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Hello floral friends!

Today we will be honing our collective focus in on a beautiful herb that goes by two names relatively equally- Borage, or Starflower. This pretty plant is native to the Mediterranean and North African regions, but has become naturalized all over Europe and the UK due to its hardiness and self-seeding ability. Borage has a rich history of use and purpose in Medieval herbalism, with folkloric medical treatments abounding for nearly every ailment known at the time. While they were right about the leaves of this plant being edible, modern science has confirmed that the most medicinally-potent properties of the herb are found in the seed, specifically the 25% oil content found within them. Borage oil has a very high concentration of omega-6 fatty acid content, which can be used to treat inflammation and improve skin conditions dramatically when taken internally or applied externally. Continue reading below to learn more about this skin-soothing herb!

Borage’s Traditional Uses

Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences has an excellent website page on the Medieval garden, and the medicinal purposes for different plants during that era. Borage, or Starflower, is profiled there– below is an excerpt of a Medieval description of the herb that I wanted to share with you!

“The leaves boyled among other pot herbs do much prevaile in making the belly soluble, they being boyled in honied water be also good against the roughnesse of the throat, and hoarsenesse, as Galen teacheth. Those of our time do use the flowers in sallads to exhilerate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the minde. The leaves and floures of Borage put into wine make men and women glad and merry and drive away all sadnesse, dulnesse and melancholy, as Dioscorides and Pliny affirme. Syrrup made with the floures of Borage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy, and quieteth the phrenticke or lunaticke person.” (John Gerard’s Herball)

“Let whoever’s eyes are cloudy break borage into pieces, smear this on a piece of red silk cloth, and put this on his or her eyes at night.  Do this often; the cloudiness of the eye will flee. It is not harmful if some of the ointment touches the inside of the eyes.  If the piece of silk be green or white, let the person put borage juice on it and then smear it ion felt.  Place this around the entire neck, over the back of the head and right up to the ears, but not over the ears.  Do this often and the ringing of the ears will stop.”

Additionally, both Pliny the Elder and Discorides believed that Homer’s Nepenthe was actually borage, as it caused distinct memory loss amongst those who drank it mixed with wine. Francis Bacon as well as John Gerard thought that borage had the ability to strengthen the heart and spirit- Bacon said it had “an excellent spirit to repress the fuliginous vapour of dusky melancholie”, and Gerard in his Herball cited the old adage, “Ego Borago, Gaudia semper ago” or “I, Borage, bring always courage”. Astrologically speaking, borage was associated with Jupiter.

Identifying Borage

Borage, or Borago officinalis, stands at 2-3 feet tall, and, though native to the Mediterranean and North African regions, can be found in temperate climates throughout the globe now. The stems and leaves are covered in fine bristles, the leaves placed alternately along the stem. The flowers bloom June through September, range from cornflower blue to a purple-pink in color, and have five pointed petals that give the plant the name of Starflower. The leaves of the plant are cucumber-like in taste, while the petals themselves have a sweeter, honeyed flavor.

Healing Attributes of Borage

Borage’s key actions are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and emollient, and its medicinal properties are housed in the oil from the plant’s seeds. Borage is best taken in the form of the oil itself or as a capsule, and always following the manufacturer’s dosage instructions. With its high concentration of omega-8 fatty acids present in the seed’s oil, borage can best be used as a long term treatment over the course of several months to relieve skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or generally dry, flaky skin. The oil itself can be applied locally, or taken internally in capsule form to accomplish this. The oil capsule, if being ingested, is best take with a meal as it can be harsh on the stomach if taken otherwise. If you, or someone who is considering taking borage, are on medication for epilepsy, consult your herbal or medical practitioner before doing so.

Thank you once again for joining me in learning more about our skin’s soothsayer, borage! I hope this article was helpful to you, and you’ll consider adding starflower to your home apothecary! Please share what you thought about this article, or any experience you might have with this herb, in the comments below.

Until next time, floral friends!

Love and lemon thyme,

Katharine