Rose petal vodka

Roses are in full bloom at the moment and are an essential ingredient in wild cocktails. Wild rose vodka infusion can be added to crushed raspberries to make forager John Wright’s Pink Pint, but I love to mix it with the deep, sweet berry gins. Added to sloe gin, it elevates it to an other-worldly level. A hint of wild fennel seed or sweet cicely seed vodka can also be added.

You can use any roses but one abundant wild rosé that gives a great taste and colour is this one, Rosa rugosa.
Very simply, you take any wide necked bottle or jar, insert your rosé petals and cover with vodka. Give it a gentle shake every day or so and leave to infuse for a week or two.
The colour will leave the petals, leaving them a pale grey. Your infusion will start to turn a deep reddish-brown. After 2 weeks strain off the wild rose vodka, discard the petals and keep it in a brown bottle or dark cupboard as over time, light can change the colour and flavour. Enjoy!

A mixture of 75% sloe gin and 25% rose vodka with a capful of wild fennel seed vodka makes a lovely twist on a traditional drink.

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Wildflowers of Mallorca

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Daisy Soup for Dinner Parties

This is a neat ‘magic’ trick to impress your friends at dinner parties. Well… It really is the sort if thing that only a forager would do!

Any soup
Garden daisies

Pick your daisies in the afternoon after their heads have closed. Toss them in cold water if you feel they really need washing. You’ll need about 5 per guest.

Heat your soup to quite hot, and pour into individual bowls. As your serving the guest, scatter the closed daisy heads into the surface of the soup.

Smile as your guests gasp in amazement as the flower heads open up again before their very eyes!

I’ve always loved playing with my food!

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Grasping the Nettle

You can get a cheery mood and energy boost from nettle leaf and particularly from raw dried nettle seed (technically fruits and seeds), rubbed through a sieve to remove the irritating hairs.

Nettle seedThe ‘feel-good’ factor from eating raw dried nettle fruits/seeds is caused by the neurotransmitters acetylcholine nd serotonin, with choline and histamine also found in uncooked nettle venom. In herbal medicine they are used as an adrenal tonic for people who are burnt-out, run down, fatigued and low in energy, zest for life and libido.

Acetylcholine is the most abundant neurotransmitter in our brains. It stimulates the nervous system (ANS), improving mood and heightening sensory perception, attention span, vigilance and intuition. Acetylcholine disruption may be a primary cause of depression and possibly Alzheimer’s and muscle degeneration.

Serotonin is mainly found in the gut and it also acts on the nervous system (CNS). Its main functions include regulation of mood, appetite, and sleep, and it influences memory and learning. Serotonin in nettle spines causes pain when you pick them! Its abundance in many seeds and fruits may be to stimulate the gut to expel the seeds, and it can cause diarrhoea in quantity.

Nettle seed is used therapeutically both as freshly picked seed and as fresh nettle seed tincture.

Chew 5-20 grams of fresh green nettle seed well, as a refreshing stimulant. You can take 1 to 2 tablespoons a day. Some people experiment with nettle seed for recreation but we advise not exceeding this amount.

Be careful too, if you boil fresh nettle fruit/seed in a ratio of 1:12 (eg 50 grams fruit/seed to 600 ml of water), a large wineglassful (250ml) may keep you wide awake for 12-36 hours!

Nettle seed also tastes delicious toasted and can be used instead of poppy seed in crackers, bread and sprinkled with chopped nuts into salads.


Incidentally, the prescence of acetylcholine in nettle venom may well explain why the ancient practice of urtification (whipping with nettles for pain relief) works! Anything which increases the presence of acetylcholine in the synaptic space is found to produce analgesia. Benzodiazepines for example act as analgesics through their action of enhancing acetylcholine release.

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How to pickle Ash Keys

Make a pickling vinegar by heating – in a Bain Marie – all your favourite spices with one spoon of soft brown sugar and a pinch of salt per cup of cider vinegar. Infuse for 5 minutes then leave to cool. Strain it before using it.

Ideas for spices include: peppercorns, ginger, cinnamon, chillies, cloves, bay leaf, coriander seed… Or use wild spices like hogweed seed, ground elder seed, wild leek seed… See my wild spice chart here.

Pick the ash keys when they are really, really young and green. As early as possible or they get stringy.

Put the ash keys into boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and change water. Simmer in new water for 5 minutes. Strain. Cool a little.

Pack the cooled keys into preserving jars leaving a 3 cm (an inch) of space at the top. Fill with your spiced vinegar right to the top.

Seal. Leave for 3 months. Eat!

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Wild Labneh Roule Cream Cheese

Recipe for a delicious ‘cream cheese’ substitute

This is a very simple way to make a cream cheese replacement for those lovely soft herby French cream cheeses called roule. It’s not a real cheese as nothing is added to separate the curds and whey but it’s a close call!

1 small pot of good quality plain organic yoghurt
4-5 wild garlic stems
4 new green ground elder leaves
6 small sorrel leaves
Salt and pepper

Put a colander or sieve to stand over a bowl. Line with a pieve of cheesecloth folded to give 3 layers. Spoon the yoghurt onto the cheesecloth and cover with a saucepan lid or piece of tin foil. Leave to drain for 24 hours.

After 24 hours the whey should have drained off (use it in a soup or sauce), and the yoghurt should have thickened to a cream cheese consistency. This is called labneh.

Very, very finely chop the wild greens. Put in a bowl with the labneh and fold the wild greens in with a fork. Add some salt and pepper, forking it in until the taste is to your liking. Remove and mould into a ball or log. This will keep for a week or two in the fridge – if you haven’t eaten it long before then!

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Sweet Woodruff May Wine

How to make German May Wine
using Sweet Woodruff

Sweet WoodruffIn Germany, the first of May was traditionally celebrated with this delightful sparkling Maiwein drink, infused with sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) a member of the same family as cleavers (Galium aparine) and lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum).

Like many plants it contains coumarins which smell somewhat like new mown hay. Sweet woodruff has little smell until you dry it, when it is transformed by an amazing sweet, vanilla smelling scent. Last year I hung a bunch in my car and it made the best car air freshener ever! In the Middle Ages it was used for scenting floors, mixed in with the straw.

One side note about coumarins – large doses can make you feel a bit nauseous so May Wine is for lightly imbibing or you’ll end up with a terrific hangover! Studies of coumarin in sweet woodruff recommend you do not exceed 3.5 grams fresh woodruff per litre of wine. This recipe makes 2 litres, so to keep within recommended safe levels weigh your sweet woodruff and use no more than 7 grams. At the stage that I pick it, 1 sprig is approximately 1 gram.

7 springs of fresh sweet woodruff
1 bottle of light white wine (German Reisling)
1 bottle of sparkling wine (Prosecco, Sekt, champagne)
(Or for a less alcoholic version, 1 bottle of soda water)
1 punnet strawberries (quartered)

Pour the white wine into a jug over the sprigs of sweet woodruff and leave overnight. The next day, add the sparkling wine or soda (slowly!) and pour into glasses over the chopped strawberries. Garnish with sprigs of sweet woodruff or edible flowers such as violets, daisies or primroses.

If you can only get dried sweet woodruff, use 1/2 cup of organic dried herb and only infuse for 1 hour (2 at the most). Strain out the herb, then add the sparkling wine or soda.

Wild Variation
Use little wild strawberries if you can find them (not in Scotland at this time of year).

Alternatively you can use rhubarb or Japanese knotweed. In this case, simmer 500ml of chopped rhubarb or knotweed with 50 grams of sugar until it is extremely soft. Add to the infused wine before you add the sparkling wine and give it a good stir. Strain the wine to remove the woodruff and rhubarb/knotweed pulp. Then return to the jug and add the sparkling wine or soda. Pour into chilled glasses and decorate with edible flowers.

Remember if foraging for Japanese knotweed to trim the plant on site and do not disperse any part of it away from the site. Make sure everything you bring home goes into the saucepan. This is because even small trimmings will grow. It is illegal to cause Japanese knotweed to grow and spread, as it is an invasive, controlled plant!

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Nettle & Wild Garlic Soup

How to make Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup.
A classic!

Serves 6-8

Nettle and Wild Garlic SoupNettle tips are delicious in the Spring and early summer although they shouldn’t be eaten once they grow rough and start to flower as they can be irritating then. They are incredible good source of iron, calcium, silica, other minerals, vitamins and a very rich source of plant protein, not to mention fibre! Traditionally they are used to condition hair and make it strong and glossy (both humans and horses), to make bones and nails strong and strengthen chicken egg shells.

500g nettle tops (half a carrier bag)
100g 2 handfuls of wild garlic (any part of the plant)
1 large onion (finely chopped)
1 potato (peeled and diced)
1 heaped tablespoon dried mushroom powder (any edible bolete)
1 length of dried kelp
1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce (optional)
Good quality olive oil
2 litres hot water

Rinse the nettle tops in a colander and put aside. Rinse the wild garlic leaves (including buds and flower if you have – leaving a few aside for decoration) and chop roughly. I pick the nettle tops with scissors, snipping them off them using the scissors as tweezers – it’s really quite fast and I am still a bit of a nettle coward!

Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and add the chopped onion. Sweat for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add the diced potato and stir. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the seasoning, then the nettles and the wild garlic.

Add 2 litres of hot water and the kelp, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Take off the heat and cool. Remove the kelp. Adjust the seasoning. When cool, use a stick blender to fully liquidise the soup. Or pour into a blender, liquidise and then return to the pan.

For an absolute taste revolution, add some freshly made horseradish cream. A large tablespoon stirred into the pot is completely mind blowing!

Reheat and serve.


This is a quite a rich soup and fairly thick. You may need to add extra liquid when you reheat it. Decorate it by dribbling over a little cream or chilli oil (although not chilli with the horseradish!) and adding a few open wild garlic flowers or a bud!


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Cleavers and Red Pepper Soup

How to make Cleavers and Red Pepper Soup

Serves 6, also known as clivers, goosegrass or sticky willies, is a great diet food. John Gerard, a 16th century herbalist, quotes Pliny saying ‘A pottage made of Cleavers is good to cause lankness and keepe from fatnesse.’ It is diuretic and particularly good for the lymphatic system. It is also a really good blood purifier, used by herbalists to clear up skin problems.

The tips of the plant are tender in the Spring – they can be added to salads at this stage – but their quickly lose their palatability due to the rough texture (like sandpaper) that develops. This is a shame because it is a really healthy plant to eat. I often juice it in my wheatgrass juicer and it tastes fantastic added to pear and ginger. But I also love it in soups, especially when trying to lose a few winter pounds in the Spring.

100g cleavers tops (roots trimmed away)
2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
2 medium size onions (finely chopped)
2 red peppers (I like the long Romano ones)
1 x 400g can organic plum tomatoes
50ml elderberry pontack (or Lea & Perrins)
1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce (Encona or Tabasco)
Toasted seaweed (nori or dulse)
Good quality olive oil
1.5 litres hot water

Rinse the bundle of cleavers and cut off the roots. If you have picked it carefully, you’ll have all the roots end to end and can cut them all off with one pass of the scissors. If not, it may take you a while!

Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and add the chopped garlic and onions. Sweat for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add the roughly chopped red peppers and stir. Hold the bunch of cleavers over the pan and using scissors, cut into the pan in 1-2 cm lengths. This prevents the stems wrapping themselves around your stick blender later on! Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add 1.5 litres of hot water and all the seasonings. Simmer for 15 minutes until the peppers are tender.

Take off the heat and cool. Adjust the seasoning. When cool, use a stick blender to fully liquidise the soup. Or pour into a blender, liquidise and then return to the pan.

Reheat and serve. Finely chop some wild garlic or chives as a garnish.


Cleavers just at the picking stage.

This is a low-fat soup and does not contain potatoes or flour to thicken it. If you’re not dieting you might like to add a little creme fraiche or crumbled feta cheese but it’s delicious without it!

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Is Comfrey Edible?

Is Comfrey Safe to Eat?

Common and Russian comfrey

Common comfrey (left) with cream flowers and Russian comfrey (right) with pink flowers.

Common comfrey is a wild-growing herb that has a long tradition as both an edible and a medicinal species. It is a nutritious plant, being very high in Vitamin A, riboflavin, potassium, manganese and dietary fibre, and also a source of other vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and selenium needed by our bodies. It isn’t eaten a lot, as it has a slightly hairy, rough texture as the leaves age, but the young leaves and buds are very tender and delicious in recipes such as Comfrey Leaf Lemonade Fritters. The leaves are used a lot as a herbal tea.

In herbal medicine, comfrey is often used to repair damaged joints, broken bones and torn tendons. This is because comfrey is very high in both vitamin K and vitamin K2 which promote fracture healing (Hodges, 1995). The name comfrey comes from the Latin ‘confera’ which means to knit together, hence the old country name for comfrey of Knitbone. Comfrey root ointment is used to treat painful osteoarthritis of the knee. A clinical trial showed that the ointment works significantly better than a placebo ointment, with five times the effect in pain reduction and four times improvement in quality of life (Grube, Grünwald, Krug & Staiger, 2007).

Napiers Comfrey Salve

Comfrey is often used in ointments such as this Napiers Organic Comfrey and Hypericum Soothing Salve

It is also used in cosmetics because comfrey contains substances that help skin regrow, including allantoin, rosmarinic acid and tannins.

Although herbal medicines are widely considered by the scientific community to be of lower risk than synthetic drugs, they can still sometimes cause toxicity or side effects (De Smet, 2004).

What are pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs)?

You may have found  warnings or restrictions on the internal use of comfrey on the internet. This is because comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are a group of 660 phytochemicals found in over 6,000 plants. PAs can also found in honey, grains, milk, offal and eggs. In the case of some species of comfrey, a particular PA called echimidine has caused concern as it is toxic to the liver in animals. Due to this, medicinal or food products for internal use containing comfrey root, are restricted in many countries, with a few also restricting comfrey leaf, although it contains far fewer alkaloids.

The species really matters!

Comfrey Leaf Fritters

My homemade Comfrey Leaf Fritters made from common comfrey (Symphytum officinale).

There are several species of comfrey plant. I only eat common comfrey,  Symphytum officinale (leaf not root) which does not contain echimidine. Symphytum officinale is allowed in over-the-counter preparations in the USA, UK, Canada, Germany. Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations prohibits the sale, for medicinal purposes, of any products containing echimidine (Canada Gazette, 30 March 1988). Canada’s Cosmetic Regulations ban Symphytum species EXCEPT for Symphytum officincale which is allowed. Echimidine, considered to be the most toxic of the PAs found in comfrey (Brauchli-Theotokis 1987), is not found in most samples of common comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) (Couet et al. 1996; Roitman 1981).

Look at the photo at the top of this post - it shows the difference between common comfrey and Russian comfrey. As you’ve read, it is critically important to specify the comfrey species.

I eat, and British herbalists use, common comfrey Symphytum officinale. Please see the following excerpt from American Botanical Council research in 1994 when the first concerns were raised.

“The first Canadian action was taken in 1982, when the Health Protection Branch of Health and Welfare Canada introduced an amendment to Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations which prohibits the sale, for medicinal purposes, of any products containing echimidine (Canada Gazette, 30 March 1988).

Echimidine, considered to be the most toxic of comfrey PAs (Brauchli-Theotokis 1987), is not found in common comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.). However, it is present in prickly comfrey (S. asperum Lepechin) and its hybrids with S. officinale (Huizing, Gadella, and Kliphuis 1982), including Russian comfrey (S. x uplandicum Nyman), which is the most commonly encountered commercial comfrey in Britain (Clapham, Tutin and Warburg 1962).

The intent of this legislation is to have more careful attention paid to identification of botanical species by the herbal industry, and to alert the Canadian public to the potential danger of PA consumption. There was no intent to underestimate the relative potential danger of echimidine-free S. officinale. Both root and leaf of Symphytum officinale have been shown to be carcinogenic in rats (Hirono et al. 1978), though here again there is species confusion because the authors equate common comfrey and Russian comfrey!”

Animal testing – is it like for like?

These theoretical dangers quoted above in Hirono et al. 1978 are not without controversy. Dangerous actions are sometimes attributed to herbs because of in vitro or animal studies. And yet many papers which demonstrate that in vitro or animal actions cannot always be replicated in vivo. Animals and humans are not the same. In the Hirono study, the researchers found that forcing baby rats to eat huge quantities of ground comfrey leaves and roots did them no good at all. Of note, out of 28 rats fed 8% of diet as dry weight comfrey, one showed a liver tumour at 600 days (a long life for a rat!). The average adult human would need to ingest 20,000 comfrey leaves to produce a comparative dose. Assuming 3 dried leaves of comfrey per cup of leaf tea, this equates to drinking 6,666 cups of tea. If you drank a cup of comfrey leaf tea every single day, it would take you over 18 years to reach this level of consumption!

The part of the plant also matters – leaf not root

“Health and Welfare Canada has for many years refused to register comfrey root products for any medicinal application, in recognition of the much greater risk presented by root material as compared to leaf. Comfrey root has been consistently observed to contain roughly ten times the concentration of PA found in leaves (Mattocks 1986, Roitman 1981). Manufacturers have been advised that the inclusion of comfrey root in herbal preparations is no longer acceptable.” Again, this refers to the root not the leaf.

Research can be contradictory

Comfrey was banned in Australia because of a paper called, The Structure and toxicity of the alkaloids of Russian comfrey (S. x uplandicum) a medicinal herb and item of human diet by Dr. C. Culvenor, et al, Australia, 1980. Although Culvenor and his associates identified eight alkaloids in comfrey, four being new to science; there does seem to be inaccuracy, when he quoted the results of Pederson (1975 ). Quotes indicated that he found a 9% concentration of alkaloids in leaves, when Pederson’s actual figures were 0.9 parts per thousand when estimated by titration, and 1.9 parts per thousand when estimated gravimetrically. Theoretical dangers are often attributed to herbs because of the singular action of one constituent, although herbs are a complex blend of hundreds of phytochemicals whose combined beneficial and protective action negate this. For example, meadowsweet contains salicylic acid (naturally) which is what aspirin is made of (chemically). Aspirin can upset stomachs yet meadowsweet is used by medical herbalists to treat stomach ulcers. Meadowsweet, unlike aspirin, contains many other phytochemicals which have a soothing effect.

Read more here about the use of comfrey in creams and ointments.

Using comfrey in pregnancy

Warnings about use in pregnancy, breast-feeding and children found on medicinal/drug advice websites will always caution against use in these conditions without the advice of a doctor unless specific clinical trials have been done on children or pregnant women – which they rarely are! So this is a default warning. To be quite honest very few doctors would even know the answer as without specific genotox/clinical trials this information does not exist. To be on the safe side, pregnant or breastfeeding women should not eat or drink comfrey. Externally, the tiny amount used in a cosmetic cream would be negligible.

Reported side effects

There have been some side effects reported from:
• taking comfrey medication (species not recorded) – a woman (1985) taking two comfrey medicines, one for four months and one for six months, and 2 women (1987) who took comfrey-pepsin tablets for 6 months.
• drinking comfrey tea (species not recorded) – a boy with Crohn’s disease (1987) who regularly drank comfrey tea and a woman (1989) who drank 10 cups of comfrey tea daily for 4 years
• eating comfrey  (species not recorded) – one single case of a man (1990) who ate 4-5 cooked comfrey leaves a day for 2 weeks  where comfrey may have contributed to his death by liver failure.

These case studies do support that underlying illness, poor nutrition and the concurrent use of hepatotoxic drugs, increase the likelihood that veno-occlusive (liver) disease may develop when using PA-containing drugs or eating PA-containing plants (Rode, 2002).

To put this in perspective, according to the Office for National Statistics, between 1993 and 2011 around 23,630 people have died in the UK from drug-related poisoning not including drug misuse! (The total deaths if you include drug misuse being 52,732.) Where the cause of death is mentioned on the death certificate, this includes:
• 8606 deaths due to paracetamol poisoning
• 8324 deaths due to antidepressants
• 4611 deaths due to benzodiazepines (Diazepam (Valium), Temazepam and Nitrazepam
• 3079 deaths due to Tramadol
• 872 deaths due to aspirin

Note for people taking medication

An obvious recommendation with comfrey is not to eat or drink it excessively. I would add that you should definitely not eat it if you already take a drug that is known to harm the liver. This includes: acetaminophen (Tylenol and others), amiodarone (Cordarone), carbamazepine (Tegretol), isoniazid (INH), methotrexate (Rheumatrex), methyldopa (Aldomet), fluconazole (Diflucan), itraconazole (Sporanox), erythromycin (Erythrocin, Ilosone, others), phenytoin (Dilantin), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (Zocor), and many others. If you are on other medication, especially carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenobarbital, phenytoin (Dilantin), rifampin, or rifabutin (Mycobutin), speak to your doctor or medical herbalist before using comfrey, as like other herbs, it may compete with the drug in your liver, the combination of which can cause side-effects.

Why I eat comfrey

There are many issues with the way that research is reported on the internet and many people scare themselves by reading badly referenced and poorly interpreted reports. I eat comfrey personally because I cannot find a single published case history of a healthy human actually experiencing (as opposed to theoretically being at risk from) liver damage from eating identified common comfrey. Nor do I intend to ever consume 20,000 leaves nor drink a cup a day for 18 years.

I’m not saying that comfrey is totally safe or denying the presence of PAs. That would be to discredit science and just be ignorant! However, it is all a question of perspective. I believe that I will be doing less harm to my body by occasionally eating or using comfrey than I would from, for example,  drinking caffeinated drinks daily, eating processed foods full of chemicals, eating non-organic food sprayed with pesticides, breathing in fragrance chemicals from electric “air fresheners”, traffic fumes, pharmaceutical drug side-effects… the list goes on.

Significantly, a trial by Dr. Clare Anderson, from the Laboratory of Pharmakinetics and Toxicology, School of Medicine, University College, London, tested forty long-term comfrey consumers, who then submitted for liver function tests (Anderson, 1981). This was a small group for a clinical trial but with prolonged consumption of comfrey leaf (0.5–25 g day for 1–30 years). All were found to have perfectly fit livers!



Monica Wilde, 2014Monica Wilde works at Napiers the Herbalists. She has been a key instigator in the development of their licensed THR medicines and an advocate for quality, safety and research in herbal medicine. She is also currently, by night, an MSc Herbal Medicine student at UCLAN researching drug-herb interactions for her thesis. At weekends, Monica runs foraging courses and events specialising in wild food and wild medicine.


Robin Harford of has recorded a Podcast interview with Monica speaking about comfrey. Click here to listen. It is the second interview on the Podcast.


Anderson, C. (1981) Comfrey in Perspective. The Lancet, 1(8235): 1424
Couet, C., Crews, C. & Hanley, A. (1996) Analysis, separation, and bioassay of pyrrolizidine alkaloids from comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Nat Toxins. 4(4):163-7. PubMed PMID: 8887946.
De Smet, P. (2004) Health risks of herbal remedies: an update. Clin. Pharmacol. Ther., 76: 1–17
Grube, J., Grünwald, L., Krug, C. & Staiger. (2007) Efficacy of a comfrey root (Symphyti offic. radix) extract ointment in the treatment of patients with painful osteoarthritis of the knee: Results of a double-blind, randomised, bicenter, placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine, 14: 2-10
Hodges, S., (1995) Comfrey root & bone healing.Bone, 16(3): 405
Pedersen (1975) Arch. Pharm. Chem. Sc. Ed. 3: 55-64
Rode, D. (2002). Comfrey toxicity revisited. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 23(11): 497-499
Roitman JN. (1981) Comfrey and liver damage. Lancet. 1(8226):944. PubMed PMID: 6112346.

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