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Comfrey is native to Europe and Asia, but now grows wild across North America, favouring shady, moist growing conditions. Its leaves and roots have been used in traditional medicine, both Western and Eastern, for nearly 2000 years. In fact, many of the oldest herbals refer to comfrey as one of the most useful herbs for healing of all sorts. The root was especially valued for the slick mucilage that lines the inside of the hollow, woody stem and root.
Because of concerns that the pyrrolizidine alkaloids sometimes found in comfrey root can damage the liver, products using comfrey root that are meant for ingestion are banned for sale in the U.S., Canada and several other countries.
Ointments and oils containing comfrey are still allowed, and are used to promote rapid wound healing, including the healing of broken bones.
There is evidence that supports the traditional use of comfrey root as a topical application to speed healing, stop bleeding, prevent infection and relieve pain.
Oil infusion, salve, ointment, poultices and in certain cosmetics.
Comfrey root is used to relieve pain from blunt injuries, promote healing of broken bones, sprains and bruises, reduce swelling and edema, and encourage the rapid and healthy regrowth of skin and tissue cells. Because comfrey may contain PAs, which have caused cancer and liver damage in animal studies, and because the root contains it in higher concentration than the leaves, internal use is not suggested.
Not for internal use. Not to be used while pregnant.
Comfrey was widely used and recommended until the mid-1980s, when reports began to surface about the possibility of liver damage from the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that some plants contain. In 2001, the FTC and FDA combined to issue an injunction against products containing comfrey that were meant for internal use. In tests, comfrey root has been shown to contain nearly ten times the amount of PAs as the young leaves or stems.
However, there is no suggestion of danger when comfrey root preparations are used externally or topically, though it’s wise to avoid using comfrey root products on open or dirty wounds.