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Symphytum officinale - L.                
                 
Common Name Comfrey, Common comfrey
Family Boraginaceae
Synonyms
Known Hazards This plant contains small quantities of a toxic alkaloid which can have a cumulative effect upon the liver. Largest concentrations are found in the roots, leaves contain higher quantities of the alkaloid as they grow older and young leaves contain almost none. Most people would have to consume very large quantities of the plant in order to do any harm, though anyone with liver problems should obviously be more cautious. In general, the health-promoting properties of the plant probably far outweigh any possible disbenefits, especially if only the younger leaves are used. Use topically on unbroken skin. May cause loss of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting. Do not use with Eucalyptus. Do not combine with herbs containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids (e.g. agrimony, alpine ragwort, help, tansy ragwort) [301].
Habitats Damp, often shady localities, in meadows, woods etc, especially near streams and rivers[9, 17, 244].
Range Europe, including Britain, south and east from Scandanavia to Spain, Siberia and Turkey.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Care
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun

Summary       
Bloom Color: Blue, Pink, White. Main Bloom Time: Early summer, Late summer, Late spring, Mid summer. Form: Upright or erect.

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Symphytum officinale is a PERENNIAL growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 0.6 m (2ft in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from Jun to July. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.

USDA hardiness zone : 3-9


Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Symphytum officinale Comfrey, Common comfrey


Symphytum officinale Comfrey, Common comfrey
   
Habitats       
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Hedgerow; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Gum;  Tea.

Young leaves - cooked or raw[2, 4, 5, 9, 46, 61]. The leaf is hairy and the texture is mucilaginous. It may be full of minerals but it is not pleasant eating for most tastes. It can be chopped up finely and added to salads, in this way the hairiness is not so obvious[183, K]. Young shoots can be used as an asparagus substitute[46]. The blanched stalks are used[183]. Older leaves can be dried and used as a tea[26]. The peeled roots are cut up and added to soups[183]. A tea is made from the dried leaves and roots[183]. The roasted roots are used with dandelion and chicory roots for making coffee[183].
Medicinal Uses


Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Anodyne;  Antidiarrhoeal;  Antirheumatic;  Astringent;  Demulcent;  Emollient;  Expectorant;  Haemostatic;  Homeopathy;  Refrigerant;  Vulnerary.


Comfrey is a commonly used herbal medicine with a long and proven history in the treatment of various complaints. The root and the leaves are used, the root being more active, and they can be taken internally or used externally as a poultice[4, 222]. Comfrey is especially useful in the external treatment of cuts, bruises, sprains, sores, eczema, varicose veins, broken bones etc, internally it is used in the treatment of a wide range of pulmonary complaints, internal bleeding etc[4, 238, K]. The plant contains a substance called 'allantoin', a cell proliferant that speeds up the healing process[4, 21, 26, 165, 222, 238]. This substance is now synthesized in the pharmaceutical industry and used in healing creams[238]. The root and leaves are anodyne, astringent (mild), demulcent, emollient, expectorant, haemostatic, refrigerant, vulnerary[4, 21, 26, 165, 222]. Some caution is advised, however, especially in the internal use of the herb. External applications and internally taken teas or tinctures of the leaves are considered to be completely safe, but internal applications of tablets or capsules are felt to have too many drawbacks for safe usage[238]. See also the notes above on toxicity. The leaves are harvested in early summer before the plant flowers, the roots are harvested in the autumn. Both are dried for later use[238]. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh root, harvested before the plant flowers[232]. This has a very limited range of application, but is of great benefit in the treatment of broken bones and eye injuries[232]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Symphytum officinale for blunt injuries (see [302] for critics of commission E).
Other Uses
Biomass;  Compost;  Gum.

The plant grows very quickly, producing a lot of bulk. It is tolerant of being cut several times a year and can be used to provide 'instant compost' for crops such as potatoes. Simply layer the wilted leaves at the bottom of the potato trench or apply them as a mulch in no-dig gardens. A liquid feed can be obtained by soaking the leaves in a small amount of water for a week, excellent for potassium demanding crops such as tomatoes. The leaves are also a very valuable addition to the compost heap[26, 200]. A gum obtained from the roots was at one time used in the treatment of wool before it was spun[100].
Cultivation details                                         
Landscape Uses:Border, Ground cover, Specimen. Tolerates most soils and situations but prefers a moist soil and some shade[1, 4]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Best grown in an open sunny site in a deep rich soil if it is being grown for compost material[200]. Plants can be invasive, often spreading freely by means of self-sown seed. The root system is very deep and difficult to eradicate, even small fragments of root left in the soil can produce new plants. Special Features:Attractive foliage, Edible, Fragrant foliage, Not North American native, Invasive, Naturalizing.
                                                                                 
Propagation                                         
Seed - sow spring or autumn in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. If you have sufficient seed you can try an outdoor sowing in situ in the spring. Division succeeds at almost any time of the year. Simply use a spade to chop off the top 7cm of root just below the soil level. The original root will regrow and you will have a number of root tops, each of which will make a new plant. These can either be potted up or planted out straight into their permanent positions.
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Expert comment                                         
 
      
Author                                         
L.
                                                                                 
Botanical References                                         
17200
                                                                                 
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[5]Mabey. R. Food for Free.
Edible wild plants found in Britain. Fairly comprehensive, very few pictures and rather optimistic on the desirability of some of the plants.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[26]Hills. L. Comfrey Report.
A small booklet giving a fairly comprehensive guide to the uses of comfrey.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[232]Castro. M. The Complete Homeopathy Handbook.
A concise beginner's guide to the subject. Very readable.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[244]Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs
Deals with all types of herbs including medicinal, culinary, scented and dye plants. Excellent photographs with quite good information on each plant.
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.
[302]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Commission E
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission_E

Readers comment                                         
 
Elizabeth H.
Jakob Davies S. Thu Nov 29 00:53:10 2001
About the TEXT:

It's really NOT a comment about the plant, rather regarding an apparent spelling error. In "Known Hazards" the text beginns by saying: This plant contains small quantities of a toxic alkaliod, (should this not read: "alkaLOID"??), which can have a cumulative effect upon the liver. ...

Not being facetious, just trying to help, honest.

Elizabeth H.
Chris Thu Mar 31 03:26:18 2005
Richo Cech of Horizon Herbs, says in his book "Making Plant Medicine" p 127-8 that comfrey should not be used in pregnancy as it could be life threatening to the fetus. I have read that rabbit people recommend it for rabbits but would it be harmful to pregnant ones?
Elizabeth H.
George Fri Nov 11 2005
What's a rabbit person? Is it a human-rabbit hybrid?
Elizabeth H.
Dr Jaume Camps Tue Jun 12 2007
In some poarts of Spain we use the comfrey as food. Only the young leaves, after cleaning their hair. Simply boiled. In Aragon is a real "delicatessen". The Symphytum officinale was the principal ingredient in a haemostatic balsam formula, used in humans and animals,"invented" by the great Veterinary Dr Segimón Malats, who created the first Vet University College in Madrid, sixt in the world, in 1.772.
Elizabeth H.
juan de Marcken Mon Feb 18 2008
I disagree completely about culinary qualities of this plant wich I rate among the best the intire leaf can be prepare as spenach though more palatable and fried with donuts'kind of paste it is outstanding specialy with a slice of dutch cheese or sheddar in it. just try and you will certainly agree with me bon appétit!
Elizabeth H.
Guy Fri Mar 7 2008
I have found nothing better to close a clean wound quickly than a poultice of comfrey.
Elizabeth H.
Mi Bri Tue Jun 3 2008
There are several varieties of Comfrey as developed by the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA). The most commonly available variety (in UK) is Bocking 14. This variety has high levels of allantoin (for healing) and high levels of Potassium which makes it less palatable. A more palatable variety is Bocking 4 which has less Potassium. This folk remedy is popular in America where it is used in 'green drinks' as a tonic. In the last six months I have only found a supplier (of Bocking 4) in Canada. Ref: Comfrey Past Present and Future. Author: Lawrence D Hills (of the HDRA)
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