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Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) Image
Synonyms / Common Names / Related Terms
7-Acetylintermedine, acetyllcopsamine, allantoin, allantoin-beta-cyclodextrin, anadoline, asperum polymer, ass ear, assear, asses-ears, Beinwell (German), black root, black wort, blackwort, blue comfrey, bocking 14, boneset, Boraginaceae (family), Borago-Symphytum, borraja, bourrache, bruisewort, bulbous comfrey, buyuk karakafesotu, Caucasian comfrey, comfrey extract, comfrey herb, comfrey root, common comfrey, comphrey, consolida, consolida aspra (Italian), consolidae radix, consolida majoris, consolide maggiore (Italian), consormol, consoude, consoude grande (French), consoude rude (French), consound, consuelda (Spanish), creeping comfrey, Crimean comfrey, echimidine, Extr. Rad. Symphyti, glucofructan, great comfrey, ground comfrey root, gum plant, healing blade, healing herb, heliotrine, hirehari-so, hydroxycinnamate-derived polymer, integerrimine, intermedine, knitback, knitbone, Kytta-Balsam® f, Kytta-Plasma® f, Kytta-Salbe® f, lasiocarpine, liane chique, lithospermic acid, lycopsamine, medicinal comfrey, mucopolysaccharides, navadni gabez (Slovenian), nipbone, okopnik sherohovaty (Russian), oreille d'ane (French), otonecine- pyrrolizidine alkaloids, prickley comfrey, pyrrolizidine alkaloid, Quaker comfrey, radix symphyti, rauher Beinwell (German), rauhe Wallwurz (German), Reinweld (German), retronecine, retrorsine, retrorsine N-oxide, riddelliine, ridelliine N-oxide, rosmarinic acid, rough comfrey, ru kulsukker (Danish), Russian comfrey, ruwe smeerworted (Dutch), salsify, saponins, senecionine, senecionine N-oxide, seneciphylline, senkirkine, simfit (Italian), slippery root, S. x uplandicum, symlandine, symphyti herba, symphyti folium, symphyti radix, symphytine, symphytum alkaloids, Symphytum asperrimum Donn, Symphytum asperum, Symphytum asperum Lepechin, Symphytum asperum x officinale, Symphytum bulbosum, Symphytum caucasicum, Symphytum caucasicvum, Symphytum cream, Symphytum grandiflorum, Symphytum ibericum, Symphytum officinale Linn, Symphytum orientale, Symphytum peregrinum Lebed, Symphytum radix, Symphytum spp., Symphytum tauricum, Symphytum tuberosum, Symphytum x, Symphytum x uplandicum, Symphytum x uplandicum Nyman, Syrupus de Symphyto (Spanish), tannins, tarharaunioyrtti (Finnish), the great comfrey, tuberous comfrey, 7- uplandine, wallwort, wallwurz (German), white comfrey, yalluc (Saxon), zinzinnici (Italian).

Combination products (examples): Asthma tincture (blood root, St. John's wort, mullein, saw palmetto, wild cherry bark, goldenseal root, cayenne, comfrey, Lobelia, R/O water, 12% alcohol).

Mechanism of Action


  • Constituents: The roots of Symphytum officinale contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, including symlandine, symphytine, and echimidine.8,9 Other constituents include riddelliine, riddelliine N-oxide, senecionine, senecionine N-oxide, seneciphylline, retrorsine, integerrimine, lasiocarpine and heliotrine.6 Anadoline has also been identified in a related species, Symphytum orientale.10 Eight pyrrolizidine alkaloids, including symlandine, symphytine, lycopsamine, intermedine, 7-acetyllcopsamine, 7-acetylintermedine, uplandine, and echimidine, have been identified in leaves of Symphytum x uplandicum.11,9
  • The concentration of symphytine and echimidine varies between teas prepared from leaves purchased from different vendors.5 Nine of 11 comfrey products available in health food stores were found to contain measurable quantities of one or more alkaloids, in ranges from 0.1 to 400.0ppm.7 The highest levels were found in bulk comfrey root, followed by bulk comfrey leaf, followed by comfrey combination products.
  • Poly[oxy-1-carboxy-2-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)ethylene] was isolated from the roots of Symphytum asperum and Symphytum caucasicum.12 3-O-[beta-D-glucopyranosyl-(1-->4)-beta-D-glucopyranosyl-(1-->4)-alpha-L-arabinopyranosyl]-oleanolic acid was isolated from the ethanol-soluble portion of Symphytum officinale roots. 13
  • Mucopolysaccharides, saponins, allantoin, rosmarinic acid, tannins, and lithospermic acid are also found in comfrey.14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21
  • Antifungal effects: Extracts from the leaves of comfrey inhibited the germination of Erysiphe graminis conidia and uredospores of Puccinia graminis, resulting in diminished powdery mildew infection of plants.1 It is not clear whether comfrey has clinical antifungal effects.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects: In vitro, Symphytum x uplandicum inhibited platelet activating factor-induced exocytosis.3 In vitro, a water-soluble hydroxycinnamate-derived polymer (>1000kDa) from Symphytum asperum Lepech. inhibited degranulation of azurophil granules and superoxide generation in primed leukocytes, indicating anti-inflammatory effects.2 In animals, a water extract of comfrey altered the production of prostaglandins.22
  • Antioxidant effects: In vitro, a water-soluble hydroxycinnamate-derived polymer (>1000kDa) from Symphytum asperum Lepech reduced the diphenylpicrylhydrazyl radical and inhibited the nonenzymatic lipid peroxidation of bovine brain extracts.2 Superoxide anion generation was also reduced.
  • In vitro, topical formulations including Symphytum officinale showed some antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities.4
  • Immune effects: In an animal study, an aqueous extract obtained from roots of Symphytum officinale initially activated the respiratory burst of macrophages and later activated the synthesis of catalase and superoxide dismutase.23 The clinical significance of this is unknown.
  • Vasoprotective effects: In vitro, a water-soluble hydroxycinnamate-derived polymer (>1000kDa) from Symphytum asperum Lepech. inhibited degranulation of azurophil granules and superoxide generation in primed leukocytes, indicating vasoprotective effects.2


  • In an animal study, topical application of a crude alcoholic extract resulted in very low absorption of pyrrolidizine alkaloids.24 0.1-0.4% of the dose was recovered in the urine over the next 24 hours.


  1. Karavaev, V. A., Solntsev, M. K., Iurina, T. P., Iurina, E. V., Poliakova, I. B., and Kuznetsov, A. M. [Antifungal activity of aqueous extracts from the leaf of cowparsnip and comfrey]. Izv Akad Nauk Ser Biol 2001;(4):435-441. 11525124
  2. Barthomeuf, C. M., Debiton, E., Barbakadze, V. V., and Kemertelidze, E. P. Evaluation of the dietetic and therapeutic potential of a high molecular weight hydroxycinnamate-derived polymer from Symphytum asperum Lepech. Regarding its antioxidant, antilipoperoxidant, antiinflammatory, and cytotoxic properties. J Agric Food Chem 2001;49(8):3942-3946. 11513693
  3. Tunon, H., Olavsdotter, C., and Bohlin, L. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory activity of some Swedish medicinal plants. Inhibition of prostaglandin biosynthesis and PAF-induced exocytosis. J Ethnopharmacol 1995;48(2):61-76. 8583796
  4. Di Mambro, V. M. and Fonseca, M. J. Assays of physical stability and antioxidant activity of a topical formulation added with different plant extracts. J Pharm Biomed Anal  2-23-2005;37(2):287-295. 15708669
  5. Oberlies, N. H., Kim, N. C., Brine, D. R., Collins, B. J., Handy, R. W., Sparacino, C. M., Wani, M. C., and Wall, M. E. Analysis of herbal teas made from the leaves of comfrey (Symphytum officinale): reduction of N-oxides results in order of magnitude increases in the measurable concentration of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Public Health Nutr 2004;7(7):919-924. 15482618
  6. Schaneberg, B. T., Molyneux, R. J., and Khan, I. A. Evaporative light scattering detection of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Phytochem Anal  2004;15(1):36-39. 14979525
  7. Betz, J. M., Eppley, R. M., Taylor, W. C., and Andrzejewski, D. Determination of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in commercial comfrey products (Symphytum sp.). J Pharm Sci 1994;83(5):649-653. 8071814
  8. Kim, N. C., Oberlies, N. H., Brine, D. R., Handy, R. W., Wani, M. C., and Wall, M. E. Isolation of symlandine from the roots of common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) using countercurrent chromatography. J Nat Prod  2001;64(2):251-253. 11430014
  9. Gray, D. E., Porter, A., O'Neill, T., Harris, R. K., and Rottinghaus, G. E. A rapid cleanup method for the isolation and concentration of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in comfrey root. J AOAC Int 2004;87(5):1049-1057. 15493660
  10. Ulubelen, A. and Doganca, S. Anadoline, a new senecio alkaloid from symphytum orientale. Tetrahedron Lett 1970;30:2583-2585. 5448441
  11. Culvenor, C. C., Clarke, M., Edgar, J. A., Frahn, J. L., Jago, M. V., Peterson, J. E., and Smith, L. W. Structure and toxicity of the alkaloids of Russian comfrey (symphytum x uplandicum Nyman), a medicinal herb and item of human diet. Experientia 4-15-1980;36(4):377-379. 7379906
  12. Barbakadze, V. V., Kemertelidze, E. P., Targamadze, I. L., Shashkov, A. S., and Usov, A. I. [Novel biologically active polymer of 3-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)glyceric acid from two types of the comphrey Symphytum asperum and S. caucasicvum (Boraginoceae)]. Bioorg Khim  2002;28(4):362-366. 12197395
  13. Ahmad, V. U., Noorwala, M., Mohammad, F. V., and Sener, B. A new triterpene glycoside from the roots of Symphytum officinale. J Nat Prod  1993;56(3):329-334. 8482944
  14. Franz, G. [Studies on the mucopolysaccharides of Tussilago farfara L., Symphytum officinalis L., Borago officinalis L. and Viola tricolor L]. Planta Med 1969;17(3):217-220. 4241756
  15. Aftab, K., Shaheen, F., Mohammad, F. V., Noorwala, M., and Ahmad, V. U. Phyto-pharmacology of saponins from Symphytum officinale L. Adv Exp Med Biol 1996;404:429-442. 8957312
  16. Mohammad, F. V., Noorwala, M., Ahmad, V. U., and Sener, B. A bidesmosidic hederagenin hexasaccharide from the roots of Symphytum officinale. Phytochemistry 1995;40(1):213-218. 7546550
  17. Noorwala, M., Mohammad, F. V., Ahmad, V. U., and Sener, B. A bidesmosidic triterpene glycoside from the roots of Symphytum officinale. Phytochemistry 1994;36(2):439-443. 7764880
  18. Wagner, H., Horhammer, L., and Frank, U. [Lithospermic acid, the antihormonally active principle of Lycopus europaeus L. and Symphytum officinale. 3. Ingredients of medicinal plants with hormonal and antihormonal-like effect]. Arzneimittelforschung 1970;20(5):705-713. 4193311
  19. Makarova, G. V. and et al. Farm Zh  1966;21(5):41.
  20. Fijalkowski, D. and Seroczynska, M. Herba ol  1977;23:47.
  21. Furuya, T. and Araki, K. Studies on constituents of crude drugs. I. Alkaloids of Symphytum officinale Linn. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 1968;16(12):2512-2516. 5719032
  22. Stamford, I. F. and Tavares, I. A. The effect of an aqueous extract of comfrey on prostaglandin synthesis by rat isolated stomach. J Pharm Pharmacol 1983;35(12):816-817. 6141246
  23. Dolganiuc, A., Radu, L. D., and Olinescu, A. [The effect of products of plant and microbial origin on phagocytic function and on the release of oxygen free radicals by mouse peritoneal macrophages]. Bacteriol Virusol Parazitol Epidemiol  1997;42(1-2):65-69. 1
  24. Brauchli, J., Luthy, J., Zweifel, U., and Schlatter, C. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids from Symphytum officinale L. and their percutaneous absorption in rats. Experientia 9-15-1982;38(9):1085-1087. 7128756

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