Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

Comfrey, to eat or not to eat?

A long held discussion or even conflict within the world of wild foods is that of comfrey & whether its healthy or potentially harmful to humans. I'm sure this discussion will continue for, well, a while, meanwhile I thought I'd add my contribution. I've also included my latest recipe, alongside some reasons (including scientific ones) of why I like this plant.

Comfrey leaves - Symphytum officinale -  has been used for thousands of years as a food & medicine, some of its common names include 'knitbone' because of its internal & external application for broken bones. Indeed, it has been held in high-esteem by herbalists for its healing properties, in particular reducing inflammations by aiding cell regrowth & repair (1).

Just on a side line, if you research into comfrey as a plant food (a liquid green fertilizer) you will find lots of positive reports of its nutritious benefits of 'greatly enhancing the fertility of your soil'. I am aware that people are not plants - although an interesting topic based on our intake of so many nutrients from the plant world that are then laid down as vitamin & minerals in our bodies which create our bones, repair our cells - I digress!

Meanwhile, more recently, comfrey has been approached with more caution & in some incidences considered a potential poison that should not be used as a food, or indeed a medicine at all. Only last month, when speaking to a reputatable & quite open-minded scientist about wild food, he quoted to me the risk of eating comfrey in the context of the dangers of wild food foraging. Now, while I want to promote safe foraging ( some plants are most definitely poisons, for example, while others need to be processed), I also want to promote a balanced approach to plants as foods & accurately represent the benefits.

As a non-scientist, I've chosen to refer to research done & leave you to come to your own conclusions... In particular, everybody's body is different & reactions, can & indeed have, occurred. In particular, the main research that is often cited is from 1978 when rats were fed comfrey leaves (8-33% of their diet) for a durational period, which resulted in liver tumours developing in all cases (96% turned out to be benign by the way) (2). However, as pointed out by Health Practitioner, Dorena Rode (through her extensive & thorough research on comfrey - well worth a read), further scientific research has been carried out where no such results were found (3). I also usually add the obvious; that we are not rats & I challenge anyone (not literally) to even try & eat comfrey as a third of your diet for half a year!

So, am I promoting comfrey as a food, or am I not?

Well, over the past 5 years I have certainly used comfrey as an ingredient in wild food events & dinners (with no known negative side-effects). Excellent in curries, we were particularly pleased with our Sea Beet, Comfrey & Black Mustard Thoran - a South Indian style dish using coconut that Sara created on one of our inspired walks through the Cornish countryside.

Personally, I also remember over 15 years ago sitting in a wood with my boyfriend, it was morning time & he was cooking up comfrey fritters (quite a traditional & classic recipe quoted for this food) & frying wild mushrooms for people to taste - delicious! However, I have also remained cautious around using this plant too often.

Now, coming back to the present day. This morning I've been looking at those comfrey leaves I picked yesterday morning; a glorious summer wander with comfrey looking too good to be passed by. The combination of sunshine, the outdoors & wild food just gets my creativity going sometimes & I want to play! The heat also doesn't inspire a laboured curry for me & one of things I enjoy about comfrey is the cucumber-like flavour & freshness.

Armed with a little research, a healthy appetite & travelling past my local shop for a few ingredients - I set to. Before I tell you my recipe, I want to share with you a few tips that I decided to take on board regarding eating comfrey;

Here are 4 reasons why I continue to eat comfrey - occasionally: 

1. Apparently the older leaves are meant to be less potent in the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (4) that are thought to be harmful in comfrey - so I focused on picking these older leaves

2. I like life & have no desire to push the boundaries of nature, so am adhering to not eating comfrey too regularly or in large amounts (for my own comfort & peace of mind)

3. That comfrey is also RICH in many beneficial nutrients for us humans (great!) including; Calcium , Magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, Beta Carotene, Phosphorus, Potassium, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Iron,  Sulfur , Copper & Zinc (4)

4. I've never felt any ill-effects from eating comfrey & I enjoy eating wild foods.


Back to my recipe. Based on my love of that cucumber-like flavour of comfrey, plus reading that protein deficiency & lack of sulphure containing amino acids may contribute to the ill-effects of comfrey (3), I created this;



Comfrey & Yoghurt Dip

1 handful of comfrey leaves (older ones)

200g of natural yoghurt (the proper full fat stuff)

1 heaped tablespoon of good honey

1 squeeze of lemon juice

1 shake of liquid amino acids (google it!)

Put all the above in a food blender & whizz together. The result is a sweet, cucumber-like dip (think tzatziki) that I thought was delicious! Perfect for a summer spread of salads, dips & fruits. Let me know what you think..


(1) Comfrey 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC)

(2) Hirono, I., H. Mori, and M. Haga, Carcinogenic activity of Symphytum officinale. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1978. 61(3): p. 865-9.

(3) Comfrey Central - A Clearinghouse for Symphytum Information www.comfrey-central.com

(4) Comfrey is Poisonous? Dherbs Article

14 comments on “Comfrey, to eat or not to eat?”

  1. I love comfrey and eat it often, usually dipped in thin batter and fried topped with butter and maple syrup and jam. This website helped me decided to eat it. We have been told not to eat comfrey but we are told we should eat gmos, industrial meats, procesed food of all kinds, high fructos cornsyrup laced sodas. I love comfrey and simply do not believe it is harmful. I had very poor health in my 40's and by eating a diet rich in foraged and organic plants I am now thriving. I believe comfrey has played a significant roll in improoving my health.

  2. my mom took us to an Indian reservation when we were kids and learned alot about serviving in the wild .One of the Indians gave my mom a comfrey plant and told her to eat it 3 times a week to help cure her cancer, my mom did this for 3 months and the doctors noticed her blood cells were returning back to normal. that was when i was at age 10 my mom passed away when i was 36 years old due to a hernia opperation not from cancer. When she passed she was 72 and healthy as could be.

  3. I enjoyed reading this article and think Comfrey is a marvelous herb both to use topically and internally. The research was based on over feeding rats Comfrey. No wonder that happened to them. Paraculus 13th centure physician said the only thing what differentuates between poison and rememdy is the dosage. Some new research needs to be conducted with lesser amounts and on humans not rats. What makes me shake my head in head disbelief is that the pharmacutical industry used synthetic drugs that thin peoples skin, Steroids to be precise and even use drugs that kill people and are allowed to get away with it. The side effects are a lot more horible than the ones from eating comfrey. And then nature comes along and provides us with something a lot more gentler comfrey etc and the pharm beat it down because it doesn't make them money. Its coming to something when people fear natural herbs that were put in the planet to heal us and keep us well and don't fear synthetic drugs that have no busines being in our bodies and mask rather than cure. Most of us herbalists know this but too many are afraid to come out and say it for obvious reasons. The only reason the medical industry are taking such a keen interest in herbs is that they can see that a lot of people are demanding natural ones. The money is there for them and they want the monopoly of the market and so they will start saying use with caution, or this one is dangerous so they can monopilise it. It is not in the name of our health. We have been using plants for thousands of years with less side efects that their synthetic drugs. With common sense we can all be a home herbalist and not over dose. I am glad you are continuing to eat your comfrey. It is delicious and full of many vitimans. Thanks for a super article. It was very informative and interesting.

  4. Thanks for this article and thank you Melanie for stating exactly what's going on in the western um-societies.
    I have never eaten Comfrey but started growing it in my garden from last spring onwards, I will certainly try it now and I don't expect any cancer from it, maybe quite the opposite?!
    Remember, healthy and well informed humans are the arch-enemy of big pharma...

    Have a great one...!

  5. Thank you for this well-written article. I'm a traditional herbalist & also tutor students by correspondence with Courses compiled by renowned NZ Herbalist Malcolm K. Harker M.H.D. & myself. Within the 3 levels offered to students we study & discuss Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) extensively.

    I have been witness to 3 people with severely broken bones fully recover with the use of Comfrey root powder & water (one was to have rods inserted if the bones didn't heal within 3 weeks).

    I also use the young leaves in salads occasionally, & pick 1 or 2 young leaves to chew on when in the garden. Having suffered multiple broken bones throughout my life the inclusion of Comfrey in my diet has noticeably eased inflammation, aches & pains (which at age 60 I had expected) - and no side effects. Personally, I think, as with most herbs, spices & foods, the key word here is moderation.

  6. Thank you everyone. 8 years on from writing this blog about comfrey I'm still getting positive comments about this plant's health benefits.

  7. Thank you, this blog has helped me make a decision to start using it. One has to marvel at how the drug industry can make us wary of a plant so they can convince us to take their concoctions.

  8. Dear Rachel,
    Apologies but this has nothing to do with Comfrey !!
    I just thought I would write to tell someone that I cooked nettle soup last night also with some ground elder .. and onions and a potato ...
    I am suffering from shingles and have been on 4 hourly pain killers for over a week . I had a violent reaction against the soup with severe head ache , vomiting and under my arm felt as if they had been stung .. now I have a fist size bruise (haematoma) there which is quite alarming .... I can’t find any information about this anywhere . I really felt as bad as I have ever felt . Should this be reported ?
    Anyway I love your Blog . One day I hope to attend a course of yours . Well done ..
    Best Wishes

    1. Hi Louise, any reaction like that is worth reporting and calling 111. I see this is a few days ago now, so hope you're ok. Are you sure it was ground elder you added? I am not a medical herbalist or doctor, I can only suggest you took a sample of the soup/plants to A&E with you at the time. Yes you're welcome to attend a course anytime.

  9. Just had a quick look at Burdock only. So my question maybe answered elsewhere. Obviously there is a best time and a not such a good ti.e and useless time to harvest. Could you add some more about longer term usage and storage ie. Picking in spring and using at xmas Thanks

    1. Is your question about burdock or comfrey Nigel? There is indeed a lot of info on my website to learn from first.

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