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 Post subject: Comfrey
PostPosted: Fri May 29, 2015 1:48 pm 
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My personal opinion is that the new found "truth" on the harmful effects of comfrey is just another whitewash by those authority figures who pick and choose what is the "bad" herb of the year. Comfrey is unique and has long been a very important herb in the herbal Materia Medica of most cultures. To say that it can be easily replaced by a safer plant is not really understanding the individual uniqueness of that plant. Most practitioners that find it easy to drop comfrey and relegate it to topical use, really have no experience with its clinical oral use. They read the warnings and personally judge that plant not worth the risk of using it a clinical setting. I wonder how many of the commonly utilized veterinary drugs that you now use can stand up to the scrutiny of which comfrey has gone through? Few, I dare say. Few, could get by with only "supposedly" 3 adverse cases levied against their use. Only three? And those three cases are open to major interpretations in my opinion. I would like to know how many cases of anaphylactic shock from common anti-biotics have killed horses. I dare say far more than three. All substances have risks particularly if that substance is not well understood or misused. Comfrey is no different. There are few substances that can match comfrey in its healing characteristics, both internally and externally. I gave a friend who has nerve damage in one leg a comfrey/honey paste to use on a foot ulcer that simply refused to heal earlier this summer. Modern medicine seemed unable to help this fellow out. Topical use of this paste healed his ulcer over quickly after long months of festering. The true danger is to be sure that any wound in which comfrey is used is free of infection, for it will heal so fast that an infection may be trapped inside. Comfrey has likewise been used for eons in all types of afflictions. It has been used as an anti-cancer remedy. I am always suspicious of claims that say of an herb that it can cause cancer when history has shown it was used to combat cancer.

Long sustained use of many compounds can lead to liver damage. Comfrey should never be prescribed month after month. Comfrey leave should be favored internally and the root should be the part of choice when taken topically. How many scientific studies have differentiated these two parts? Scientists tends to clump all of a plant together as typical of that particular plant. Not so in medicinal herbalogy. Each part is unique. Another pet peeve of mine is that many so called scientific studies never involve the actual root of the plant that is implicated. It almost always involves some type of atypical extract that researcher has made up for that testing. In the real world, we never dig up extracts. I can go on and on.

I will post a superb piece written by Rosemary Gladstar in defense of comfrey. I will also say that comfrey has been used for years as a livestock forage with no ill effects. Comfrey is only one of several historically valuable herbs that have been earmarked for eradication by the FDA and other commissions. Chaparral, ephedra, and of late, Kava and cascara sagrada are all targeted to be taken off of the market. It is a sad day when all of these important herbs are allowed to be singly deleted from use by people who do not understand them or their use.

again, my humble opinion only,

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 Post subject: Re: Comfrey
PostPosted: Fri May 29, 2015 1:49 pm 
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The Comfrey Controversy
by Rosemary Gladstar:


Quote:
Over the past several years I've been increasingly aware of the controversy surrounding the use of comfrey. At first, I simply ignored it, but recent articles and current information have prompted me to write a response.

I've witnessed so much controversy over favorite herbs. Usually facts are misleading and after several years of 'black listing' evidence creeps up that redeems the deposed herb. Sassafras, one of my favorite tea drinking herbs, was removed from the market because of the potential toxic effects of the chemical safrole, (though it's estimated that modern beer is 10 times more carcinogenic than old fashion sassafras root beers banned by the FDA for the purported carcinogen, safrole). After thirty years on the herbal black list, sassafras is in favor again and is showing up in tea blends and formulas. Pennyroyal has received deplorable press ever since two young women each drank an ounce of the oil in the 70's and killed themselves. Cautious use of licorice is recommended because of potential problems with elevated blood pressure, though most studies indicate that licorice induced blood pressure is due to concentrated licorice extracts, candy, and syrup, not the whole root. Even slippery elm is listed as potentially toxic and is not recommended for internal use. It seems that native women used the soft inner bark of the elm tree vaginally to induce abortions. With all this controversy it doesn't surprise me to see comfrey come to 'trial'. But what does surprise me is the neurosis that herbalists are acquiring over this comfrey cast. It's enough to give one an ulcer!

Are we getting lost in the backwash of current trends of herbalism that lean towards science, scientific testing, and professionalism? Are we forgetting the value of centuries of recorded use? Is human testing conducted over thousands of years no longer equal to laboratory scientific testing?

Shouldn't 'empirical evidence' at least be considered, and not forgotten in the rush of scientific studies and latest 'findings'? Perhaps it would be good to recall the rich historical documentation of comfrey, which seems largely neglected in the rush to classify it as toxic.

Comfrey's been a favorite herb of most early herbalists and has been written about for centuries in the famed old herbals. Hildegard of Bingen, famous visionary, saint and herbalist of the Benedictines, recommended it for wounds in the 11th century. Paracelsus, Pliny, Gerard, Dioscoriedes, and Culpepper were all fans of the herb and recommended it highly. If current information is correct, these famous healers were killing, not healing, their patients.

It's no wonder comfrey's been extolled as one of the renowned healing herbs of all times. Its very name, Symphytum, means 'to heal'. Rich concentrations of Allantoin. a cell proliferant that stimulates the growth of connective tissue and cartilage make comfrey a specific for broken bones, torn cartilage, swellings, and bruises. It contains tannin as well as high concentrations of mucilage in its chemical make-up so is not only soothing but constrictive and healing for wounds, cuts. and tears. It also contains steroidal saponins making it particularly beneficial for reproductive and hormonal imbalances. Along with all its specific healing properties, comfrey is also a delicious and nourishing food herb. It: contains high amounts of plant digestible calcium, iron. protein (up to 35%, seven times more protein than soybeans), B vitamins and vitamin A, among other things.

Down through the ages in many parts of the world comfrey's been recognized as one of the great healing herbs and has maintained its scrupulous reputation....right up to the present day. In 1968 an independent Japanese scientist first reported finding pyrrolizidine alkaloids, substances that are regarded as potentially hepatoxic and carcinogenic, in the young leaves and roots of comfrey. Austrian studies confirmed the Japanese reports. The news spread through the scientific community and filtered into the herbal community like wild fire. What a furor those reports caused. A recent headline in one newspaper states "Warning ! Comfrey Tea can Kill You"! Once considered one of the great all time healing herbs, comfrey now sits on trial as a possible carcinogen and as a cause of hepatic veno-occlusive disease.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA's), a broad based chemical group including more than 200 different alkaloids, are found in a widespread variety of flowering plants throughout the world. They seem to be most concentrated in members of the Borage family, the Pea family, and some members of the Aster family.

PA's first became a health concern in the mid 70's when, during a severe drought several thousand Afghani villagers developed severe liver impairment, many of whom died. The source of the problem was traced to PA infected wheat (from a Heliotrope species). There have been a couple of other epidemics of veno-occlusive disease occurring in third world countries as a result of accidental and long term ingestion of PA infected grain (traced to Crotalaria species). These cases prompted an investigation of plants containing PA's. In the process, comfrey, the most popular and widely used memberof the Borage family, was analyzed. It is difficult to draw any conclusive information, however, from the tests given the various results reported. As is so often the case with studies, there are enough discrepancies and various "scientific findings" to satisfy what ever we'd like to believe.

Though it is important to be open to the possible dangers of comfrey, it is as important to sift through the information and misinformation and to form opinions based on fact, rather than hysteria. The truth of the matter is that most plants reveal within their chemical blue print a wide variety of constituents, many of them potentially harmful. These chemicals form a synergistic relationship with one another, often nullifying and or strengthening certain aspects of one another. Michael Tierra states in The Way of Herbs, "Plants have a dynamically complex biochemistry. In many instances this allows for small amounts of substances, which when isolated and concentrated might otherwise be poisonous, to be quite safe and harmless." The sum total of these hundreds of chemicals determine the personality, or action of the plant. Judging a plant's action based on one chemical is like judging a person by the fact that their hair is brown. Studies conducted in Washington found very minute amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in comfrey. Some plants tested had none at all. An independent researcher in the U.S. found that of three samples tested for pyrrolizidine alkaloids, one was negative, the second contained only trace amounts, and the third contained one part per million equaling a sum total of an infinitesimal amount of this alleged toxic substance. In Steven Foster's article in the February issue of Herb Companion he cites that 8 PA's have been identified, though different varieties of Comfrey have various amounts and only two of the most abundant PA's, according to him, are under scrutiny. It brings to mind the words of the highly respected Dr. Rudolp Weiss "Modern methods of chemical analysis are now so sophisticated, working in nano units (l0 to the 9th power), that harmful substances will be found almost anywhere, with the result that we feel constantly threatened." Dr. Weiss, by the way, seemed cautious about accepting current research on comfrey toxicity.

It might be discerning while reviewing the PA containing factor of comfrey to consider the rest of this plant's biochemical characteristics. Comfrey is rich in allantoin, a cell proliferant, calcium salts, and mucopolysaccharides, all of which are very nutritious to the cell and may serve to neutralize the cell inhibiting action of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids. It is also important to note that the pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in comfrey are in a "N-oxide", or organic state, unlike those used in laboratory studies. These organic compounds are more likely to be degraded when digested in the human body.

Another important issue to consider is the nature of the tests used to determine the toxicity factor of comfrey. Once identified, the alkaloids were isolated and injected into laboratory animals in rather massive amounts, far more than would normally be ingested. Richard De Sylva states in The Canadian Journal of Herbalism: "The original research (on the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in comfrey) was seriously flawed.

The laboratory rats that developed tumors on the liver were only six weeks old. At this age, quite a number of substances would be inappropriate for them to ingest. As well, the total amount of comfrey ingested formed 30-50% of their basic diet. This could be compared to human consumption of several platefuls of comfrey daily. This daily regimen did eventually cause tumors to grow on their livers and proved only one of the standing laws of science: that every substance or chemical is a poison if we consume enough of it."

Or as Paracelsus said several hundred years ago, "All things are poison and nothing is without poison. It is the dosage that makes a thing poisonous or not." It might be wise to note when observing animal studies that comfrey is used extensively as a fodder for dairy and beef cattle throughout the Pacific Northwest with no problems. In fact, farmers are growing fields of comfrey because of the outstanding results in milk production and the health of the herds.

Because of these laboratory findings, an attempt was made to collect case histories of individuals who used comfrey and later developed liver toxicity. However, of the thousands of people who use comfrey worldwide, only three somewhat questionable cases have been identified, none of which conclusively point to comfrey as the culprit. In 1984 there was a case of veno-occlusive liver disease in a 49 year old woman who had been taking Comfrey- Pepsin tablets for four months. The American Journal of Medicine reported a case of a woman who reportedly drank as many as I0 cups of Comfrey tea a day and handfuls of tablets and developed veno-occlusive liver disease. The third reported case of veno-occlusive liver disease was that of a 23 year old New Zealand man who died of liver failure reportedly due to veno-occlusive liver disease. He was said to have eaten four or five steamed comfrey leaves every day for one to two weeks before he died.

This appears to constitute the complete 'hard evidence' for condemning comfrey. Not having access to the complete case histories on these patients I can make no statement of whether, in fact, comfrey is the only possible etiologic factor for the liver pathology. Even if it is, three cases out of tens of thousands, perhaps millions of people who use comfrey is not statistically significant enough to ban its use. If our pharmaceutical industry were subject to such standards, we would have no drugs on the market at all. And very few herbs.

No matter what your position on this matter, this toxicity information should be put in perspective. Mark Blumenthal states, "The comfrey incident might have looked different if it I had been put into context of a toxicity scale. One such scale is the HERP index, which classifies the cancer-causing potentials of various substances. Extrapolating from the HERP index, former U.S. Department of Agriculture botanist James Duke, Ph.D., calculates that less than one-fifth an ounce of brown mustard is twice as cancer causing as comfrey tea, which has roughly the same cancer-causing potential as a peanut butter sandwich. Wine is 144 times more cancer causing than an equal amount of comfrey tea." It is essential to always recall when reading test results that the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. As more and more tests are being conducted on herbs and the chemicals isolated, it is important to be open minded about the results; open minded to the fact that science is fallible.

If a plant has been found safe and effective for a thousand years of human use, it may be wise to question the validity and applicability of the tests being used. There is generally some unidentified part of the plant in the form of another chemical or an innate natural wisdom that allows the medicine, when taken as a whole, to function in a safe and beneficial manner.

The comfrey controversy continues to rage. Banned in Canada, comfrey awaits its fate in the U.S. Some herbalists continue to use comfrey basing their faith on 'the empirical evidence of the ages' and ignoring current data. Most herbalists are taking a more conservative discerning stand recommending small amounts of comfrey for internal purposes (awaiting pending information) and continuing to use it externally. Some herbalists, caught up in the ferver of the tests, have discontinued its use altogether and advocate others do so also. As for me, until the evidence and 'hard facts' are much more compelling, I will continue to use comfrey judiciously for myself and my clients.

Meanwhile, the Austrian company that conducted the original tests verified that the tests were inconclusive and in Japan, where the alkaloids were first discovered, doctors still continue to recommend comfrey for cirrhosis of the liver. Through its whole "trial" comfrey seems unabashed. It continues to dauntlessly grow. A large luxurious plant, its carefree attitude seems to say, "if you doubt my safety, don't use me! I've been around a long long time. I'll outlast the controversy".

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