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Comfrey: Herbal Medications, What Does Not Work

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) has a long history of medicinal use. It's used to help heal wounds, to help mend broken bones, and to improve respiratory and digestive symptoms. Many American herb enthusiasts consider comfrey a miracle plant, and refuse to believe that it may present toxic risks. However, comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which have been associated with death and illness among livestock that graze on them. They are particularly toxic to the liver, causing a blockage of the hepatic veins, which can lead to fatal reactions.

Comfrey roots contain a higher concentration of pyrrolizidine alkaloids than do the leaves, but both can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and damage to the lungs and other organs. Therefore, comfrey cannot be recommended for internal use. Comfrey products for internal use may still be available in some stores, but have supposedly been removed from the market.

Comfrey is safe to use externally, but should not be applied to broken skin. However, Dr. Andrew Weil reports using comfrey leaves to treat the ulcerated bites of the brown recluse spider, which are notoriously resistant to healing.

Other common plants besides comfrey also contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, including coltsfoot, liferoot, and borage. Borage seed oil is now being sold for its gammalinoleic acid (GLA) content, but borage oils containing more than 0.5 to 1 mcg per gram of pyrrolizidine alkaloids are not considered safe.

 

 

 

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From THE BEST ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: WHAT WORKS? WHAT DOES NOT? by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier.
Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.
Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.


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