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Health Benefits and Other Uses for Borage

Updated on May 29, 2017
Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

Fiona is a qualified herbalist and aromatherapist. She has twenty years' experience in the field and wants to share that knowledge.

Pretty in the garden and easy to grow, this is one herb you need to have.
Pretty in the garden and easy to grow, this is one herb you need to have.

Soothing Borage Has a Place in History

Borage has been revered throughout the centuries as a medicinal herb and for its culinary uses. It has long been known as a herb that soothes stress and calms frayed nerves. No crusader set off without borage, as it was thought to strengthen courage and help still the mind.

The Elizabethans believed that, when added to wine, borage helped to improve the mood and helped stave off drunkenness. No party was complete without a Pimms cup, with some borage flowers in it.

The flowers have long been incorporated into cough syrups and tonics to treat coughs and colds or to treat maladies of the mind, like depression.

Borage Originates From the Mediterranean

Tips for Growing Your Own Borage

These plants originated in the Mediterranean, so they can stand up to some harsh conditions. Once it is established in your garden, you will always have it, as it self-seeds quite easily. Looking at them, it is hard to imagine that borage plants are so heat resistant, because they look delicate and fleshy. What few people know is that borage does have natural refrigerant properties.

It is quite easy to grow from seed, so you can stand to have a few plants. Here is how to do it:

  • Plant in seed trays and keep moist until they are big enough to transplant into your garden.
  • Do not worry about planting the seeds directly in the garden. These seeds do transplant very well, so there is no need to stress about that.
  • They tend to grow into a medium=sized bush, so do give them space to spread out.
  • It is best to plant them in compost-rich soil that has been well dug-over and that drains well.
  • They will thrive in full sun and should have a deep watering at least twice a week for best results.
  • They can also survive in less than ideal circumstances quite well too.

I have a large garden with a huge patch of borage in the front. Basically, I leave it to its own devices and it seems perfectly happy with that. I was quite amazed, however, to see a new little borage plant sprouting up at the opposite end of the garden, in a patch that we have left fallow.

These hardy little plants are survivors and, once established, stand up well to the extremes of weather.

Bees love borage.
Bees love borage.

A Warning About Consuming Borage Internally

Borage should not be ingested on a regular basis or concurrently over a period of time. The one cautionary note here is that the herb is rich in Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids, as is the herb comfrey. If taken frequently, this compound can accumulate to toxic levels. It is safest to enjoy internally only occasionally.

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The delicate purple blue of the Borage flower is gorgeous in the garden.
The delicate purple blue of the Borage flower is gorgeous in the garden.

Top Facts About Borage

  • It is easy to grow.
  • The leaves and flowers make an excellent skin care lotion.
  • You do need to be careful not to overdo internal consumption. Too much can be toxic.
  • This is one of the best companion plants for fruiting vegetables.
  • It helps to cool the soil and plants around it.
  • Borage tea makes an excellent tonic for ailing plants.
  • One cup a day over short periods can help settle a bad cough and loosen mucous in the chest.
  • You can simply dig it back in after its seeds have set and the ground will be ready for the next planting within two weeks.

Medicinal Uses

This can be a valuable little herb, as long as you are careful to monitor your intake. It has high levels of potassium and calcium and can assist in purifying the blood and boosting the system, especially during illness or recovery.

It is best to make a tea. Here is how to do it:

  • Use a quarter cup of the flowers and leaves for each cup of boiling water. Leave to stand for five minutes. Strain and sip slowly.
  • It is important to drink no more than one cup of this tea a day. Sip throughout the course of the day.

This tea is excellent at easing respiratory ailments and in treating chronic coughs, tight chest, bronchitis, and excessive mucous production.

Part of the reason that it works is that it stimulates the adrenal glands into producing cortisone of their own. This helps decrease pain and inflammation in the body overall.

The essential fatty acids in borage can be instrumental in calming hormones and managing menopause. Consult an herbal practitioner if this is what you are after, or take a vitamin supplement rather than drinking the tea too frequently.

A Warning About Consuming Borage Internally

Borage should not be ingested on a regular basis or concurrently over a period of time. The one cautionary note here is that the herb is rich in Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids, as is the herb comfrey. If taken frequently, these accumulate to toxic levels. It is safest to enjoy internally only occasionally.

Borage produces masses and masses of flowers.
Borage produces masses and masses of flowers.

Cosmetic Uses

Borage is packed full of saponins and tannins, which makes it great for soothing painful and inflamed skin conditions.

  • Boil up one cup of leaves in three cups of boiling water, covered, for ten minutes. Allow the mixture to cool and then strain.
  • Apply to the skin using cotton wool or pour into an atomizer and spray onto affected areas.
  • Use regularly to treat chronic skin problems such as psoriasis and eczema and to battle more common problems such as rashes and sunburn.
  • You can also simmer in an aqueous base for ten minutes (1 cup herb to three cups cream) in order to create a really intensive moisturizer. Add one capsule of Vitamin E to boost the goodness and to act as a natural preservative.

Not only has Borage proven to be a valuable moisturizer and skin soother, it is a great treatment for varicose veins and thread veins as well.

I use a borage aqueous cream every night and add in some lavender essential oil. I love using it after a hot summer's day because the cream literally cools the skin. It softens the skin really well and is an excellent skin soother. You can, if you want to really ramp up the moisturizing power of the blend, add shea butter to the mix as well.


Want to Make Your Own Cosmetics?

GREEN BEAUTY RECIPES: Easy Homemade Recipes to Make Your Own Organic and Natural Skincare, Hair Care and Body Care Products
GREEN BEAUTY RECIPES: Easy Homemade Recipes to Make Your Own Organic and Natural Skincare, Hair Care and Body Care Products

The recipes in this book are easy to follow. I particularly like the breakdown of natural ingredients that you can use to help your herbal products last longer.

 

Culinary Uses

Because of the alkaloids in the plant, you do not want to eat it too often. Keep the leaves for herbal preparations and use the flowers in the kitchen. The flowers have a very fresh flavour that is reminiscent of cucumber. They look and taste great in cordials.

Consider freezing a few of the flowers in an ice tray for a really special party to really up the wow factor.

You can also add the flowers to salads and desserts.

In the garden, borage will help protect your strawberries from pests and also attract bees to pollinate the flowers. The borage will also help prevent your strawberries from overheating during hot weather.
In the garden, borage will help protect your strawberries from pests and also attract bees to pollinate the flowers. The borage will also help prevent your strawberries from overheating during hot weather.

Borage in the Garden

Where borage truly shines is as a companion plant in the garden. Partner it with strawberries, marrows, pumpkin and cucumbers and get ready for a bumper harvest. Not only will the fruit and veggies taste better, their shelf life will also improve.

If you live in a hot, dry area, this plant could be a lifesaver for your veggies. It has unique, refrigerant properties. What this means is that it literally cools the area around it as well. This can be essential when there is a really scorching day. This and the shade provided by the plant will help to protect your more sensitive fruit and veggies like tomatoes and lettuce.

Bees and butterflies love the scent of the flowers, so this is an important addition to your garden.

You can also use it to make your own plant tonic. Simply take half a bucket of sprigs, fill the bucket with boiling water, and let it stand overnight. Strain out the plant material and throw onto the compost heap or use as a mulch around tender plants.

The resultant herb tea is an especially excellent foliage feeder and is great at nourishing plants in containers and new seedlings that need a bit of a boost. It is an overall great addition as a tonic for your plants because of the number of essential nutrients contained in it.

If you have a soil in the garden that has really become unproductive, plant some Borage as a green manure. Allow to grow until the seed sets, harvest the seeds and then chop the plant and dig it in well. This restores much-needed calcium and potassium to the soil and you can use that plot of land again as soon as two weeks after digging the borage in.

An Interesting, Quick Video About Borage From City Farmer

Bibliography

Barnes, Joanne; Linda A. Anderson & J. David Phillipson: Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals.2nd Ed. London. Pharmaceutical Press 2002.

Bown, Deni: The Royal Horticultural Society New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses. London, Dorling Kindersley 2002
Duke, James A.: The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Rodale / Reach 2000.
Foster, Steven: 101 Medicinal Herbs. Loveland, Colorado. Interweave Press 1998.
Hoffmann, David: The New Holistic Herbal. Boston, Element Books Ltd. 1990.
Hoffmann, David: Medicinal Herbalism. The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Art Press 2003.
Volák, Jan & Jiri Stodola: The Illustrated Book of Herbs. London. Caxton Editions 1998.
Williamson, Elisabeth M.: Potter’s Herbal Cyclopaedia. Essex, England. Saffron Walden 2003.

Anything You Would Like to Add?

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  • 2besure profile image

    Pamela Lipscomb 3 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

    OK, it! I remember sip the tea through the day. Got it! Thanks

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image
    Author

    Fiona 3 years ago from South Africa

    Thanks 2besure - just use in moderation :)

  • 2besure profile image

    Pamela Lipscomb 3 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

    I have never heard of borage. I think I will try the tea for breathing problems. Great hub!