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Comfrey is a high-yielding leafy green plant that has been used for centuries as a feed crop for animals and a medicine for humans. However, in 2001, it was removed as an oral dietary supplement from the U.S. market, and, soon afterwards, as a commercial animal food source. These actions were taken because comfrey contains dangerous levels of toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids and its use has led to severe liver injury and death.
Traditionally, oral or topical use of comfrey was said to help bones heal more rapidly, and this is the origin of its Latin name Symphytum (drawing together). It was also used orally for the treatment of digestive and lung problems. Topical comfrey creams have been used to treat minor wounds, bruises, sprains, and varicose veins.
Comfrey is commonly included in salves and creams that also contain such herbs as aloe , goldenseal , calendula , and vitamin E . Such preparations are marketed for treatment of minor wounds . However, for safety reasons , comfrey should not be applied to broken skin. Therefore, it should not be used for the treatment of lacerations or abrasions (cuts and scrapes).
There is some evidence that topical comfrey might be useful in the treatment of various conditions involving pain in the joints or muscles where skin is unbroken. Safety , however, does remain a concern.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 142 people with acute ankle sprain, use of comfrey cream for 8 days significantly enhanced rate of recovery. 1 Comfrey proved more effective than...
As noted above, comfrey contains substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are both toxic to the liver and carcinogenic. 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 The main form of liver disease seen with comfrey is a blockage of small veins that can lead to liver cirrhosis and eventually liver failure (hepato-occlusive disease). Liver transplantation may be required. Oral use of comfrey for as brief a time as 5 to 7 days in a child and 19 to 45 days in adults has resulted in severe liver disease and death. Long-term use of very low dosages may also cause harm.
In general, the root of the plant contains more pyrrolizidine alkaloids than the leaves. Related species of comfrey such as Symphytum uplandicumand Symphytum asperumcontain even higher levels of these...