Hairy annual growing to 2 ft (60 cm). Has a pulpy stem, large basal leaves, and attractive blue flowers in summer.
Habitat & Cultivation
Borage is a common Mediterranean weed thought to originate from southern Spain and Morocco. Often grown as a garden herb, it is also extensively cultivated for its seed oil.
Aerial parts, flowers, seed oil.
Borage contains mucilage, tannins, and pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which in isolation are toxic to the liver. The seeds contain up to 24% gamma-linolenic acid.
History & Folklore
The herbalist John Gerard, writing in 1597, extols borage’s virtues, “A syrup made of the flowers of borage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy, and quieteth the phreneticke or lunaticke person.” Gerard also quotes the old saying, “I, Borage, bring always courage.”
Medicinal Actions & Uses
With its high mucilage content, borage is a demulcent herb and soothes respiratory problems. Its emollient qualities make it helpful for sore and inflamed skin—prepared either as freshly squeezed juice, in a poultice, or as an infusion. The flowers encourage sweating and the leaves are diuretic.
The seed oil is particularly rich in polyunsaturated fats, and is superior in this respect to evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis). Borage seed oil is used to treat premenstrual complaints, rheumatic problems, eczema, and other chronic skin conditions.
Due to the presence of toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, there is uncertainty over borage’s safety as a medicine. It is subject to legal restrictions in some countries and should not be taken internally. These restrictions and cautions do not apply to borage seed oil.