Borage for Courage
"Borage and hellebore fill two scenes,
Sovereign plants to purge the veins
Of melancholy, and cheer the heart
Of those black fumes which make it smart"
- Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy
BORAGE Borago officinalis
FOLKLORE/COMMON NAMES Burrage, Bugloss, Herb of Gladness, Bee Plant
*Note: Borage was sometimes called Bugloss by the old herbalists, a name that properly belongs to Alkanet. Also, do not confuse this name of Bee Plant with Bee Balm, or the proper Monarda
PARTS USED Leaves and flowers.
Fresh Borage flowers and leaves have been added to wines and salads since ancient times, and several classical resources make reference to the flowers as a source of excellent honey. The Victorian era saw women including the herb in salads and drinks as a "mood lifter" as it was known for raising the spirits; and the flowers were often candied and made into a conserve for those persons weakened by long illnesses or ladies prone to swooning.
Probably the most well known historic use of Borage, however, is its association with the virtues of courage and bravery. It is written that from as early as the ancient Celtic warriors and notably throughout the Roman soldiering class, those preparing for battle would drink Borage wine to give them courage. The Welsh call Borage llanwenlys meaning "herb of gladness", and some sources claim that the name is derived from barrach, a Celtic word meaning "a man of courage".
According to Dioscorides and Pliny, Borage was the famous Nepenthe of Homer, which when drunk steeped in wine, brought absolute forgetfulness.
Folklore has it that Borage was occasionally snuck into the drink of prospective husbands whose bride's to be felt they needed a boost of courage to come forth with the marriage proposal!
Cautions: Borage is one of many plants containing Pyrrolizidine Alkaloid, once termed a Senecio alkaloid. Some of the pyrrolizidine group have been shown to cause several types of liver degeneration and blood vessel disorders with constant use. Not all PAs are toxic; but those that are can be dangerous to the liver. Still, the majority of Herbalists and Homeopathic practitioners maintain that Borage is safe to eat. If you are wildcrafting Borage, however, be very careful not to misidentify the herb, as it could be confused with more toxic members of the same plant family.
Constituents: Potassium and calcium, mineral acids, mucilage, tannin, pyrrolizioline alkaloids.
The early medicinal use of Borage was naturally as an antidepressant; but it was also widely used as a diuretic, a demulcent, and emollient. Modern evidence shows that the tannin in Borage does make it slightly astringent, while the mucilage acts as a mild expectorant. The acids and nitrates add to the diuretic effects. Older herbalists were right on target, and thus herbalists maintain these uses today.
Thus Borage can be used:
to reduce fever
as a gargle to relieve ulcers of the mouth
for bronchitis, cold or flu
promotes kidney activity
As a decoction (cold method of infusion) to relieve eye inflammation
The seeds have been found to contain an oil rich in linolenic acid, which has a similar effect to evening primrose oil - very helpful in the preventative treatment of menstrual cramps. To achieve results for such use, however, one must take it prior to the occurrence for a couple of weeks, it will not be effective as an "immediate" relief once pain or cramping has occurred.
Traditional belief held that Borage leaves and seeds could increase the supply of Mother's milk.
For internal use, an infusion is made of 1 oz of leaves to 1 pint of boiling water, taken in ½ cup doses. Externally, the leaves may be employed as a poultice for inflammatory swellings.
GARDENING WITH BORAGE
Borage is an annual plant, although it may as well be perennial! If left alone, Borage will seed itself freely and comes up year after year in the same place. Seeds may also be sown in the autumn. I recommend sowing both Spring and Fall for more continuous Summer bloom. The plant itself prefers moist soil but will grow quite well in ordinary soils; and while it prefers full sun, I have mine in clayish soil and a bit of shade and it grows just fine!
Borage will reach about 1-3 feet in height on broad stalks that sometimes requiring staking. The entire plant is rather rough looking, with stiff bristly hairs on the stalk and lower leaves, an interesting contrast with the fairly delicate nature of the flower. The plant has about an 8-12' spread (of course, soil will determine this as well). It grows best from seed or cutting and does not transplant well. Flowers are bright blue, five-petaled and star-shaped; and the leaves are oval and bristly and have kind of a cucumber smell (and taste!).
Borage carries its virtues of strength into the garden and makes a wonderful companion plant, strengthening the resistance to insects and diseases of any plants near it. It is an especially good companion for strawberries. The flowers also attract bees, making it a wonderful companion to vegetables that require cross-pollination to bear fruit. From personal experience, I can recommend it for a companion near tomatoes!
HARVEST: Gather the leaves when the plant is just coming into flower, after the dew has dried. Note that generally the fresh herb is used only, not the dried.
Note: When burned, Borage can emit sparks and popping sounds due to the nitrate in its compounds. I recommend the root, dried and powdered, rather than the leaves for incense purposes.
As is so often the case, we can look to folklore and history to find and maintain the modern virtues of this particular herb. Borage is primarily used to raise one's spirits even in the darkest of circumstances, as well as for protection and courage. Borage can improve one's outlook, expand perspective, and provide strength of character as well as of the physical body. I highly recommend using Borage in the ritual bath (float a few of the flowers), chalice or as an incense in meditations, especially where affirmations will be used.
Borage is still undervalued by the standards of many herbalists today and truly deserves more testing to investigate the full range of its beneficial properties. Yet, based on the information we do have, it's enough to know that Borage is a bonus to the herbal medicine chest, a tasty treat at the dinner table, and a beautiful addition to the garden. Now you can have the courage to add Borage to your list of "must have" herbs!