Comfrey (Symphytum official) has a long history as a medicinal plant. Its use has been documented for over 2,000 years. Today it remains an excellent remedy for muscle and joint pain, among other uses. Hildegard of Bingen and Paracelsus applied comfrey uses for healing of bone damage, wounds and ulcers.
In German, its name “Beinwell” literally “Leg well”, derived from comfrey uses in folk medicine for accelerating the healing process of leg fractures. The Greek word for the plant, Symphytum from the Greek symphis, means growing together of bones, and phyton, a plant.
Comfrey uses for muscle and joint pain
In her book Physica, Hildegard of Bingen begins her chapter on Comfrey uses, which she refers to as “Consolida”, with a firm recommendation to only apply topically.
“the internal application of comfrey disrupts the entire order of bodily humors. However, when applied to the skin, it heals ulceration of the limbs.”
– Hildegard of Bingen
Today, this healing plant is widely used in Germany as a topical solution to accelerate the healing process for inflammation, broken bones, bruising, muscle and joint pain, and skin conditions. I recently experienced a hip fracture (of the femoral neck) and I’ve started using comfrey oil topically, as part of my rehabilitation.
Scientific support for comfrey uses in healing
In comparative studies, comfrey uses for muscle pain and joint problems, represent a good alternative to modern “chemical drugs” . Researchers believe a chemical compound called allantoin found in comfrey is principally responsible for the wound-healing effects. Allantoin is a common botanical extract often chemically synthesized in the pharmaceutical industry and used in a variety of ointments and creams designed for healing wounds.
Additional botanical agents found in comfrey include mucilage (stimulus-soothing), tannins (anti-inflammatory), terpenes (antibacterial and anti-fungal) as well as rosemarinic acid (anti-inflammatory). Comfrey’s hemostatic property (stops bleeding) along with the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (a defense mechanism) found in the plant, reaffirm use of the herb in topical form, only.
Taken internally, pyrrolizidine alkaloids damage the liver, and promote cancer; ingestion of comfrey is therefore not advisable.
12 Comfrey Uses for Muscles and Bones
Comfrey root oils and extracts can be found in creams, ointments, bandages and wraps. The following medically approved comfrey uses remain customary in Germany.
- Assist in the healing of bone fractures
- Muscle aches
- Bruises, bruises
- Pain and swelling of the muscles and joints
- Back pain
- Joint arthrosis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Changes in joint cartilage degradation (osteoarthritis)
- Inflammation of bone (epicondylitis)
- Promoting local blood circulation
Clinical studies comparing comfrey ointment with Diclofenac, a non steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug, showed comfrey uses in acute unilateral sprains as a viable alternative to Diclofenac.
Only use Comfrey topically
Due to the negative side-effects related to ingesting comfrey, it is no longer advisable to use the herb for internal uses such as pulmonary difficulties, gastritis, gastric ulcers, internal bleeding, sore throat, or gum disease as was once practiced.
If ingested, the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in comfrey prove hepatotoxic (damaging to liver cells), mutagenic (mutates genes), and carcinogenic (potential to cause cancer). Therefore, the oral intake of comfrey should be avoided.
Comfrey Uses and Side Effects
Some side-effects are known to occur sporadically through topical comfrey uses. For example, mild forms of skin rash, itching, eczema, temporary chills, nausea, and runny noses have been observed.
The duration of topical use should not exceed 6 weeks, over the course of a year. As with some other medicinal herbs, we recommend using a finished product when using comfrey ointments to regulate dosage and avoid potentially damaging pyrrolizidine alkaloids. If you are using privately sourced herbs, limit the amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids to no more than 0.1 mg per day.
Avoiding pyrrolizidine alkaloids
Ready-made comfrey products can be found online or at your pharmacy that do not contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. In fact, most commercially available comfrey oils and ointments do not contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, in which case they can be applied without restriction. These ointments and oils are also superior for treating wounds.
Do not use comfrey during pregnancy and lactation, or on children under the age of three, as there is insufficient clinical data to support safety in those populations at this time. Comfrey is not recommended for people with liver disease or damage.
Comfrey may be applied externally as an ointment, a wrap or poultice. Be cautious not to apply comfrey ointments and topical treatments directly to open wounds.