The herb originates from the Middle East. It was widely sought after by the Romans who believed it had the ability to instil happiness in people. It is now commonly cultivated all over Europe. It has become a favourite in a lot of kitchen gardens, both for the use of its leaves and the prettiness of its blue star-shaped flowers.
It is an annual, occasionally biannual plant which grows to a height of 60 cm. It is easily recognisable by its prickly stems and greyish blue hairy leaves.
The flowers are distinguished from those of every plant in this family by their black anthers which form a cone in the centre of the flowers and have been described as ‘beauty spots’. The fruits consist of four brownish-black nutlets which hold the seeds.
Borage has a cucumber like fragrance. Steeped in water and mixed with wine with extra lemon and sugar, it provides a refreshing summer drink.
The pretty blue flowers can be eaten. They were traditionally used to decorate salad dishes or were also candied and eaten as sweets or used as cake decorations.
The leaves and flowering tops of borage have traditionally been used to drive away sorrow and melancholy from a man’s heart and to instil joy, happiness and comfort. According to Dioscorides and Pliny, when steeped in wine, borage leaves would bring absolute forgetfulness.
The flowers and flowering tops have also been used in teas for their diuretic properties, to reduce high fever and fight cold and flu symptoms.
It is also believed to relieve PMT symptoms. The seeds are said to promote the supply of milk of nursing mothers as GLA is an important part of human breast milk.
Externally, borage leaves have been used as poultice to reduce inflammatory swellings.
Borage seed oil is cold-pressed using a traditional compressing screw head. The seeds yield about 40% of oil. There is a slight green tinge to the oil and with a hint of nutty aroma reminiscent of that of Hazelnut.
The importance of Borage is as the richest direct source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA). With levels of GLA reaching up to 24%, it is the richest available source of GLA (Evening Primrose contains much less at 9%).
GLA is an essential fatty acid, which is used by the body in the production of hormone-like prostaglandins and in particular, PGE1. The prostaglandin, PGE1 is anti-inflammatory, helps to inhibit platelet aggregation, thrombosis and cholesterol synthesis and is important to the proper functioning of skin tissue.
The body can produce GLA from Linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid also present in Borage at 30-40%) however there are many factors that can inhibit this particularly in the over 60’s. A deficiency of GLA can result in dehydration of skin tissue resulting in dry, toneless and damaged skin.
The oil of borage is widely used in skin care products.
Due to its high GLA content, it is believed to delay wrinkling and as such is a useful adjunct to enrich a nutritive and moisturising night cream.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, the oil of Borage will soothe dry & sensitive skins, restoring balance and elasticity. It will also cool and soothe skins suffering from dermatitis or eczema and can be used with calendula and coconut, both useful in those cases.
The oil is very sensitive to light and oxidation, and does not have a long shelf life. It is recommended to buy a small quantity at a time and keep the bottle in the fridge if not used on a daily basis.
Borage along with Evening Primrose has been found useful to reduce cholesterol deposits. It has been particularly recommended by Herbalists for those over 60s when the natural synthesis of GLA in the body decreases.