Sunday, 22 May 2011

My Healing Oil For May: Comfrey Oil

When I saw this month’s task to make a healing oil I knew it was time to make some comfrey oil and after my plant got top heavy yesterday and fell across the garden path in front of me I knew it was not going to be ignored.
Comfrey in my garden

 I have read the links Sarah gave us about looking at the safety aspects of comfrey here and here and will not be using it internally or on deep wounds due to the risk of liver toxicity from pyrrolizidine alkaloids. I know that comfrey has been used for healing since Greek times and some people still do use it internally but personally I would rather not take the risk. There is a possibility that pyrrolizidine alkaloids toxicity builds up over the years so there is no noticeable reaction at the time. I believe it is up to each person to make their own mind up about using comfrey so was surprised to see that there are very few companies selling comfrey products who mention any risk but it does seem that products for external use are generally considered safe. I am sure of the type of comfrey I have as it is from a plant Sarah gave me at the Sanctuary and has cream coloured flowers.
 Comfrey oil can be used for arthritis, rheumatism, bursitis, tendonitis, phlebitis, mastitis, glandular swellings, scars, pulled muscles, injured joints, back injuries, tendons and ligaments. Two of comfrey’s old names were “knitbone” and “boneset” and I used the oil with success on my broken toes last year and healed speedily. The oil can be rubbed into affected areas, used in massage or made into a salve.
 I found an interesting article in the Nursing Standard (July1: vol. 23 no. 43: 2009) which reported German research on back pain using comfrey root ointment and a placebo in a randomised trial. “During the trial, pain intensity on active, standard movement decreased by 95.2 per cent on average in the comfrey group and 37.5 per cent in the placebo group.” Since reading this I have wanted to make comfrey root oil and now my comfrey is established I think I can sacrifice some root. I need to check with my mentor, Sarah, when the best time to dig it up will be, I’m guessing in the autumn. I am aware that there are more pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the root so I would use it for short term use.
 The main healing ingredient of comfrey is a substance called allantoin which helps to stimulate tissue growth and is great for healing.  For this reason it should not be used over a broken bone unless the bone is in the correct position to heal in and it should not be used over deep wounds as it will stimulate the top layers of skin to heal over the cavity and could leave dirt or debris trapped inside.
Comfrey Harvest

 Infused oils can be made by letting plant material soak in oil for several weeks but the method I have used is the double infused method. I have chopped my comfrey and put half into the top of a double boiler and covered it with sunflower oil. The water beneath the comfrey and oil mixture was kept simmering and topped up for two hours. After two hours the oil was drained off the comfrey and saved and the second half of the chopped leaves were put into the pan along with the oil that had already been infused once.  The oil was then infused again for another two hours before being strained a final time.
Second Infusion

Dark green comfrey oil

 A problem encountered with infusing fresh herbs in oil in this way is their water content which can harbour bacteria. The water settles at the bottom of the jar after being strained so the oil can be carefully poured off the top leaving the water behind.
 A salve recipe is 300ml oil warmed up with 25mg of grated beeswax melted into it. The mixture is poured into jars and will set. An ointment is less messy to apply to small areas than an oil.
Other herbs and conditions considered for an oil for this task:
A drawing oil is used to literally draw out infection, ingrown toe nails, thorns, splinters and debris from under the skin's surface, which can cause pain and inflammation and lead to sepsis. Drawing herbs include plantain and wild pansy.
 Herbs for bruises include Calendula, Comfrey, Elder bark, Horsetail, Mullein, Parsley and St John’s Wort and Yarrow. Elder bark needs to be gathered in the winter not the summer.
Herbs for healing skin include Calendula, Comfrey, St John’s wort,
Herbs for bones are Comfrey and Horsetail which is rich in silica used in bone formation and cartilage, Horsetail oil is not used commonly.
Anti-inflammatory herbs include Echinacea, Ginger, Meadowsweet and Willow.
For aching muscles Chamomile, Ginger, Holy Basil, Lavender, Rosemary and Thyme
Emollient: softens and soothes, reduces inflammation and irritation of the skin. Examples are Chickweed, Flax seed and Plantain.
Emmenagogue: stimulates blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus and have the ability to bring on menstruation. Women wanting to get into a regular cycle might use them.  Abortifacient herbs are classified as emmenagogues but not all emmenagogues will cause abortion. Mild emmenagogues include Feverfew, Ginger, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage and Yarrow; medium include Mugwort and Parsley; strong include Pennyroyal, Rue and Tansy.
Galactagogue: promotes lactation, or milk production. Commonly used galactagogue herbs include Alfalfa, Blessed Thistle, Fennel seed and Fenugreek.

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