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Borage Su B blog

‘At least you know you’re safe with herbs,’ patients sometimes say. But it’s not always true.

Some plants are extremely toxic, and many others – including everyday vegetables like cabbage and lettuce – contain compounds that would be harmful if you ate huge amounts of them. In between, there is an enormous grey area.

The European Herbal Practitioners Association (EHPA) has recently advised that plants containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids should not be taken internally. Comfrey and borage are the best known examples, but the list also includes coltsfoot, alkanet and other less popular herbs. We’ve known for a long time that these alkaloids can damage the liver, and responsible herbalists have only used them in creams and lotions for over a decade. Now, new research has reinforced this position.

It’s really a ‘better safe than sorry’ situation. We’re not sure yet how much is safe, and it’s a risk not worth taking

So for now, avoid comfrey and borage teas, or using comfrey as a vegetable (it used to be recommended for vegans, as it contains high levels of vitamin B12). But don’t worry about comfrey cream or other external preparations. They are perfectly safe, and so is starflower oil, which is extracted from borage seed and does not contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

And the guidelines may change again; watch this space.

Comfrey Su B


Su has an excellant Herb Handbook available directly from her website or from Amazon.

Meet The Author...
Su Bristow
Who Am I?
I studied at the School of Herbal Medicine for four years, and qualified in 1989, becoming a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists ( The road to herbal medicine led from my early interest in organic gardening and healthy eating, through the study of social and physical anthropology at Cambridge, where I specialised in medical anthropology. What fascinated me was how people deal with their health problems when they have only the natural resources around them, and their own ingenuity. I went on to learn massage and reflexology, and worked at a residential naturopathic clinic, where I learned about the use of diet and other natural ways of healing. After qualifying as a herbalist, I set up practice in mid-Devon. Since then I have continued to expand my expertise, with counselling skills, first aid, and knowledge of the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of herbal medicine. Besides one-to-one consultation, I have also taught evening classes, students of the Westcountry Massage Association, and various private courses.
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