Borage is an annual that bears bright blue, star-shaped flowers that are loved by bees. The plant’s name is thought to derive from the Latin borra, meaning “hairy garment,” in reference to the herb’s bristly leaves. Native to the Mediterranean and naturalized throughout Europe, parts of North America, and parts of Australia, borage has a long history of use in herbal medicine.
Nicholas Culpeper’s English Physician (1652) noted under its “virtues” that borage “… leaves and roots are to very good purpose used against putrid and pestilential fevers, to defend the heart, and to resist and expel the poison or venom of other creatures . . . and the seeds and leaves are good to e[i]ncrease milk in women’s breasts. . . .”
Common Names: Borage, Starflower
Description: Succulent stems, 12 to 18 inches tall, with thick, gray-green leaves covered with rough hairs; nodding clusters of small, bright blue, star-shaped flowers
Flowering: Throughout summer
Parts Used: Flowers, leaves, and seed oil
Range/Habitat: Native to the Mediterranean and naturalized throughout Europe, parts of North America, and parts of Australia
Borage’s bright blue flowers make an attractive garnish for cold soups, iced beverages, and cakes.
Caution: Do not consume borage leaves and flowers in large quantities, as they contain compounds toxic to your liver. Oil extracted from the seed is safe to consume, however.
Borage seed oil is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a compound that helps balance abnormalities of essential fatty acids. It can be taken to relieve premenstrual discomfort, thrombosis, and chronic inflammation, as in multiple sclerosis. The oil is also used to treat fevers, bronchial infections, oral infections, and chronic nephritis.
Borage seed oil has been shown to reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis during a human clinical trial. According to another clinical study, borage seed oil may reduce the effects of stress on the body by lowering heart rate and systolic blood pressure. It is also recommended for treatment of fibrocystic breast disease.
In addition to its use as a dietary supplement, GLA-rich borage seed oil is used in cosmetic products; its anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties help heal dried and cracked skin, as well as other skin conditions, such as eczema.
How to grow it
Borage grows best in well-drained, moist soil in full sun or partial shade. Plant seeds in spring, and thin seedlings to 18-inches apart. Harvest the young leaves in spring or summer, as the plant begins flowering; pick the flowering tops just as they begin to open. A prolific plant, borage will self-seed rapidly in your garden.