Vitamin B12 in Herbs
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Narayana Mandaleeka
Posted on: December 30, 1998

I would like to know if their is any herb which has vitamin B12. Is it available?

Normally, humans rely on microbial vitamin B12 production in our intestines, and from meat. Comfrey is said to be one of the very few plant sources of vitamin B12. The problem with comfrey is that it is not recommended as a food supplement because long term habitual use runs the risk of liver problems.

There is some question whether comfrey actually contains vitamin B12. According to "Powerhouse Plants" published by the Natural Food Institute (no date; 1986 or earlier), some authorities have suggested that vitamin B12 in comfrey samples may have been the result of contamination. James Duke, in his "Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants" (1992; CRC Press), does not list vitamin B12 for comfrey although he says comfrey contains other B complex vitamins.

Lawrence Hills, in his book, "Comfrey: Fodder, Food, and Remedy" (1976; Universe Books, New York), reported the results of analyses done by his organization in 1959-1961. The vitamin B12 content ranged from 3.1 ppb to 11.6 ppb (parts per billion) with the average the average being 5.6 ppb.

In his book Hills addresses concerns about contamination of comfrey with bacteria (from sewage sludge used to fertilize the plants). The suggestion was that the vitamin B12 found in comfrey was coming from the bacteria in the sewage sludge; but he showed that that could not have been true because even samples not treated with sludge were high in vitamin B12. It is not clear whether the Natural Foods Institute is referring to this same controversy addressed by Hills.

Whether comfrey could ever be used as a source of vitamin B12 will depend on whether the liver damaging compounds can be removed from it either by processing, employing special cultivation techniques, or by breeding. So far, there is no complete solution to the problem, but young leaves are known to be almost free of the problematic compounds. Whether they also contain B12 remains to be determined.

Other plant based sources of vitamin B12 are kelp seaweed, and processed foods such as tofu and tempeh. Brewer’s yeast is another source.

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