Borage

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Borago officinalis (L)

Synonyms and Common names: Burrage, common bugloss, star flower, beebread, bee plant

French = bourrache, German = boretsch, Spanish = Borraja, Italian = Borrana

Order: Boraginaceae

Description: Borago is an erect bristly annual, with stalked, ovate to lanceolate basal leaves up to 20cm long, and smaller, stalkless upper leaves, about 7cm long and 3cm broad with a slightly sinuous margin, and bristles on both surfaces. The blue, star-shaped flowers, about 2cm across, are  in loose arching sprays. The corolla has five spreading, lanceolate, pointed lobes; the anthers form a central cone. It tastes cucumber-like and saline and is odourless. Borago is indigenous to Britain, Europe and North Africa, and naturalised in North America. It prefers disturbed ground well-drained open and sunny positions and its cultivation for seed oil is widespread.

Parts used: leaves, flowers, seed oil

Collection: The flowers are collected between April and September, the seeds when ripe in the autumn. The leaves should be gathered just as the plant is coming into flower, but can be harvested throughout the growing season.

Constituents: Leaves and flowers: saponins, up to 12% mucilage, tannin, vitamin C, malic acid, choline, potassium, calcium, essential oil, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (including lycopsamine, intermedine and their acetyl derivatives) Allantoin is reported to be absent. Seeds: essential fatty acids (gammalinolenic and linoleic)

Actions: Leaves and flowers: adrenal gland stimulant and restorative, galactagogue, diuretic, demulcent, emollient, antirheumatic, refrigerant, diaphoretic, expectorant, anti-depressive Seeds: antirheumatic, anti-inflammatory

Indications: pyrexia, pulmonary disease; externally as a poultice for eczema and inflammation

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: The traditional use of ‘Borage for Courage’ suggests that it has a supportive effect on the adrenal glands. It has since been confirmed that the plant encourages the production of adrenaline which helps the body cope with stressful situations, as well as possibly acting as a restorative agent on the adrenal cortex. It is often prescribed to restore the adrenal glands after steroid therapy. An infusion of the leaves and flowers can be taken as a tonic after stressful situations or for mental exhaustion and depression. Clinical trials have shown that borage seed oil reduces cardiovascular reactivity to stress by reducing the systolic blood pressure and heart rate and by increased task performance. A hormonal effect is indicated by a traditional belief that the leaves and seeds of the plant can increase the milk supply of nursing mothers; it is also said to improve mood in menopausal depression. Borago helps prevent inflammation of the gastrointestinal mucosa in cases of allergy and infection, and it may also assist in iron absorption. It can be used externally as a compress or poultice for inflammation, or as an eyewash to relieve irritation. A hot infusion of Borago has a diaphoretic effect in the treatment of colds and flu, and the presence of saponins is probably responsible for its expectorant action., while the mucilage in the leaves help to soothe the respiratory tract in dry, rasping coughs. It is indicated in bronchitis, catarrh, congested membranes and pleurisy, and the flowers were a traditional ingredient of cough syrups.

The pressed seed oil of Borage, rich in gammalinolenic and linoleic acid, is used in the same way as Evening Primrose oil in the treatment of menstrual problems, eczema and other chronic skin conditions, and It is often combined with Evening Primrose oil to help reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Caution: This herb is restricted in Australia and New Zealand due to its pyrrolizidine alkaloid content, but at therapeutic dosages it should be perfectly safe to use. These restrictions do not apply to the seed oil.

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

Not included in the GSL

Liquid Extract, 2-4ml

Tincture, 1-4ml

Additional Comments: The plant’s Latin name, Borago, is thought to be a corruption of corago, meaning ‘I bring heart’, although it may also be derived  from the Italian borra or French bourra meaning rough hair or wool, and perhaps referring to the short hairs covering the plant. A third derivation may be the Celtic barrach, meaning ‘man of courage’. John Evelyn, a seventeenth century diarist, wrote that borage ‘was of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student’. Gerard recommended its use ‘to exhilerate and make the mind glad ….. and drive away all sadnesse, dulnesse and melancholy’, and said that ‘a syrup made of the flowers of borage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy, and quieteth the phreneticke or lunaticke person’.

The flowers are often used to flavour summer wine cups, or candied as culinary decorations - which is sometimes just as easy as using fake plants. The young leaves are added to salads and soups and as a flavouring to sauces. Beehives are often sited near borage.

 

Bibliography

Bartram, T. 1995 Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, 1st edn.,Grace Publishers, Bournemouth.

Bremness, L. 1994 Herbs, Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Handbook, London.

Chevallier, A. 1996 The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Gerard, J. 1633 The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, Facsimile Edition (1975), Dover Publications, New York.

Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Hyperhealth 1996 Natural Health and Nutrition Databank, v.96.1 CD-ROM, ©In-Tele-Health, available from Healthworks, Leeds. ISBN 0-646-30942-0

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Newall, C.A., Anderson, L.A., & Phillipson, J.D. 1996 Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-care Professionals, The Pharmaceutical Press, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Phillips, R. and Foy, N. 1990 Herbs, Pan Books, London.

Press, B. & Gibbons, B. 1993 Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe: Photographic Field Guide, New Holland Publishers, London.

Prihoda, A. 1989 The Healing Powers of Nature, Octopus, London.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.

 

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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ©Purple Sage Botanicals