When the news media decides to run a story – they want to make certain as many people as possible read/hear about it – after all that is what the media is all about! Well that and making money too !!!
When they decided to give Comfrey a bad rap – the papers were full of the so called dangers of this wonderful herb. .
A little about the Herb Comfrey:
Comfrey has been known to have been used medicinally since at least the Middle Ages. In the past it was freely used externally to speed healing of wounds and internally to aid cell production and recovery from illness and surgery. In the early 1900′s it was proven to contain a cell-proliferant substance known to promote healing of bone and tissue. However in the 1980′s some scientists reported that it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (in the root more so than the leaves) shown to cause liver damage in lab animals which were injected with large quantities. source
Before I go any further, did you happen to notice in the above paragraph that the test subjects (lab rats) were injected with large quantities of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA’s)?
For those unfamiliar with what they are look here. What is important though is understanding this substance was extracted from the comfrey plant – so it was isolated from all the other natural chemicals the plant contained.
On average a comfrey leaf contains: tannin, rosmarinic acid, allantoin, steroidal saponins, mucilage, inulin, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, Gum, Carotene, Glycosides, Sugars, Beta-sitosterol, Triterpenoids, Vitamin B-12, Protein, Zinc. The main healing ingredient in comfrey leaf appears to be a substance called allantoin, which encourages the rapid growth of cells. source
(THE ROOT CONTAINS mucilage in great abundance and about 0.6 to 0.8% of allantoin, an alkaloid; and a small amount of tannin and very little starch – source)
In nature you NEVER find things in isolation! they are always packed cozily together in nice healthy synergistic parcels so they can work together in harmony. NOT in this experiment though!
Some poor little (baby – 2 week old) lab rats were injected with a pure chemical to see if they would react to it. And yes eventually some did develop tumours.
Firstly they were given this purified substance via injection. Secondly they were injected with large amounts of this purified substance – far more than you or I would take in were we to consume the whole comfrey leaf or a root decoction! And thirdly if I remember correctly the tumours developed when the lab rats were old.
Can the results of a baby rat test case, where they were fed extremely high doses by injection, have relevance to the effect of adult humans using comfrey? Noting that one comfrey leaf contains approximately one milligram of alkaloid in this particular test project, it is possible to give a similar dose level for man. As an average man is about 70kg it would be necessary to use the alkaloids from 19,880 leaves to produce a comparative dose level, and possible toxicity. As rat deaths occurred at levels equivalent to comfrey 28 times their body weight, it has been estimated that a man would need to consume 19,880 leaves, for a possible, similar effect.
If humans were as vulnerable as baby rats to liver damage; and if these figures were less speculative, then it could be calculated that it would take 16 years to accumulate sufficient alkaloids to produce any detectable change in liver function. This would require eating, approximately, 100g of comfrey leaf, every day, based on each large leaf measuring an average 60cm, which would make 5- 6 large leaves, a day. Therefore, in order to reach the dose level at which the test showed that change in liver function occurred; it would take a man 48 years. Liver damage would result at around 150 years. source
Comfrey is now listed as dangerous and poisonous and NOT to be taken except under doctors advice. That statement make me smile. Only last week I made a comfrey salve for a friend who had hurt his knee. He was under the care of a local intern, who found nothing wrong that he could treat – even though my friend could not walk unaided!. After a few days of using the salve the knee was much better and the doctor wanted to know what treatment my friend was applying to gain such excellent results. When told COMFREY, the doc asked ‘what is that – a herb or something?’ Geesh! and we are to rely on doctors to prescribe herbal remedies!
This is most important:
Current Standard Precaution
Young children, pregnant women and people suffering from liver problems should avoid INTERNAL use.
For EXTERNAL use care should be taken with very deep wounds as Comfrey may cause them to close up on the surface before they are healed further down. Do not use on dirty wounds as rapid healing may trap dirt.
Consult a qualified Herbalist for more advice if you are concerned.
There is a major problem: Comfrey for internal use was prohibited in Australia by legislation, which placed it on the Poisons Schedule. (I believe in the USA a similar prohibition exists) Why did comfrey fall to such a fate? This decree was made, in 1984, by the Poisons Advisory Bureau, through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH & MRC). The Council listed comfrey as a dangerous poison, only to be available through pharmacists, by doctor’s prescription. This decision, from NH & MRC, came after sensational headlines in Australian newspapers, in 1978. The headlines caught the attention of readers, causing fear to the public, as well as shock and dismay to people who use comfrey, regularly. I have a collection of press headlines, which would scare people away from the use of comfrey, ever again … ‘Liver damage can be done by herbs.’ (This could mean any herb or all herbs.) ‘Popular Herb is a Killer.’ (Positive enough proof that people have dropped dead from eating it?) ‘Scientist Warns Herb is a Killer’; … ‘ Health Drink Causes Cancer, says CSIRO expert’; … ‘Comfrey is a Killer’; … ‘Be Careful With Herbs They Can Kill You’. source
What is a person to think one asks oneself
If you have read this blog so far, then you must be an educated investigative minded person. You do not take everything at face value and sensationalistic headlines, may grab your attention – insofar as they send you off on a research project of your very own.
My advice is always to do your own research and see who is behind things, and what might be their purpose etc. Here we have a herb – a wonderful thing of nature, being taken out of the normal reach of everyday people. How many herbs kill and maim people? How many doctor prescribed drugs maim people?
How many herbs are now being used by pharmaceutical companies and turned into drugs? This herb COMFREY has a wonderful medicinal history to back up the so called ‘folk’ remedies written about. Learn about it and use your own commonsense. It will not pay a pharmaceutical company to have competition from an unpatentable garden herb!
Till next time…… be as healthy as you can and continue to do your own sleuthing.