A comfrey poultice is a time-honored herbal treatment for sprains, broken bones, ulcers, boils and skin inflammation. Comfrey has been used to heal broken bones for so long that it's even earned the nickname "boneset" because it was thought to set bones. This should not be confused with the herb Boneset or Eupatorium perfoliatum which was used to treat Dengue (or Break Bone) Fever. Used externally, comfrey can speed healing and ease the discomfort of common injuries.
Medicinal Uses for Comfrey
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a perennial plant with broad, hairy leaves and purple flowers. Another type of comfrey has pink flowers. It grows in the wild throughout Europe and especially England. For many centuries, comfrey was used internally to treat gastrointestinal illnesses as well as externally for cuts, broken bones, sprains, and ulcerated skin, such as what happens when a boil becomes infected. Recent research suggests that comfrey should only be used externally.
Comfrey's Active Ingredients
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the active ingredient in comfrey is allantoin. Allantoin helps new cells grow to replace damaged cells, which is why comfrey, applied externally, helps heal ulcerated skin so well.
Danger of Over Using Comfrey
Comfrey also contains a series of alkaloids, however, that have proven hazardous to human health if overused. These alkaloids, called pyrrolizidine alkaloids, have caused liver damage in some people. That's why many herbalists now recommend comfrey for external use only. While you can absorb pyrrolizidine alkaloids through the skin, if you follow the directions on herbal preparations it shouldn't cause harm. If liver problems occur, discontinue use and seek medical help. Symptoms of liver problems include jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eye whites, as well as nausea and vomiting.
How to Make and Use a Comfrey Poultice
A comfrey poultice applied to the skin near an injury is thought to speed healing. To make a comfrey poultice, crush or mash about two tablespoons of comfrey leaves in very hot water. Place the mashed ball of hot comfrey leaves inside a piece of cheese cloth or cloth and tie the ends together with a rubber band to make a little packet. Place it against the wound. Use it for ten minutes on, then wait an hour before applying it again. Don't use it for more than ten days in a row, and try to avoid using comfrey preparations several times in one year.
Pregnant and nursing women should not use comfrey; there's some danger that the active alkaloids can harm a baby. If you have liver damage or liver problems, you should avoid comfrey unless under the care of a qualified herbalist or naturopathic doctor.
Apply the Poultice to Injuries
A comfrey poultice may be used on the following injuries:
- Sprains: Sprained ankles and wrists respond to comfrey poultices. If you're sure it's only a sprain and not a break, apply a comfrey poultice and follow doctor's advice.
- Broken bones: Make sure to see a doctor if you suspect a broken bone; there can be complications, and a physician should assess any severe orthopedic injury. An herbalist can guide you on using comfrey with broken bones.
- Boils: Apply a comfrey poultice to boils or carbuncles, which are clusters of boils, to speed healing.
Commercial Comfrey Preparations
Comfrey poultices aren't difficult to make, but if you'd prefer a laboratory-made comfrey poultice or comfrey preparation, you have several choices. Oral comfrey tinctures have been banned in the United States due to the potential for liver poisoning, but you can purchase prepared creams and poultice bases. Ointments and creams can be used on sprains and strains to speed healing. Comfrey hand balm, for example, is often used by people with arthritis to soothe pain and inflammation.
Consult Your Physician About Using Comfrey
Whether you start with fresh herbs or use a comfrey tincture added to hot water to make your poultice, use common sense, care and caution with comfrey. It's a useful herb and has been used throughout the centuries for healing, but if overused it can cause damage. The best thing you can do is talk to your physician about comfrey before using it.