Herb of the Month – Symphytum officinale

🌿 Which herb is venerated for bone fractures due to its ability to accelerate bone mineralization? This month’s herb of the month is Comfrey or Symphytum officinale.
Family: Boraginaceae

🌿 Botanical name and description:

Symphytum officinale [Comfrey] is native to Europe and Asia yet is naturalised abroad. Easy to grow and pest resistant, seeking moisture and sunlight in well-drained soil, Comfrey is a spreading erect perennial, growing to 1.5 meters tall and 75 cm wide with long hairy dark green oval-shaped leaves, covered with stiff hairs, which decrease in size towards the top of the plant. Presented are one-sided drooping tubular bell-shaped purple, pink, or cream flowers clustered from Spring to Autumn. In winter, Comfrey remains dormant.

🌿 History and traditional usage:

Comfrey use has been esteemed for centuries as a remedy for fractures and bone breaks with an ability to expediate the healing process. Traditionally, Comfrey is considered a safe and harmless remedy using the roots and leaves, albeit the roots were highly prized, for various ailments including diarrhoea, dysentery, and intestinal issues, plus for pulmonary troubles and whooping cough. Comfrey was also considered effective for cases of bleeding and inflamed or damaged tissues of the gastrointestinal tract plus in cases of defective circulation.

🌿 Actions and usage:

Currently, Comfrey is contraindicated for internal use, despite the history of traditional use and therapeutic efficacy, due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids which, at high doses, are considered toxic and have the potential to increase the risk of liver toxicity, according to animal studies. Nevertheless, the German Commission E considers Comfrey for external application only.

Synergistically, Comfrey is a noteworthy first aid herb, an effective vulnerary and anti-inflammatory topical healing agent for all skin and musculoskeletal ailments, used as a compress or poultice for sprains, muscle aches and pain, swellings, bruises, and fractures. Allantoin is the key constituent enabling the vulnerary action. Comfrey also comprises mucilage and is an effective demulcent.

🌿 Science and clinical trials:

Emergent Comfrey research concentrated on the safety of the herb. Recent research has explored comfrey preparations for osteoarthritis (1) and lower back pain (2); the antioxidant and proliferative potentials of Comfrey root extract are also examined (3). In-vitro research explores homoeopathic doses of Comfrey augmenting the mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which possess regenerative potential, as they differentiate into osteoblasts (4).

1. Cameron M, Chrubasik S. Topical herbal therapies for treating osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;2013(5):Cd010538.

2. Gagnier JJ, Oltean H, van Tulder MW, Berman BM, Bombardier C, Robbins CB. Herbal Medicine for Low Back Pain: A Cochrane Review. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2016;41(2):116-33.

3. Sowa I, Paduch R, Strzemski M, Zielińska S, Rydzik-Strzemska E, Sawicki J, et al. Proliferative and antioxidant activity of Symphytum officinale root extract. Nat Prod Res. 2018;32(5):605-9.

4. Dey D, Jingar P, Agrawal S, Shrivastava V, Bhattacharya A, Manhas J, et al. Symphytum officinale augments osteogenesis in human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells in vitro as they differentiate into osteoblasts. J Ethnopharmacol. 2020;248:112329.