How to Use and Make Comfrey Oil (and why it’s controversial)
How to make comfrey oil using comfrey leaves and liquid carrier oil. This herbal oil can be used externally to heal bruises, sprains, and other skin injuries. This piece also outlines potential alkaloid toxicity and how to avoid it.
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Comfrey is a controversial plant. Many gardeners have it growing somewhere whether it’s a relic of a past garden or used to make plant feed. Bees and other pollinators love it too and for that reason alone it’s a fabulous plant to have in an organic garden. I have several clumps in my allotment and use the leaves as a compost activator, a feed, and also in ointments. The reason I use it? In one study it’s been shown to accelerate skin healing by 58%.
Although I’m sharing how to make comfrey oil it’s important to understand the discussion around it. Namely, the danger of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and the safest ways to use comfrey. Just like other medicinal plants, comfrey should be understood and respected before using it.
Make Comfrey Oil to Heal Skin
Comfrey is a powerful wound healer thanks to its allantoin, saponins, polysaccharides, and other natural plant chemicals. On par with calendula on that front, it has the ability to treat bruises, sprains, pulled muscles, and other tissue damage.
It’s so powerful that it should not be used directly on open wounds. It can stimulate healing on the outside and trap microbes inside. You don’t want bacteria and other microorganisms inside wounds since they can cause abscesses. There’s another reason that it shouldn’t be used on wounds that we’ll come to shortly.
It’s the leaves that you want to use to make medicinal salves. Once dried, it’s easy to use them to make comfrey oil. You use comfrey oil directly on the skin or mixed with other ingredients to make this Healing Salve. Please note that comfrey is a powerful medicinal herb and should not be used in daily skincare. It’s one for those special circumstances when your skin needs some deep therapy and healing.
Only Use Comfrey Externally
Although comfrey is a wonderful skin healer, it also has a long history of use for internal injuries. Traditional folk medicine has it used in all kinds of preparations, from poultices to lay on the skin to medicinal teas. Incredibly, it’s been used for at over 2000 years. However, studies using rats have shown that it can be dangerous when taken internally.
There is A LOT of information on comfrey and potential toxicity out there. Quite a lot of folks that defend its safely too. The bottom line is that all varieties of comfrey contain alkaloids that could cause liver damage. Especially when taken internally, in high doses, and/or for long periods. This is why you should avoid using comfrey root at all since it has ten times more pyrrolizidine alkaloids than the leaves.
Fortunately, these alkaloids are not easily absorbed by the skin. That makes using comfrey oil on your skin safe, as long as it’s not put on open wounds or sores.
Using Homegrown Comfrey to Make Comfrey Oil
Although you can purchase dried comfrey leaves from many cosmetic and herbal suppliers it’s easy to grow. The most common variety these days is a cultivar called Symphytum x uplandicum. You’ll also find it called Russian comfrey or Bocking 14. There’s some discussion on whether or not it contains higher levels of alkaloids than others. However, it’s the one that I grow and use. It’s also the same variety used in the study on wound healing.
Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) may be lower in alkaloids so could be safer to use in herbal preparations. It also contains little or no Echimidine, the most toxic of the eight alkaloids present in comfrey.
How to Dry Comfrey Leaves
The first step to drying comfrey leaves is harvesting them! Avoid older leaves or leaves that have overwintered in mild climates, since they may have higher concentrations of alkaloids. Pick only relatively young, fresh leaves before any flowers are showing on the plant. Dry them by stringing them up on thread-like bunting, or in a food dehydrator at about 100F (38C). The more air around each leaf and the quicker it will dry.
The comfrey leaves should be dry and crumbly before you use them to make comfrey oil. Leaves that are fresh or wet can introduce water into the oil which accelerates rancidity. It can also create a habitat for microbes, whether you see them or not.
When you air dry herbal materials, try to keep them out of direct sunlight. The comfrey and lavender drying above are in a relatively dim room despite the nearby window. Although it’s best to dry each leaf separately, I recently tried air-drying comfrey in bunches as an experiment. This isn’t usually recommended since the stems are so fleshy and take a while to dry. In my case, it worked fine but did take an extra couple of days. If you try it yourself, make sure that the bundles aren’t too tightly strung together to allow for airflow.
Using comfrey oil
You can use whole comfrey leaves as a poultice for sprains, arthritis, pain, and bruising. If you don’t want to walk around with a bandage of leaves sticking to you then you can make comfrey oil. Rub it onto the same injuries as a massage oil but avoid putting it on broken skin or wounds. You can also use the oil to make a salve that will rub in and stay on a lot better.
The dosing advice from WebMD is to use comfrey oil (extract) three times daily for up to three weeks depending on the complaint. Comfrey should not be used on children or if you are pregnant or nursing.
How to make Comfrey Oil
- Clean, sterilized jar
- 1 bottle Sweet almond oil
- 2 cups dried Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) leaves approximate amount
- Although you can sometimes purchase herb-infused oils, they're actually very easy to make yourself. This is a folk-method of making comfrey-infused oil and its strength will vary depending on a number of factors. The time of year it is, when the plant material was picked, at what life-stage the leaves and plant are, how the leaves were dried, and how old the herbs and oil are.
- If you grow or can forage comfrey yourself, pick the leaves when they're at their best on a bright, dry morning. Leaves should be young and lush and it's best to pick them before the plant flowers.
- Dry the comfrey leaves completely. The stems are fleshy and wet so begin by pulling the leaves off and drying on a screen or in a food dehydrator. Alternatively, you can use needle and thread to string the leaves up like medicinal bunting. Air drying takes up to a week.
- Fill the jar 2/3 full with dried* comfrey leaves. Tear or shred them to increase the surface area.
- Fill the rest of the jar with a liquid oil of your choice such as sweet almond oil**.
- Wait a minute or so and top up the jars with more oil if the level goes down. Also make sure that the herbs are completely submerged.
- Place the jar(s) in a warm place for 3-6 weeks. The general advice is to give them a little shake every day. I tend to shake them when I remember to do it. You should pop the jars in brown paper bags if you decide to put them on a window sill***.
- After the 3-6 weeks have passed, strain the leaves out of the oil by pouring it all out into a cheese cloth lined sieve/strainer. Capture the oil in a bowl below and make sure to wring as much oil out of the cheese cloth as possible. In most cases, the infused-oil color is different from the original. In the case of comfrey oil, it's far more golden.
- Discard the herbs and bottle the infused oil up. You can use the same jar used for infusing or specialist dark jars that herbalists use****. Either way, make sure to store the oil someplace cook and out of direct sunlight.
- The oil has a shelf-life of one year or the best-by date of the original bottle of oil you used. Whichever is closer.
Wound healing effects of a Symphytum herb extract cream (Symphytum x uplandicum NYMAN: ): results of a randomized, controlled double-blind study. From linear regression time to complete healing was determined to be 2.97 days faster with verum than with the reference (4.08 vs. 7.05 days). Barna M, Kucera A, Hladícova M, Kucera M, Wien Med Wochenschr. 2007; 157(21-22):569-74.
 WebMD Comfrey
 Comfrey. T.M. Teynor, D.H. Putnam, J.D. Doll3, K.A. Kelling, E.A. Oelke, D.J. Undersander, and E.S. Oplinger
Metabolism, genotoxicity, and carcinogenicity of Comfrey. Nan Mei, Lei Guo, Peter P. Fu, James C. Fuscoe, Yang Luan, and Tao Chen. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2010 Oct; 13(7-8): 509–526.
 COMFREY (Symphytum officinale): A healer of wounds, bruises and bones, Cambridge Naturals, Steph Zabel Herbalist, Ethnobotanist
 Comfrey and Pyrriolizidine Alkaloids Research. Nantahala Farm.
Penetration of lycopsamine from a comfrey ointment through human epidermis. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2017 Feb;83:1-4. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2016.11.015. Epub 2016 Nov 11. Jedlinszki N, Balázs B, Csányi E, Csupor D.
 Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005, 2nd edition. Quote from Varro Tyler of the Purdue University School of Pharmacy
 Comfrey dosing from WebMD
Someone told me that comfrey might help my receding gumlines grow back, I’m trying to avoid skin grafting at all costs and I’m looking for any thing that could help my gums grow back. Since we’re not supposed to take it internally, is there any safe way to apply the leaves on my gums Possibly?
Hello. I read in an herbalism book that comfrey and calendula can be used to treat acne so I purchased comfy oil to use occasionally in my skin care routine. After reading this page, I’m wondering if that’s a bad idea. Do you have any tips on a safer way to use either of these herbs to treat acne scars, or other solutions?
Hi Lily, comfrey is probably not a good idea for open wounds, including acne damage. For acne, I think it would be best to stick with gentle herbs like lavender, calendula, and thyme. Here’s a list of skincare herbs that you can learn more about.
What are your thoughts on the fact that the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that make comfrey toxic for internal use are also found in many teas, such as peppermint, chamomile, and rooibos? It’s even been found in honey.
The PAs found in some teas and other foods are due to cross-contamination in industrial harvesting, not because it’s naturally present in peppermint, chamomile, etc.
I’ve known comfrey use for bone healing but I do not see that mentioned here. Do you have any thoughts or information about that. I have a shattered sesamoid bone in my toe and comfrey seamed right to me. Of course none of my doctors or
(Naturalpath includes)have heard of comfrey
Hi Leo, because of the alkaloids that are now known to be in comfrey, many herbalists no longer recommend it for internal use. Hoping your toe bone heals quickly though! Sounds painful!
Why do you recommend not using comfrey oil every day?
Comfrey is a medicine, rather than a daily skin care herb.
Hi. I have been making comfrey infused oil and St John’s Wort infused oil salve.
I have read to not use it on deep wounds due to healing too fast from the outside … potentially causing infection. BUT what about minor cuts /scrapes? We have been using for these and it works so well…. nothing deep just minor …. would love your thoughts?
Hi Jana, I can’t give you specific medical advice but I know that some herbalists do use it that way, and some don’t. Comfrey can be quite controversial!
I have used this recipe for a couple of years now with a few additions of my own and I love it. I have always infused my oils at a very low heat in a yogurt maker (around 100-105F for about a week) to keep from damaging the herbs. But, I have always had a concern that the melting temperature of the wax (approx. 150F) would damage the healing constituents of the salve. I don’t put my infused oils in until the wax is melted, but I have to reheat it back to 150F to get the beeswax to remelt. I tell myself it is only a brief heating period, but I wonder if soy wax could be a good alternative? Thank you in advance for your answer…
Hi Peggy, I don’t think that a relatively brief stint at 150F is going to harm most herbal constituents. Think of how hot water is when making herbal infusions (around 200F) :)
Hi I took a oz jar put calendula flowers, marshmellow leves, comfry leaves, rose petals, and lavender in avacado oil. I let it sit for six weeks, strained it added 4 oz of jojoba oil. Then I made a salve with it. 8 oz of the oil, with 8 oz of cocconut oil, 4 oz of shea butter and 4.5 oz of bees wax. I did not think of percentages. I am hoping that this would be diluted enough as to not cause toxicity. Do you think it is safe for daily use?
Hi Jennifer, I wouldn’t recommend comfrey in a daily skincare product. As an occasional salve, your mixture sounds fine though :) Just avoid using comfrey oil/salve on open wounds or broken skin.
I am loving dabbling with using my herb garden for healing.
I was intuitively directed to use homemade comfrey oil on my pet dog last year after she returned home from veterinary hospital after cancer removal from her front right leg below her shoulder. She arrived home in so much pain, not wanting to move her front paw because it was so swollen after the recent surgery.
As a nurse myself I tried to comfort her & reduce her pain with the pain medications provided by the Vet & also elevating her affected leg as best I could , with only minimal efficacy – so then I felt at a loss how to help her.
I went to my medicine cabinet & a bottle of Comfrey oil almost jumped out of the cupboard to me.
Ahh! Of course!
After applying the Comfrey oil carefully & applying her protective collar to prevent her licking her wound or the oil, Mardi my dog seemed to settle for the night .
We kept her close by us that first night.
Amazingly in the morning all the swelling had disappeared & she appeared almost back to her usual self.
Not only that but the next time I went to her to apply more Comfrey oil she actually lifted her sore paw up toward me ! She knew too that it was helping her to get better.
What is your thoughts on making Comfrey oil in Marigold oil?
Marigold oil is great for inflamation so I’m curious if they would compliment each other medicinally.
That’s called a compound oil and yes, you can do that. You could even mix comfrey and calendula (not the typical ‘marigold’) flowers together and infuse them into oil.
Why use just the leaves and not roots too?
Comfrey roots contain a lot more of the alkaloids that can harm your liver, compared to the leaves. A lot of herbalists are on the fence over it — some advocate for avoiding the use of the root altogether and some think it’s okay. I personally think it’s better to stick with parts of the plant that are known to be safer so I advocate for using comfrey leaves only.
Is it safe to eat Comfrey flowers? .. I tasted and few and they are sweet like honey.
No, it is not safe to eat any part of the plant.
What if it’s already flowered ? WIll it still work as we’ll.?
My comfrey leaves are so prickly – I’m worried the prickles will end up in the salve. Is a cheesecloth enough to strain them out?
Nothing makes it through the cheesecloth except the infused oil and only the tiniest particles. No prickles :)
Can you explain why I should pick comfrey leaves before the plant flowers? I’ve only just identified comfrey growing in the wild – and I was able to do that in part because of the purple flowers.
What’s wrong with the leaves after the plant flowers?
It means the plant is directing more of its energy and reserves into creating flowers and the bio-active components in the leaves may be diminished.
Thanks for your reply about the flowering plants. All I can find is flowering plants (I don’t have a garden; I forage in the wild) so that’s what I’m using. Better that than nothing (and besides, I just love this new hobby of infusing oils and making salves; I don’t want to wait til next year to catch the plants before they flower).
As for blue and brown bottles, a cheap alternative is clear glass, but wrap the glass completely in aluminum foil and tape the seam. It blocks the light. You can glue a label on the foil on the jar or bottle, and then just tear off the label and foil when you want to start again and use the jar for something else. Maybe not as classic as buying brown or blue bottles, but definitely cheaper!
Suggestion — comfrey grows back quickly if you cut the plant down to just above the ground. Do that, then come back in two weeks and get all the fresh new plants that you need. Put the old stuff on your compost heap or tuck it in around the bases of wild shrubs.
Using aluminium foil to save you money is a shocking waste of a precious resource (research it please!). Try using some fabric scraps instead :)
Comfrey Oil and the mascerated leaves as a poultice were used by my family for bruises, sprains, strains etc. It is an excellent, natural product that works incredibly well, it is commonly known as Knitbone in Lancashire where I come from.
Thanks Tanya for posting this x
in my family, too. i remember a man’s broken femur being poulticed and healing with extraordinary, miraculous speed. i remember we also drank comfrey and pineapple smoothies with no harm. recently, learned that everyone is afraid of comfrey now. but we arent generally told to fear tylenol, which also hurts your liver. it is all interesting and i give no advice.