Laura Dean Bennett
A friend who had been thinning out her flower beds, generously gave me, among some other very nice flowering plants, a little borage shoot.
I’d never previously made the acquaintance of borage and knew nothing about it.
Imagine how pleased I was to learn what a useful and beautiful plant Borago Officinalis is.
Commonly known as “Starflower,” borage is not just a pretty flowering plant, but it’s a self-seeding annual herb native to the Mediterranean region with a centuries-long and venerable history.
It takes its common name from the star-shaped structure of its bloom and most commonly has blue flowers, with the rare appearance of a pink or white variety.
Borage is also known as the “bee plant” because its flowers are a favorite of honey bees.
Here in Appalachia and in similar climates, borage grows during our typical growing season, but in warm climates like the Mediterranean, where it’s always grown wild, it’s known to grow year round.
The ancient Romans were known to drink a mixture of borage tea and wine to fortify themselves before a battle.
Borage has been cultivated in Britain and Europe since it was brought there in the Middle Ages, and it began to be cultivated in the New World with the arrival of European settlers.
Borage leaves and seeds are famous for their healing properties.
Throughout history the leaves were used as medicine or made into medicinal teas to treat a multitude of ailments and to improve overall health.
The oil extracted from borage seeds has been produced commercially for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years.
The oil is distilled from the seeds of the plant and used topically or taken internally.
Borage has historically been used to fight adrenal gland fatigue, which encourages a calmer mind and body – probably why the Roman soldiers drank borage tea.
It’s been used for respiratory problems, gastrointestinal complaints and bladder disorders.
Healers have long used borage and borage seed oil to treat rheumatoid arthritis because of its anti-inflammatory properties and modern research indicates its usefulness in reducing itch and dryness associated with eczema and dermatitis.
It acts as a natural sedative, to alleviate depression and treat nervous conditions.
The leaves which are packed with high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, beta carotene and vitamins B and C are made into popular herbal supplements.
Borage also contains high levels of essential fatty acids, which can affect mood, internal inflammation, cardiovascular functions and hair and nail growth.
These days, borage supplements come in caplet form, as a liquid extract, an oil or a medicinal tea.
The tea, made from dried leaves, has a “green,” cucumber-like flavor.
As with any medicinal supplements, there are always notes of caution.
Borage oil is not meant to be taken long-term internally due to its high levels of alkaloids which can damage the liver.
And do not take any form of borage if you are taking anti-coagulants without discussing it with your doctor first.
Relatively mild levels of nausea, cramping, bloating and headache are side effects that borage can cause.
It is always best to consult your doctor before beginning a regimen of borage, or any medicinal supplement.
Cooks will enjoy having borage growing in their kitchen gardens.
Borage leaves make interesting and healthy additions to salads and in Italy, for instance, borage is served as a vegetable dish.
The beautiful flowers are edible, too.
They’re often candied and used as exotic and dramatic cake decorations or made into sweet syrups.
Now is the time of year to transplant borage, if you don’t want to start it from seed.
The plant will grow to about three or four feet in height and tends to be a bit on the floppy side, so it’s best to place it within a tomato cage.
It’s hardy, easy to divide, and, as a self-seeder, will return year after year to grace your flower bed or your kitchen garden with its edible star-shaped flowers and healthful leaves.