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Comfrey: Wound Healer and Cancer Fighter

Cancer and Comfrey



Common-sense caution: Consult your doctor before using this or any remedy.

In an old issue of Let's Live (Oct.-Dec., 1958), H. E. Kirschner, M.D., wrote an almost unbelievable article about several important clinical uses of the comfrey plant (Symphytum officinale).
Let me tell you about it.
Dr. Kirschner used comfrey in his medical practice to promote the healing of ulcers and wounds. He traces the history of comfrey back to 1568 and W. Turner's Herball which said "of Comfrey Symphytum, the rootes are good if they be broken and dronken for them that spitte blood, and are bursten. The same, layd to, are good to glewe together freshe woundes. They are good to be layd to inflammation..." He then cites Gerard's 1597 Herball, which indicated comfrey for ulcers of the lungs and ulcers of the kidneys, and Parkinson's 1640 Theatrum Botanicum:

"The rootes of Comfrey, taken fresh, beaten small, spread upon leather, and laid upon any place troubled with the gout, doe presently give ease of the paines and applied in the same manner, giveth ease to pained joynts, and profiteth very much for running and moist ulcers, gangrenes, mortifications and the like."
Most significant is a citation from Tournefort's 1719 Compleat Herbal, which tells of one who "cured a certain person of a malignant ulcer, pronounced to be a cancer by the surgeons, and left by them as incurable, by applying twice a day the root of comfrey bruised, having first peeled off the external blackish bark or rind; but the cancer was not above eight or ten weeks standing." Even allowing for a misdiagnosis, this account is interesting.
Dr. Kirschner personally observed the powerful anticancer effects of comfrey on a patient of his who was dying from advanced, externalized cancer. He prescribed fresh, crushed-leaf comfrey poultices throughout the day. He writes that, “Much to the surprise of the patient and her family,” there was obvious healing within the first two days of treatment, with continued visible improvement over the next few weeks. “What is more,” he writes, “much of the dreadful pain that usually accompanies the advanced stages of cancer disappeared," and there was a dramatic decrease in swelling.
Dr. Kirschner concludes by regretfully saying that the cancer had already spread to the inner organs "which could not be reached with the comfrey poultices, and the woman died." 

Just in terms of quality of life, the degree of healing that did occur under the comfrey poultice treatment is of tremendous significance. Here is a "folk" remedy undeniably providing, at the very least, significant palliative relief, and to a remarkable extent reversing a cancerous growth. We can ill afford to overlook the full potential of external comfrey leaf poultices to heal sores and wounds of all types, including burns and gangrene, as well as “tumors both benign and malignant,” says Dr. Kirschner

Taken internally as decoction (boiled root tea), comfrey is described as effective against tuberculosis, internal tumors and ulcers, and promotes the healing of bone fractures. If it is hard to understand how one simple, easy to grow and easy to apply plant can be so widely useful in healing, remember that penicillin’s supporters have made some pretty broad claims for the mold on oranges. 

Dr. Kirschner describes in his article how to prepare comfrey leaves and roots for home use. The leaves are for external use, and the root for internal use. Anyone can grow comfrey in their garden for use when needed. In fact, just try to stop it: it takes no work whatsoever to grow this virtually indestructible perennial. As a young man, I decided to plant a lot of comfrey all over my yard. That took about 15 minutes. It grew so vibrantly that I eventually decided to eradicate comfrey from lawn and garden. It took twenty years to root it all out. Well, most of it. There is still that patch over there on the side. . .  

I got my “starter” comfrey from a friend, and now I know why he was smiling so broadly as he handed the huge sack of roots over to me. 

No, neither he nor I supply comfrey by mail-order. Ask around and see who’s got some to share. Or, try a garden supplier, nursery, herb store or Internet search. How to plant comfrey: stick the root under ground and come back in a month or two. To grow: Refer to the previous step.

To use the leaves, one simply picks them, crushes them into a nice emerald green paste, and applies topically. Although comfrey leaf tea or dried leaves are often to be inexpensively purchased at herb and health food stores, there is a need to mention Dr. Kirschner's constant reference to using fresh cut leaves only, right from one's garden.

Roots can be prepared as described in Poffer's Cyclopedia of Botanical Drugs (Fifth Edition) "by boiling one-half to one ounce of crushed root in one quart water. Dose, a wineglassful." Boiling the root results in a decoction. This is different, and much more effective, than simply steeping in hot water. Fresh root is almost certainly best, but I expect that dried root retains some therapeutic value. 

I thoroughly brush and wash the root under tap water before slicing it up. Then I place the chunks in two or three cups of water in a glass or stainless steel pan. Bring it to a boil, continue boiling for a few minutes, and let sit until it is cool enough to drink.

Caution: There are potentially harmful side-effects if comfrey leaves are eaten in appreciable quantity. This, to me, also means that comfrey leaf tea is contraindicated. Herbs may be the most natural of medicines, but they are still medicines. To be comfy with comfrey, consult your doctor, and a reliable herbal textbook (such as John B. Lust’s The Herb Book, NY: Bantam, 1974), and do an internet search before employing this, or any herbal remedy. Having done so, it is important to meet potential physician objections with a clear, shared understanding of the “comfrey rule”: fresh leaves externally; boiled root decoction internally.

My checking many years worth of comprehensive annual reports of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, a nation-wide database, fails to find a single death from comfrey. In my opinion, proper, temporary use of herbals is not nearly as dangerous as the drugs doctors employ in their place. I invite you to make up your own mind, and urge you to work with your doctor.

Allantoin, a key ingredient found in abundance in comfrey, may be among the reasons comfrey works. Allantoin helps cells to grow and grow together. Since this is precisely what is needed for ulcers, tumors, burns, broken skin, broken bones and perhaps even malignancy, it is little wonder that comfrey has a respect in folk lore and medical practice throughout the world, spanning the centuries. For a definitive explanation of how, why and what comfrey heals, with detailed information on the chemical constitution of allantoin, one should read a long-forgotten 60-page work entitled Narrative of an Investigation Concerning an Ancient Medicinal Remedy and its Modern Utilities by Charles J. MacAlister, M.D. and A.W. Titherley, D.Sc. It is full of case histories, research and historical information. Clinical observations, notes on malignancy and how to prepare the remedy are included.  This 1936 book is even more rare than Dr. Kirchner’s article that I cited above. Reprints of either may still be available on microfilm. It is a good idea to ask your public library's interlibrary loan person to help you obtain copies. 

The complete reference is:
MacAlister, C. J. and Titherley, A. W. (1936) Narrative of an Investigation Concerning an Ancient Medicinal Remedy and its Modern Utilities Together with an Account of the Chemical Constitution of Allantoin. London: John Bale, Sons, and Danielsson

Copyright C 2005 and prior years Andrew W. Saul.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )



Andrew W. Saul


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