Comfrey and herbal remedies – “The greatest surprises”

Healing Power of Plants
comfrey bone cancer face nose

Comfrey or Symphytum officinale

The Irish Times this week published two features on herbal medicine and folk cures (see here and here). While I don’t use herbal remedies, they do have a depth of power to heal. Some bibliographic cases are worth remembering.

Comfrey and Bone Cancer

Something worth considering regarding the power of herbs as medicines. In a medical book¹, in my possession, published in India in 1916, the case of “a man suffering from malignant tumour of the nose – a malignant tumour of the antrum” presented to the President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, is recounted.

Despite surgery and attending another surgeon in London (Dr Semon) who stated, “The base of the skull was everywhere infiltrated. The tumour passed into the right nose and perforated the septum so as to extend into the left antrum. The case had been diagnosed as “round-celled sarcoma by Dr O’Sullivan, Professor of Pathology in Trinity College.”

Despite this second operation, “In a month the growth showed signs of return. It bulged through the incision and protruded upon the face… The tumour had now closed the right eye. It was blue, tense, firm and lobulated, but it did not break. Dr Woods [who had performed the original surgery] reported the result of his visit to me and we agreed as to the prognosis. Early in October the patient walked into my study after a visit to Dr Woods. He looked better in health than I had ever seen him. The tumour had completely disappeared from the face, and I could not identify any trace of it in the mouth.  He said he had no pain of any kind. He could speak well when the opening, remaining after the removal of the hard palate, was plugged, and he was in town to have an obturator made. He has since gone home apparently well.”

Such was the gravity of the case and these are the words of W.H. Thompson, President of the RCSI, in an address reported in London Lancet, 1896. Dr Thompson said the patient had used nothing other than a poultice made from the herb Symphytum (Comfrey).

Dr Thompson concluded: “… That this big recurrent growth no longer exists – that it has not ulcerated or sloughed away, but simply with unbroken covering, disappeared – is to me one of the greatest surprises and puzzles that I have met with.”

Comfrey, known as Symphytum officinale, Knit Bone and Boneset (for good reason), is a big “c” in treating maxillo-facial and cancer of the bones and sinuses.

Cancer of Stomach

Another who benefited from the power of herbs to “go deep” and transform heavy pathology was the Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn suffered from cancer of the stomach. “I was nearly dead at that stage” (i.e. 1953), he said in his Nobel acceptance speech. While on his way to exile in Tashkent and treatment in a cancer clinic, a herbalist treated him with the herb Aconite². He lived another fifty-five years after (d. 2008) – surely enviable even by today’s standards?

Dr Green of Ennis

Dr Anshutz in his New, Old and Forgotten Remedies³ tells the story of Dr Green of Ennis, Co. Clare in Ireland. He had a reputation for the cure of heart disease. “Patients would flock to him from all parts of the United Kingdom. He cured most of them, amassed considerable wealth by means of his secret, though contrary to the code, he refused to reveal the remedy to his professional brethren. After his death [1894]… his daughter, Mrs Graham, revealed the name of the remedy… It is Crataegus oxycantha. Dr Jennings procured for himself some of the remedy, and his experience with it explains Dr Green’s national reputation.” Anshutz proceeds to cite cures with Crataegus, the hawthorn tree, by Dr Jennings (freely available to view here; pages 159ff.).

1. N.M. Choudhury, A Study on Maria Medica. This story is related more satisfactorily in an older book published in Philadelphia in 1900: New, Old and Forgotten Remedies by Dr E.P. Anshutz.
2. Aconite is not considered deep-acting enough to cure cancer in homeopathy, nor is cancer found in its pathogenesis. However, a plant, Hydrastis canadensis, from the same family (Ranunculaceae) has a great reputation in cancer of the stomach.

Herbal medicine and homeopathy differ in a number of ways. Herbs, like conventional drugs, work by their chemical action (this often means that when the medicine is withdrawn the symptoms return), homeopathic remedies work by stimulating a vital reaction by the body against the symptoms. Herbalists, like doctors, tend to treat one symptom or organ with one medicine and employ another medicine for another problem; homeopaths give only one medicine for the totality of symptoms. Homeopaths never use external creams or treatments but always treat internally to correct the internal disorder. Homeopaths use remedies from the animal, mineral and plant kingdoms, not just the plant kingdom. Homeopathic medicines are usually attenuated so even poisonous substances can be used safely; herbal medicine is limited in this manner.
3. The story of Crataegus and Dr Green is freely available to view here (page 159ff.)

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Credits: Comfrey photo: Wikimedia

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