Comfrey - Symphytum officinale - also known as knitbone, boneset, or bruisewort.

Comfrey is a wild plant or weed which may become problematical to the average gardener due to its highly invasive character. It seeds readily and has extremely strong black turnip-like roots making it very difficult to eradicate. It is a perennial plant which grows to about 5 feet high. The leaves are covered with fine hairs (these are irritant to some people) and it blooms from May to September. The flowers are bell-shaped and vary in colour from pale yellow to light purple.

It is thought to have originated in Europe and western Asia. It is widespread in the British Isles (although Symphytum tuberosum is more common in Scotland) and has also been introduced into North America. Common comfrey prefers to grow in damp grassy places such as river banks and ditches.

Medicinal use

The recorded use of comfrey dates back at least 3000 years; Greeks and Romans were great believers in its healing properties and used it on blisters, sores and far more serious wounds.

Comfrey has many uses, as an herbal remedy, as an aromatherapy oil and also in homeopathic medicine. It contains naturally high levels of allantonin which helps cell proliferation and healing. It is also is anti-inflammatory and bacteriostatic making it a useful addition to many herbal skin care products.

Comfrey can be applied topically, either as a salve or by directly applying bruised leaves to the relevant areas. It is said to be an excellent treatment for:

NB:In the UK comfrey is only licenced for use as a topical medicine, unless it is prescribed by a professional herbalist, - with the exception of comfrey tea which uses a very diluted form of the herb.

How to use:

  1. Boil 100g/4oz of fresh or dried peeled root in 250ml/1 pint water for 10 - 15 mins. Once it has cooled, soak the dressing in this liquid and apply to unbroken skin for at least 15 mins, several times a day.
  2. Grind or bruise fresh leaves and apply to site of injury, again several times a day. If it is possible (and you have discussed it with your doctor!) a small window may be cut into the cast over the site of the fracture or break and the paste applied (again only if the skin is unbroken).
  3. Comfrey tea - this is deemed to be safe for use over short periods of up to 1 month only. To make the tea, steep 1 - 2 teaspoons of dried mature leaves in hot water for 15 mins and drink a maximum of 3 cups per day. Young leaves are to be avoided, as is the root, because they contain high levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids - the substances potentially dangerous to the liver.

Side effects

Scientific studies have shown that ingestion of comfrey products may have an adverse effect on the liver. Internal use of comfrey is therefore not recommended. Historically comfrey has been used to treat disorders such as stomach ulcers, dysentry, tuberculosis and whooping cough.


Comfrey makes an excellent fertilizer, both as a mulch, a compost and as a liquid foliar feed. It is rich in all things good for the your garden, as are stinging nettles and they can be treated in much the same way. If you want to try to make your own, see wertperch's write up on nettle tea.


According to Wiccan beliefs, place some comfrey leaves in your shoes and in your luggage to ensure a safe journey.

Com"frey (?), n. [Prob. from F. conferve, L. conferva, fr. confervere to boil together, in medical language, to heal, grow together. So called on account of its healing power, for which reason it was also called consolida.] Bot.

A rough, hairy, perennial plant of several species, of the genus Symphytum.

⇒ A decoction of the mucilaginous root of the "common comfrey" (S. officinale) is used in cough mixtures, etc.; and the gigantic "prickly comfrey" (S. asperrimum) is somewhat cultivated as a forage plant.


© Webster 1913.

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