Borage and Its past Medicinal Uses

Borage flower

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Introduction

In this article we review the plant with the common name of Borage, which belongs to the Family of plants referred to as the Boraginaceae, and is placed in the genus Borago. The name Borage is said to derive from cor indicating heart + ago to bring, because it was claimed to exhilarate the spirits. Another school of thought claims it derives from the Latin burra, indicating wool {a flock of wool} a reference to the thick covering of hairs.

We review the medicinal uses of Borage through historical records of past herbalists and their perception of its properties, that were utilized in a variety of preparations. As usual an apt place to start our review is with a description of our subject.

Description

The root of Borage is long and of a whitish colour, it is divided, fibrous and are in general beiennial. The stem is much branched, cylindrical, thick succulent, clothed with stiff hairs which are prickly. The stems are hollow.

The foliage is alternately arranged, wavy, hispid and of a deep green colour. They are oval, pointed, three inches long or more and about one and a half inches broad. The lower ones are stalked covered by stiff, one celled hairs on the upper surface and on the veins below. the margins are entire but wavy.They are eared at the base.The upper leaves are ovate and almost stalk-less.

The large flowers are arranged in drooping racemes on long stalks. The calyx {sepals etc} is divided into five deep,linear-lanceolate, persistent segments. The Corolla {petals etc} is of a brilliant blue colour, wheel -shaped, the tube is short. The five stamens are very prominent, the filaments, tapering and convergent.The anthers are oblong, fixed in the middle and inner sides of the filaments. Bees are fond of the flowers and visit them regularly throughout the summer and autumn.

The fruit {seed capsule} consists of four one seeded carpels. The seeds are irregular , ovate and wrinkled. Borage is native to southern Europe but has long been cultivated in many countries and in many of these they have become naturalized. The plant flowers in June and July. Varieties in gardens are some times encountered with white or purple flowers.

Other members of the Borage family

The Borage family contain some well known garden flowers such Forget-me-not and Comfrey
The Borage family contain some well known garden flowers such Forget-me-not and Comfrey | Source

History and uses of Borage

The plant appears to be the Buglossum of the Ancients and its reputed medicinal character seems also to correspond with that of the common Bugloss {Anthusa officinalis.} the flowers of both species have been termed cordial, and were formerly much recommended in melancholy and other affections of the nervous system. Their cordial efficacy has been ascribed to a saline quality, which, by 'abating inordinate heat' was said to be peculiarly refreshing.

The leaves of Borage does not seem to have any noticeable taste or smell, but they abound with a juice which in its expressed state is said to be 'saltish'. Dr. Withering observes that the young, tender leaves are good in salads or as a pot herb. they formed an ingredient with lemon, sugar , wine and water in the old English beverage, referred to as the ' cool tankered'.

There appears to have been some confusion by herbalists in days gone by, when Borage was often referred to as Bugloss which is now recognized as the Alkanet, the small buloss recognized at that time was Lycopsis arvensis and the Viper's bugloss was the popular name for the species Echium vulgare.

Henslow suggests that the name is derived from 'barrach' a Celtic word indicating a man of courage. John Gerard {15th century herbalist } stated that Pliny called the plant Euphrosium because it ' Maketh a man merry and joyful, which thing also, the old verse concerning Borage doth testify' According to Dioscorides and Pliny, Borage was the famous Nepenthe of Homer, which when drunk steeped in wine, brought absolute forgetfulness.



Borage flowers

Source

Parts used medicinally

The leaves and to a lesser extent the flowers. herbalists recommended that you gather the leaves as the plant is coming into flower. Strip them singly and reject any that are stained and, or insect eaten. it was also recommended that they were to be harvested on a dry day when the sun has dried of the dew.

Constituents---Borage contains Potassium and Calcium with mineral aids. The fresh juice affords 30% and the dried herb 3% of Nitrate of Potash. The stem and leaves supply large amounts of saline mucilage, which when boiled and cooled deposits Nitrate and common salt.According to one herbalist, it is these saline qualities that the wholesome invigorating properties of Borage are supposedly due. Owing to the presence of Nitrate of Potash when burnt, it will emit sparks with a slight explosive sound.

Medicinal Actions and Uses---Borage was considered to be a diueretic, demulcent,and emollient. it was much used in France for fevers and pulmonary complaints. By virtue of its saline constituents, it promotes the activity of the kidneys and for this reason is employed to carry off feverish catarrh. Its demulcent properties due to the mucilage contained in the whole plant.

For internal use, an infusion was made of one ounce of leaves to one pint of water. the recommended dosage was a wine glass full when when required. Externally, it was employed as a poultice for inflammatory swellings. The flowers were once candied and made into a conserve, and were deemed useful for 'persons weakened by long sickness, and for those subject to swooning'.

The distilled water was considered effective and also valuable to cure inflammation of the eyes. the juice in syrup form was thought, not only to be good in fevers, but also to be a remedy for jaundice and for ringworm. Culpeper {16th century} tells us that in his days " The dried herb is never used, but the green, yet the ashes thereof boiled in mead or honeyed water, is available in inflammation and ulcers in the mouth or throat as a gargle"

Geoffroy asserts that this plant attenuates gross and thick humours, removes obstructions, increases secretions, especially urine, perspiration and expectoration. He ordered it in pleurisy, peripneumonia, and in hypochondriacal and hysterical complaints. For these purposes the expressed juice was given in the dose of one tablespoon every three hours, or an infusion was made with an ounce of the flowers in a pint of white wine, which was given in the quantity of a wine glass full t a time. A conserve and a distilled water was also prescribed to made with the flowers.

The above facts are for historical interest only and not meant as a guide for home made preparations for self medication.


Illustration of borage

Familiar wild flowers courtesy of the BHL
Familiar wild flowers courtesy of the BHL

Modern day uses

In Homeopathy it is used for depression and nervous heart weakness. It used to reduce fever and helps dry coughs. the seed oil is employed against menstrual problems, irritable bowel syndrome {IBS}, eczema, arthritis and to ease the symptoms of hangovers.

The leaves are used in salads and with vegetables. The leaves were also used to flavour drinks {slight cucumber taste}.

Herbalists still use Borage in a variety of ways such as tablets , liquids and powders. However, these are prepared and administered in a professional way. Home made preparations can be dangerous, therefore any one thinking of using Borage should fist seek professional advise.


Cultivation tips

Borage as a garden herb flourishes in ordinary soil. It may be propagated by division of the root-stock in spring and by placing cuttings of shoots in sandy soil in a cold frame in summer and autumn, or from seeds sown in a fairly light soil from the middle of March to May, in drills eighteen inches apart. Once the seedlings are strong enough they can be thinned out to about fifteen inches apart in rows.

However, if left alone Borage will seed itself quite freely and comes up every year. the draw back to letting the plants self seed is the unpredictability of the flowering season. Seed sown in Autumn will flower in May, whereas those sown in spring will not flower until June.

Cultivated Borage with white flowers

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4 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Eddy, thank you so much I am honored. Best wishes to you and your little corner of Wales.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

I haven't come across this plant so another great hub. There is always so much to learn about Nature's magical charm and here's to so many more hubs for us both to share on here. Sharing this one onto my FB page A Brand New Dawn.

Enjoy your weekend.

Eddy./.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

aviannovice

Hi Deb, glad it brought back some nice memories for you. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

When I was growing up, my father planted borage around the tomatoes for a large influx of bees. It worked like a charm. The borage was good sized, and the tomato plants were ever huge, and they produced remarkable amounts of fruit.

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