By: Candice Brunlinger; Clinical Herbalist, Intuitive Healer, and Health Educator
This blue “starflower” is one of my favorite flowers, and I just love being greeted by its sweet and captivating presence in the garden. I encourage every gardener to grow borage but keep in mind it can easily take over if it isn’t thinned and weeded out as needed.
Borage (Borago officinalis) is in the Boraginaceae family, which also includes comfrey and forget-me-nots. It has fuzzy leaves with adorable vibrant blue flowers with 5 points, resembling a star. Bees adore this plant, and as borage is known to help increase honey production, it is a favorite among beekeepers as well.
Graze on the flowers weekly and even daily during peak flowering times. More flowers will continue blooming as the plant grows taller and wider. Leave a third to half the flowers for the bees and other critters to enjoy. Borage is a prolific self-seeding annual and once it is established in the garden, it will be there to stay. When the plant has been fully harvested and dies, cut it back and add the material to your compost or break it up and mix it into your soil to nourish and aerate it. As new plants sprout, thin out the unwanted plants and use the greens in your meals. In mild climates, borage can flower as much as three quarters of the year.
It is very resilient against insects and pests, discouraging and repelling many harmful insects while attracting and feeding beneficial bees that every garden needs.
The young leaves and flowers are edible. The leaves are high in vitamins A, C, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, calcium, and other trace vitamin and minerals. Sauté the fresh young greens in stir-fries and along with other veggies when making sauces, curries, and soups. You can peel the rough hairs off the stems and eat them like you would eat celery. Try the fresh flowers raw in salads and baked goods. The blue flowers make lovely decoration on frosted cakes, in jello, pudding, herbal ice cubes, etc. Keep the fresh flowers refrigerated until they’re served as they will wilt.
I also love to make a nourishing tea with the fresh leaves and flowers, and often combine borage with other fresh herbs from the garden. Borage and mint are a lovely combination, especially on hot summer days. I also really adore an infusion of borage and calendula with perhaps a little passionflower or valerian flower for soothing the nerves and lifting the spirits. Borage, vervain, and milky oats make a wonderful combination for restoring balance to over-achiever types experiencing burn-out. Many traditional references claim borage is best prepared using a cold liquid instead of hot. Try it as a cold infusion or sun tea by allowing the tea to infuse in cold water for 2-8 hours in the sun or moonlight or adding the borage to chilled wine to infuse.
Many of the properties of borage are most potent when fresh or preserved. It is wonderful to grow and eat fresh flowers and young leaves throughout the season. To preserve the plant for use the rest of the year, make an infused wine or vinegar to take daily as a tonic. You can also infuse the fresh flowers and leaves in alcohol to make a tincture, or add the flowers to witch hazel extract along with other healing herbs such as calendula, roses, and lavender for a lovely skin tonic and first aid remedy. The flower essence is one of my favorite and most utilized borage preparations, so I will include the instructions for making your own here.
History and Meaning of Borage
Borage is believed to originate from the area now known as Syria and was widely dispersed and naturalized all over the world through the spice trade. There are hieroglyphic inscriptions of borage and its medicinal uses in the great temple of Amun at Karnak. [i]
The Latin word “borra” means “rough, woolly hair,” a reference to the coarse hair covering the leaves and stems. The origin and etymology of borage comes from “Middle English, from Anglo-French bourage, Spanish boraja, Italian borraggine, German Boretsch. From Medieval Latin borrago, probably from Arabic dialect *būʽaraq, alteration of Arabic abū ʽaraq, literally, source of sweat; or “the father of sweat,” from its use as a diaphoretic” [ii], [iii]
“Borage for courage” is a common expression in herbal lore. Lise Wolff says: “it is for people so run-down that they lack the fortitude or courage to face a responsibility or stress”. [iv]
The Flower Essence Repertory adds to this by saying borage enhances the positive qualities of “ebullient heart forces” and “buoyant courage and optimism” while bringing balance to the “heavy-hearted” and those lacking “confidence in facing difficult circumstances”. [v]
According to Celtic mythology, ancient warriors drank borage infused wine and painted their bodies blue with the natural dye from the flowers to invoke courage for battle. [vi]
Medicinal Benefits of Borage
Borage is a soothing remedy for stress, anxiety, and adrenal burnout that is especially helpful when the spirits need lifting, or when there is a loss of courage and the mind, body, and spirit need a cooling and soothing energy to nourish them. It supports and strengthens the adrenals and nervous system. It is one of the few adrenal tonics with calming energy; a majority tend to be more stimulating. Its cooling energy is great for those with nervous tension who run hot and for those who are easily angered and agitated.
Borage helps with regulating the hormones and is a lovely women’s reproductive tonic that nourishes the reproductive organs and relieves moon-time and menopausal discomfort and symptoms. It is perfect for women going through menopause who need to cool their hot flashes and rebuild their adrenals over-worked from an over-stressed life. It is wonderful post-partum for new mothers, as it increases lactation while smoothing out the hormone fluctuations, adrenal fatigue, sleep-deprivation, nervousness, and post-partum depression common after giving birth.
The nourishing properties and rich vitamin and mineral content make it a good tonic to encourage healing while recovering after injuries. Borage can also be used to help peak fevers, especially fevers with signs of excess heat rather than chills. The flowers make a wonderful demulcent syrup, good for dry respiratory ailments including coughs, colds, wheezing, shortness of breath, and asthma.
Borage can also be used for topical first aid. It cools inflamed skin and can be used as a poultice, wash, or other applications for skin irritations such as rashes, hives, chickenpox, measles, eczema, psoriasis, or acne. It can benefit the healing of skin ulcers, wounds, or abscesses. Prepare an eyewash for sore and inflamed eyes.
Most borage grown commercially is cultivated for its fruits, which are crushed and cold-pressed into a nourishing oil rich in Omega 6 fatty acid. This oil has anti-inflammatory benefits for sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and acne.
The P-A Controversy
Borage leaves contain trace amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), some forms of which are known to cause harm to the liver in excess or concentrated amounts. That said, grazing and eating a serving in your food or drinking a little tea daily is not known to pose any risk, especially for healthy individuals. If you have a compromised liver or overt liver disease, avoid consuming the plant in large quantities or for extended periods. In this case, connecting to the vibrational healing of borage, perhaps by using a flower essence, can still be beneficial and avoids any potential harm from the PAs.
A Courageous Friend
Since the first time I laid eyes on this plant, I have been intensely drawn to it, almost in the way a bee is drawn to each flower. Buzzing with joy and taking in it’s sweet blue nourishment. I often am not able to take my eyes off it or resist snacking on the flowers and spending time with it whenever I see it.
Borage is one of my plant allies and it will always be in my heart. My first intentional plant meditation with a live plant was borage, during a time when I needed courage and hope to make significant and difficult changes in my life and relationships. I needed a community but had no courage or energy to reach out and build one, as I was suffering from adrenal burnout, malnourishment, and inflammation. After sitting with its strong yet gentle presence, I found a heavyweight lifting off my shoulders and heart. The nervousness I would get when thinking about life changes dissipated and was replenished with a comforting and reassuring feeling, filling me up with courage, optimism, and excitement for another fork in the road and a change in my journey.
The timing of my journey to become an herbalist and live my life through plant medicine coincided with meeting this wonderful and reliable plant ally. Borage holds a deeply special place in my heart. Since then, the lessons I have learned from this plant are endless, and when exhaustion takes over due to my ambitious, over-achieving nature, I am always gently reminded of the nourishing comfort of borage. I look forward to receiving more nourishment and healing reminders while continuing to explore the depth of this plant.
A flower essence is my favorite preparation of borage and is a wonderful way to preserve the emotional healing benefits of borage to use throughout the year and during times when you do not have the fresh flowers.
Enjoy this lovely verse from a book I love about Borage.
Borage (A Verse from Botanica Poetica)[vii]
By: Sylvia Seroussi Chatroux, M.D
Borage with your flowers bright
A field of purple, lovely sight
In the oil that’s from the seed
Fatty acids that we need
Borage oil reduces stress
Your blood pressure can depress
Such a friend to heart disease
So go ahead collect the seeds
But of the leaf, a mixed review
Some say toxic, some say jewel
It’s a cooling diuretic
For a fever or as a tonic
The alkaloids are in the leaves
So best to use it sparingly
Apply to wounds with inflammation
Skin that’s sick with ulceration
And in Medieval Days of Old
Borage was as good as gold
Gladden the heart and create glee
A cup of courage in the tea!
May the courage of borage be carried in your heart!
Comment below and share your borage story. Do you grow borage and how do you use it?
Candice Brunlinger is a Clinical Herbalist, Intuitive Healer, & Health Educator with an integrative approach to health using plants, nutrition, self-care, mindfulness, Juice Plus+, and energy healing including Tai Chi, Qigong, and EFT. Her consultations, classes, workshops, and writings focus on ways of integrating these healing modalities into our daily lives and routine practically and conveniently so being healthy becomes ‘a way of living’.
Nourish your body, mind, and spirit with nutrition, mindfulness, self-care, and plants!
Explore http://www.herballivingandhealing.com, facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for classes, workshops, contact info, recipes, articles, Juice Plus+, and more.
[i] Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth by Thea Summer Deer; Page 31; Copyright 2011
[iii] Etymonline: Borage https://www.etymonline.com/word/borage#etymonline_v_15623
[iv] The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood; Page 146; Copyright 2008
[v] Flower Essence Repertory: A Comprehensive Guide by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz; Page 179; Copyright 2004
[vi] Wisdom of the Plant Devas: Herbal Medicine for a New Earth by Thea Summer Deer; Page 32; Copyright 2011
[vii] Botanica Poetica: Herbs in Verse by Sylvia Seroussi Chatroux, M.D.; Verse 13 Borage; Copyright 2007