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Back Pain? Research Shows Comfrey Ointment Helps

April 16, 2015

Anyone with back pain knows how difficult it can be to get lasting relief.  A long-standing Native American herbal remedy can help, according to research in the journal Phytotherapy Research. Native Americans made an ointment or oil from an herb we know as comfrey, or Symphytum officinale) to treat bruises, strains, pain, and injuries.  The medical journal found that topical applications of comfrey oil or ointment can alleviate back pain of either a muscular or joint nature. 

The research showed that comfrey alleviates both pain and inflammation, which could explain its long and successful track record.  The plant contains multiple chemical constituents that are likely responsible for its pain- and inflammation- alleviating activities.  Rosmarinic acid was found to significantly reduce inflammation while a glycopeptide found in the herb was found to inhibit four different prostaglandins that are linked with pain.  Allantoin is also responsible for its pain-alleviating properties.

Comfrey oils and ointments have also been used successfully by herbalists for many years in the treatment of back pain, muscle or joint aches, arthritis, bruising, and injuries.  Also known as “knitbone” you can probably understand why the herb has been traditionally used for bone fractures and breaks.

To obtain the anti-inflammatory and analgesic actions of comfrey, choose an ointment or oil with 10% of the active ingredients from comfrey leaf (or the package might state “aerial portions of the plant” or something like that).   Alternatively, some products contain 5 to 20% of the dried herb.  Do not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended external usage.

I don’t recommend using this plant internally since it can be toxic to the liver in large or long-term doses, or to those with pre-existing liver damage.  There is no evidence of any safety issue when topically using oil or ointment preparations made with comfrey, and lots of evidence to support it therapeutic value.  Simply apply the product over the injured or sore area a few times daily until you experience improvement in your symptoms or until the wound has resolved.

Even other plants love comfrey.  I grow a large comfrey plant just at the edge of my fruit and vegetable gardens because it makes an amazing organic fertilizer for them.  For this purpose, I simply cut a few leaves (each leaf is rather large) and steep them in a large bucket of water for a couple of weeks.  Pour the comfrey “tea” over garden beds to nourish the soil with important minerals.

If you grow your own comfrey to nourish your gardens and soil, I recommend wearing gloves (preferably long ones) whenever you harvest the leaves.  The reason I recommend gloves is that I’ve noticed that bees absolutely love this plant.  My comfrey plant is always buzzing with bees, including many hidden ones that bury themselves in each of the plant’s beautiful bell-shaped pink to purple flowers.  If you grow your own comfrey, allow enough space as it can grow to about three feet tall and about four feet in diameter.  It is a perennial plant that thrives with almost no care.

Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the international best-selling author of the books The Probiotic Promise, 60 Seconds to Slim, and Weekend Wonder Detox, a registered nutritionist, and a board-certified doctor of natural medicine.  Subscribe to my free e-magazine World’s Healthiest News to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more.  Follow my blog on my sites and, and Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook.  Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD.  Take the FREE WEEKEND WONDER DETOX QUIZ to determine which detox is best for you.

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