Common Comfrey Symphytum officinale
A perennial herb with a black, turnip-like root and a square stem, which is branched, near the top. The lower leaves are alternate, stalked and ovate to lanceolate; those higher up the stem are narrower and their bases continue as wings down the stem to the leaf below. The bell-shaped white, cream, purple or pink flowers are arranged in nodding cymes in the upper leaf axils. The fruit consists of four ovoid, glossy-black nutlets. All parts of the plant are roughly hairy.
Common Comfrey is native to Europe and grows in damp grassy places. It is widespread throughout the British Isles on riverbanks and in ditches but it is rarer in Scotland. It may have been introduced in the north and in Ireland. Tuberous Comfrey (S. tuberosum), another introduced species, now grows throughout Britain, especially in Scotland. It is smaller than Common Comfrey and the leaf bases extend only a little way down the stem. Common Comfrey has long had a medicinal use, primarily for treating wounds and fractures. This traditional use of the plant is reflected in the name Comfrey, which comes from the Latin word confervere (= to join together).
The roots and leaves are used medicinally. Their constituents include tannins, abundant mucilage, allantoin, starch, traces of pyrrolizidine alkaloids and an essential oil. These substances give Common Comfrey astringent, scar-healing, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, emollient and mild sedative properties. Internally it is used in an infusion or in powder form for chronic respiratory infections, stomach and duodenal ulcers, and diarrhoea. Mostly, however, Comfrey is used externally in compresses, plasters, liniments, ointments and bath preparations. Comfrey is also used in homeopathy and it is contained in many proprietary preparations.
Note: Comfrey has been reported to cause serious liver damage if taken in large amounts over a long period of time. Although this effect is in dispute it would be best to err on the cautious side when taking Comfrey internally.
Flowering time: May to June