(Borago officinalis L., Boraginaceae)
Also Called: Burrage
Description: Annual plant with erect stems up to 60cm (2ft) high, covered with stiff hairs.
Leaves 3-11 cm (1-4 in)long and up to 2.5cm (tin) wide, are alternate, elliptical, rough and covered with hairs on both surfaces; they are entire and either shortly petiolate or sessile.
Flowers usually somewhat pendulous, in few-flowered racemes at the apices of the stems; about 2cm (0.8in) in diameter, petals 5, bright blue, rarely white.
The bright blue, star-shaped flowers (which bloom most of the summer) make borage one of the prettiest herb plants, though the dark green leaves are rather plain. The plant will grow to a height of about 18 inches, and spread about 12 inches. This hardy annual has a messy, straggling habit.
Part Used: Generally the dried flowering plant; rarely the dried flowers or the fresh leaves.
Habitat and Cultivation: A native of the Mediterranean region, naturalised in most parts of Europe. In Britain a garden escape on waste ground near houses. It may be cultivated from seed in all soils in rows 25cm (10in) apart. The plant is collected when in flower and dried in the shade, but may be exposed briefly to sunlight. Yield: 15-20kg (33441b) per are (120 sq yd).
Constituents and Action: Borage is rich in minerals, especially potassium.
Mucilage, tannin and traces of volatile oil have been found.
It is a mild diuretic; slightly depurative and sudorific.
A tea made with borage helps to reduce fevers and ease chest colds.
An infusion of borage acts as a galactogogue, promoting the production of milk in breastfeeding mothers.
As it is a tonic plant for the adrenal glands, borage provides an invaluable support for a stressful lifestyle.
The herb is also soothing for irritant tissues, mildly sedative and anti-depressant. Externally the juice can be used to sooth itching skin.
The old country saying "borage for courage" is a rather apt description of the plant since we now know that it will stimulate the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline - the "flight or fight" hormone which we produce in moments of stress.
Borage has also long been regarded as uplifting for the emotions and has been identified with the Roman euphrosynum, "the plant that cheers". which Pliny tells us was once added to wine to "increase the exhilarating effect", while Elizabethan cooks added blue borage flowers to salads to "make the mind glad".
Borage has become known as a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) found in the pressed seed oil and has therefore, like evening primrose oil, become popular with the health food industry.
GLA is one of the essential fatty acids needed by the body for a number of metabolic processes.
Lack of it can be associated with menstrual irregularities, skin problems, irritable bowel syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.
Borage oil is sometimes sold as "star-flower oil'' - this is not a traditional name, but presumably thought up by the marketeers.
It contains substantially more GLA than evening primrose oil, with around 24% (compared with a figure of 9% generally quoted for evening primrose).
However, traces of toxic erucic acid (which is known to damage heart tissue) are sometimes found in the oil, leading to claims that evening primrose oils more effective.
The leaves can be used in teas for stress or to counter the lingering effects of steroid therapy and they can also be added to cough mixtures as an expectorant.
It is at times used for inflammations of the kidneys and bladder but this action is in doubt.
For these purposes it is better to employ other drugs of more certain action.
Usage: Generally as a tisane (1 litre (1 •75pt) of cold water on 2 tablespoonfuls of drug, raise to the boil and allow to stand) for rheumatism.
The juice is available commercially or can be made by pulping the fleshy leaves in a food processor.
At times the fresh leaves are eaten in salads and the finely chopped plant may be mixed with cucumber salad.
Caution: Borage is aso related to comfrey and traces of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can cause liver damage in large quantities, have been found in its leaves.
It has therefore been banned in some countries, although most herbalists regard it as perfectly safe for regular use.
* Borage flowers and leaves are the traditional decoration for gin-based summer cocktails, and may be set in ice cubes to garnish other drinks.
* The flowers and young leaves may be used to garnish salads. dips, and cucumber soups.
*The flavour of the leaves resembles that of cucumber.
* borage flowers make attractive cake decorations.
* Chopped leaves can be added to soups and stews during the last few minutes of cooking.
* The leaves can be cooked with cabbage leaves (two parts cabbage, one part borage.)
* Borage does not dry well for culinary use.
* Borage makes an excellent facial steam for improving very dry, sensitive skin.
* The flowers may be dried to add colour to potpourri.
Borage is not a fussy plant, but the richer the soil, the bushier the plant will be.
It prefers full sun, and needs protection from wind as it is easily blown over.
Seeds can be sown throughout the season, and once growth is established, it will continue to seed itself. Place plants close together so they can support each other.
A plant or two in an indoor pot will provide leaves all winter, but it will need lots of sun.
Borage is an excellent companion plant for tomatoes, squash and strawberries.
The plant actually improves the flavour of tomatoes growing nearby.