Scientific name: Borago officinalis
Part used: Seed, Leaves, Flowers
Common names: Borage, Starflower, Bee Plant, Burrage 1
Borage, commonly known as starflower, is primarily grown as an oilseed crop due to the high gamma-linoleic (GLA) content of the oil. GLA is an omega-6 essential fatty acid with proven anti-inflammatory benefits, which is why we use it in our award-winning multi-purpose oil here in Modern Botany.
Borage is indigenous to the Mediterranean, where it was traditionally used as a medicinal and a culinary herb, but it is now found all over Northern Europe and Northern America. Borage was cultivated in 16th century Spain and was one of the first plants to be brought to the Americas. The stalks and leaves were grown as a vegetable and the flowers are great for honey production 2.
The name is thought to have come from the French “bourrache” which means rough and hairy, which may refer to the leaf. The Welsh called borage llanwenlys which means “herb of gladness” and in Saudi Arabia it was known as “the father of sweat” due to its diaphoretic qualities 3,4.
Several noted ancient scholars wrote about borage. Both Dioscorides and Pliny said that borage was the Nepenthe mentioned in Homer, which when steeped in wine, brought forgetfulness. Pliny called it euphrosinum as he believed it was an anti-depressant and Disocorides said that one should take borage to “cheer the heart and lift the depressed spirits” 5. The 16th century herbalist, Gerard said that the flowers added to salad drove away sadness and increased joy 4. Borage was also considered to give courage and there is a Greek proverb that used to say “I, borage, give courage” 2 which is why it was given to the Crusaders on their voyages.
Borage is an herbaceous annual plant with can grow to a height of 60cm. The star-shaped flower is a bright celestial blue and it flowers throughout the summer. Some varieties have white or pink flowers. It is said that Louis XIV was so charmed by the beautiful flower that he ordered it to be planted in Versailles 3. The flower has a protruding cone. The stem is erect, hollow, sturdy and covered with stiff white hairs. The leaves are rough and oval shaped. Borage will grow in a range of conditions and climates but prefers well-drained soil and plenty of sun. It will grow on wasteland and embankments and makes a good companion plant as it attracts insects 2, 3, 4.
Traditional Medicinal Uses:
Traditionally, a poultice made of the leaves was applied for rheumatism and the flowers and seeds were added to wine to induce euphoria 2. Borage has been used to treat colds and flu by lowering fever. It has also been used as a tonic and to treat depression 1.
Borage has been used as a sedative in traditional Iranian medicine 6.
The 17th century physician and botanist Culpepper, found the plant useful for fevers, sore throat, mouth ulcers, rheumatism, consumption and snake bites 5.
Borage seed oil, also known as Star Flower oil, contains 2-3 times more gamma linoleic acid (GLA) than evening primrose oil. It is anti-bacterial (1), antioxidant, anti-inflammatory (1), diaphoretic and emollient (3). It has been used traditionally to treat multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease (4), arthritis, cancer, eczema and premenstrual syndrome 6.
(1) Borago officinalis demonstrated antibacterial activity against bacteria commonly associated with foodborne diseases in a 2014 study 7.
(2) Evidence from three randomized clinical trials showed that borage oil had a strong effect in reducing pain, joint tenderness and stiffness in patients with active Rheumatoid Arthritis 8.
(3) Topical treatment with borage oil cleared infantile seborrheic dermatitis 9.
(4) Dietary supplementation with borage oil reduced cardiovascular response to stress (lowered BP and heart rate) and improved performance 10.
Borage is rich in fatty acids, including Gama-linoleic acid (GLA). It contains various pyrrolizidine alkaloids such as lycopsamine and intermedine as well as mucilages, acids and tannins.
Medical use - Herbal medicine:
Borage is not approved as an herbal drug in Europe due to its toxicity profile. However, external application of the oil is often recommended for atopic dermatitis as the high GLA content accelerates the regeneration of the skin 11.
The Cosmetic Regulation of the European Union has approved Borage officinalis as a skin-conditioning and emollient agent 12.
Prolonged use of borage improves the appearance of skin, which makes borage a common cosmetic ingredient for dry, damaged and sensitive skin. It’s anti-inflammatory and anti-abscess actions also help prevent acne. Ointment from the fresh herb has shown to be effective against eczema and wounds 11. Regular intake also benefits the hair and the nails and it is regularly used in products for dry or permed hair.
Borage (starflower) is used in many cosmetic formulations. It has regenerating, firming and restructuring properties and can be used as an active ingredient or as a carrier oil 9.
Borage flowers have a mild, cucumber-like flavour. They can be eaten in salads and the cooked leaves can be added to salads or soups 1,13. The stems can be peeled and chopped to be used like celery and the flowers can be candied and added to deserts 4.
There is very little scientific evidence on any nutritional value of the borage flowers.
Contaminants and adulterants:
Safflower oil, genetically modified to have a high GLA content, has been used to adulterate borage oil in recent years 14. Adulteration tests need to be undertaken to ensure the purity of the extract.
Dietary supplementation with Borago officinalis reduced inflammation in mild asthmatics 15.
A 2014 study found that borage may be useful in treating patients with impaired memory function 16.
Fresh leaves may cause contact dermatitis 3.
Excessive or prolonged ingestion is not advised due to the high pyrrolizidine alkaloid content 1 and epileptic patients should avoid.
Borage is not advised during pregnancy and lactation 1.
Summary / Conclusion:
There is an increasing perception amongst consumers that natural ingredients are safer and healthier than synthetic alternatives and today’s well-informed consumers now decide which materials they will allow in contact with their skin. Over the past decade, the natural cosmetic sector has seen continual growth of 5 to 10% a year 17.
The natural ingredient Gamma-linoleic (GLA) is widely used in cosmetic preparation and 90% of GLA that is sold comes from evening primrose oil. Borage contains twice the amount of GLA and is also easier to process than evening primrose oil 6. Borage is indigenous to Ireland and it grows wild on our wasteland and boreens (little road). This makes borage an ideal plant for consideration by Irish growers looking to tap into the Natural Cosmetics market.
(1) Barnes, Joanne, Linda A. Anderson, and J. David Phillipson. (2007). Herbal Medicines. 3rd ed. London [u.a.]: Pharmaceutical Press, 2007. Print.
(2) Hernández Bermejo, J. and León, J. (1994). Neglected crops. 1st ed. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
(3) McVicar, Jekka. (2011). Jekka's Complete Herb Book. 1st ed. London: Kyle Cathie, Print.
(4) Kowalchik, C., Hylton, W. and Carr, A. (1998). Rodale's illustrated encyclopedia of herbs. 1st ed. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press.
(5) Grieve, M., n.d. A Modern Herbal. [Online] Available at: http://botanical.com [Accessed 15 05 2017].
(6) Asadi-Samani, M., Bahmani, M., Rafieian-Kopaei, M. 2014. The chemical composition, botanical characteristic and biological activities of Borago officinalis: a review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, 7, Supplement 1(0), S22-S28.
(7) Miceli, A., Aleo, A., Corona, O., Sardina, M., Mammina, C. and Settanni, L. (2014). Antibacterial activity of Borago officinalis and Brassica juncea aqueous extracts evaluated in vitro and in situ using different food model systems. Food Control, 40, pp.157-164.
(8) Soeken, K. (2003). Herbal medicines for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. Rheumatology, 42(5), pp.652-659.
(9) A, Frithz A (1993) Borage. oil, an effective new treatment for infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis. Br J Derm 1993;129:95
(10) Mills DE (1989). Dietary fatty acid supplementation alters stress reactivity and performance in man. J Hum Hypertens 1989; 3: 111–116.
(11) Pieszak M., Mikolajczak P., Manikowska K. (2011). Borage (Borago offficinalis L.) – a valuable medicinal plant used in herbal medicine. Herba Polonica 2012; 58,4.
(12) Ec.europa.eu. (n.d.). CosIng - Cosmetics - GROWTH - European Commission. [online] Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/growth/toolsdatabases/cosing/index.cfm
(13) Hildebrand, C. (2016). Herbarium. 1st ed. United Kingdom: W W Norton.
(14) Scrimgeour, C. and Clough, P. (2014). Authentication of borage oil. Lipid Technology, 26(10), pp.230-233.
(15) Arm, J., Boyce, J., Wang, L., Chhay, H., Zahid, M., Patil, V., Govindarajulu, U., Ivester, P., Weaver, K., Sergeant, S., Israel, E. and Chilton, F. (2013). Impact of botanical oils on polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism and leukotriene generation in mild asthmatics. Lipids in Health and Disease, 12(1), p.141.
(16) Zargooshnia, S., Shahidi, S., Ghahremanitamadon, F., Nikkhah, A., Mehdizadeh, M. and Soleimani Asl, S. (2014). The protective effect of Borago Officinalis extract on amyloid β (25–35)-induced long term potentiation disruption in the dentate gyrus of male rats. Metabolic Brain Disease, 30(1), pp.151-156.
17) Vivaness2016. (2015). [online] Available at https://www.biofach.de/en.