the dangerous PAs from comfrey, but these have yet to become readily available.
Why people are still interested in comfrey is because it contains allatoin, a substance that speeds up the natural replacement of body cells. So our ancestors were right in that it could have serious beneficial effect on sprains, broken bones and so on.
It is thought to be safe, however, to use comfrey externally in perhaps a comfrey poultice – grinding the leaves up with water and then heating before spreading on gauze and putting on the injured area. You can also buy certain comfrey creams for specialist herbalists. However, because of its known toxicity, I think at the moment my caution would deter me from doing even this.
However, without doubt comfrey has some extraordinary health benefits, and hopefully it won’t be long before the scientists have managed to make safe versions that will mean we can all benefit from its strong healing properties.
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