From the July 2002 Idaho Observer:
Comfrey: Tomorrow's food, today's medicine
by Ingri Cassel
The comfrey plant, Symphytum officinale, is a member of the borage family and has been called knitbone, bruise-wort, wound wort, healing herb and slippery root. Although comfrey is a medicinal plant, it is also grown to feed animals since it is considered the fastest builder of vegetable protein. In fact, the amount of vegetable protein obtained from every acre of comfrey can be nearly twenty times that obtained from soybeans.
Comfrey is an excellent source of vitamins A and C as well as being one of the few plants that can extract B-12 from the soil. It is also high in calcium, potassium, manganese, iron, zinc and magnesium. It contains 18 amino acids and is a good source of hysine, an amino acid usually lacking in vegan vegetarian diets. Due to comfrey's superior nutritional profile, some researchers have considered comfrey to be an answer in feeding starving nations.
English farmer Henry Doubleday (1813-1902) originally became interested in comfrey after he read an article in the Royal Agricultural Society's 1871 Journal. He had read the word mucilaginous and thought comfrey could be used in the manufacture of glue, possibly replacing gum arabic. He obtained some comfrey roots from St. Petersburg in Russia and began propagating them. These roots happened to be a hybrid, symphytum peregrinum. It is assumed that this form of comfrey is a cross between the European comfrey, symphytum officinale, and comfrey from the Caucasus mountains, symphytum asperrium. This strain of comfrey is believed by many to be superior nutritionally and therapeutically to the traditional European variety.
After numerous successful applications of comfrey while raising livestock, both as food and medicine, Doubleday founded the Henry Doubleday Research Association in England. Lawrence D. Hills later became its director having worked extensively with comfrey since 1948. He is frequently credited as the impetus behind the research into comfrey being used for both food and medicine.
Politics of comfrey
Although comfrey root is highly esteemed as a vulnerary (healer of wounds), it has come under fire in recent years because it contains a group of alkaloids (pyrollizidine) that are considered hepatoxic (harmful to the liver.) We have yet to see a study proving a direct association between the limited medicinal ingestion of comfrey root and the development of liver disease. Despite the lack of independent studies proving that limited ingestion of comfrey root damages the liver, comfrey has been banned for sale in many countries including Canada, Australia and Japan. In the U.S., comfrey root and leaf is banned for use internally. The FDA and the American Herbal Products Association warns that comfrey is for external use only and should not be applied to an open wound.
Comfrey the healer
Historically, comfrey was mostly used externally until the early 1800s. During this time, herbalists began using an infusion of the root internally for bronchitis and rheumatism.
Since then, many people have successfully used both the leaf and root of comfrey internally for a variety of complaints; our family included.
Today we know that the use of comfrey assists in the development of strong bones and healthy skin. It also promotes the secretion of pepsin and is a general aid to digestion.
It is one of the finest healers of the respiratory system and can be used both internally and externally for the healing of fractures, wounds, sores and ulcers. It has been used with great success to check hemorrhage, whether from the stomach, lungs, bowels or uterus. It appears to have a beneficial effect on all parts of the body, and is frequently used as an overall tonic.
Following are some quotes from articles I have collected that testify to the remarkable and miraculous healing properties of comfrey.
Comfrey root has incredible healing power. It has basically helped everything that was hurt or bleeding on my three small children, myself, husband, dog and assorted friends. It has a rare action of being a catalyst that stimulates all cells in the area to reproduce quickly. What really impressed me was how the pain subsided. And now I'm amazed to see that it heals messy scrapes under dirt, lifting debris off with the scab in a few days with no inflammation or infection!
The root is a power house of healing energy that, when applied to a wound, makes blood coagulate which stops bleeding.. I'll never forget when Joshua was two years old, he dropped a heavy toy on his toenail, splitting it right down the middle. I just kept sprinkling comfrey root powder over the mini-gusher of blood until only drips persisted within minutes of the accident. His sobs of pain subsided almost as quickly and one hour later, after a nap, he was proud of himself, hobbling around on his heel! The next day, at a pool party, the scab floated off exposing pink skin. His toenail grew in over the following two weeks.
Taken as a tea sweetened with honey it stopped my internal hemorrhaging after the home-birth of our third child. Our birthing assistant Betsy was concerned about my heavy bleeding, but it decreased to a normal flow after two cups of the tea.
Betsy's ulcers never bothered her again after swallowing several pills made of the root. Years of medication didn't measure up to the quickness of comfrey roots' healing powers.
Sinus problems and bad head colds respond quite favorably to several cups of hot comfrey root tea. Sore throats melt away after a few cups. It has even soothed my stomach and gas cramps that had been known to bend me over. Headaches and menstrual discomforts cease to be a bother after a cup or two.
~Excerpted from the article, Blood Make You Faint? Comfrey Root Powder Heals All of Life's Hard Knocks by Judy Vallely, Health Freedom News, Vol. 6, #11, p. 40
One interesting story is that of a registered nurse in Provo, Utah. Her 14-year-old boy broke his arm, so she rushed him to the Dugway Proving Grounds Hospital to be taken care of, as they are ex-army people. When the doctor x-rayed the arm, he told them the bone was clean broken, so clean that he would have to put the boy into a brace for a few days until knitting started, and then into a cast. He put on the brace and told them to come back in five days. The nurse told us she was anxious to get home and use the information she had learned in the lectures on comfrey. The arm was bare so on arriving home she put comfrey poultices and fomentations around the arm, and as she said, she gave him comfrey tea, comfrey green drink, comfrey tablets and capsules, and put comfrey into salads and steamed comfrey as a vegetable -- in fact, she got comfrey into him every way she could think of.
In five days she took him back to Dugway to get the cast on and when the doctor came out of the dark room with the new x-ray he said, 'What have you done to this boy?' the nurse said, 'What do you mean doctor' his answering retort was, 'Don't be coy with me. You're a registered nurse and this boy's arm is completely healed and the bone knit together without a hairline crack -- it is perfect in five days- what did you use?' So she told him. Here was a boy healed of a broken bone in five days, x-rays before and after for proof (the fastest bone healing we know of).
~excerpted from the article Comfrey -- Heaven's Gift to Man by Dr. John R. Christopher, M.H., The Herbalist, Volume 1, Number 5, 1976.
Another story from the same article:
A lady managing a china shop in Provo, Utah, came to us a few years ago, asking if a friend of hers could be helped. She said one-and-a-half vertebras had deteriorated completely in her back, and the vertebrae below and above were so weak that fusing could not be done.
She could not sit up or walk, but just lay there waiting for the spine to continue deteriorating until she died. We told the lady that her friend could be helped if she would follow our instructions. The back was to be kept with fomentations and/or poultices of comfrey on it, and she was put onto the mucusless diet and lots of fresh raw juice and many cups of comfrey tea each day, slippery elm gruel and a nerve palliative tea combination.
In six months, the one and one-half vertebrae grew back in the same form as before (the good Lord left plans and specifications) in the form of cartilage so the woman could sit and walk again. In another six months, the cartilage turned into bone and she had a perfect back from neck through tailbone with no more trouble. The physician took x-rays of the back with vertebrae gone and later again with them back in place, built like new by the body.
There are so many fabulous comfrey stories they could literally fill a 500-page book. We hope this column has inspired you to make sure you have it growing in your backyard. If not, reserve a place in your yard for it and consult with your community master gardeners about obtaining a few fresh roots.
If you are inspired to learn more about comfrey and John Christopher's programs for healing, send $5 to The Idaho Observer and we will send you several reprinted articles on comfrey along with Dr. Christopher's Three-Day Cleansing Program, Mucusless Diet and Herbal Combinations. Our very first Back to Basics column covered the healing powers of this plant in August 1999. After a discussion with my sister last week, she inspired me to revisit comfrey once again in this column. She had gone over to her former residence, now a rental, to harvest some of the comfrey growing there. Her tenant had no idea that he had such a valuable plant growing in his backyard. He appeared stunned and amazed when she told him why she was gathering the leaves along with a few roots and how she was planning to using it.
It appears that we have lost much valuable history regarding the proven therapeutic value of this plant and countless others. This month's column is an attempt to recover some of that history.
"MDs are those who think we have an excess of organs and a deficiency of drugs." ~Donna Carillo
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