The Borage, scientific name Borago officinalis, is an annual herbaceous plant belonging to the botanical family Boraginaceae. It is a wild plant found throughout the Italian territory. It has been used in cuisine for a long time, as it’s suitable for preparing numerous dishes from popular tradition and its cold-pressed seeds yield a highly renowned oil. Moreover, it has many useful properties in the medicinal field, just like many other flowers and plants we’ve seen before (for example, dandelion, St. John’s wort, mallow, lemon balm, turmeric or sage).
Let’s now get to know this plant better, its botanical characteristics, and its properties. But most importantly, let’s see the peculiarities of its oil, which is highly valued and considered a precious plant-based supplement. In recent years, it has been widely prescribed to naturally support the treatment of various health conditions.
Origins and Distribution of the Borage Plant
Borage is native to the East, but it is currently widespread in Europe and Central America. In Italy, it is found in all regions, at altitudes not exceeding 1,000 meters above sea level.
The origin of the name “borage” is somewhat uncertain. Some trace it back to the Arabic abu ‘arack = father of sweat, referring to the plant’s sweating properties. Others associate it with the word “burra”, derived from borus = shepherd’s cloak, which in the Medieval era referred to a rough woolen fabric with long fibers, alluding to the plant’s fuzziness. Still, others link borage to the Celtic term borrach = courage. As it is a widely used plant in regional cuisine, there are many common names that identify it. From North to South, it is called: borana, boracina, borazna, urrania, depending on the regions. Other names include: “erba pelosa”, “lingua rada”, “burraxi” and “burrane”.
Borage grows wild in preferably calcareous soils. It prefers marginal areas, near ruins, but also uncultivated fields and home gardens. Due to its high commercial value resulting from borage oil production, it’s also cultivated on an industrial scale. It’s a plant that can reach up to a meter in height and has a stem from which numerous branches grow. The stem is both sturdy and soft due to its high mucilage content. Its interior is hollow and covered with dense white fuzz, which can be quite prickly.
The leaves are large and oval-shaped with pointed ends, alternating on the branches and equipped with a long petiole. They are also covered with dense fuzz, have a reticulated appearance, and a gray-green color.
Borage flowers are unmistakable, with a star-shaped form and a typical blue color.
Borage is a honey-producing plant, highly appreciated by beekeepers. The seeds, from which borage oil is extracted through cold-pressing, are very small achenes. Their color is brown, and they are contained within the flowers’ calyx.
We can collect borage leaves between December and February, before flowering occurs. It’s advisable to harvest it just before use and to moderate the harvest to avoid damaging the plant too much, allowing it to flower and produce seeds. The seeds can be used to extract oil and, of course, to grow new plants for the following years. Additionally, during the flowering phase, the flowers can be collected for herbal teas or infusions.
Uses in Cooking
Borage leaves are used in cooked dishes to enrich soups and stews. They can also be the main ingredient in delicious omelets, rustic pizzas, or fritters. Each region has its characteristic dish. For example, in Liguria, it is used in Easter pies or as a filling for Genoese ravioli. In Tuscany, it is one of the ingredients in the famous “zuppa frantoiana”. In the Etna area, it’s used to prepare “paparotta”.
The flowers can be used, for instance, to garnish risottos or salads, or they can be frozen in ice cubes to decorate cocktails.
Warnings and Contraindications
Even in Roman times, borage was used not only to enrich dishes but also for therapeutic purposes. Greeks believed that it was a plant capable of bringing happiness. The Arabs, on the other hand, administered it to soldiers before battles to instill courage in them. The main properties attributed to this plant are emollient, expectorant, sudorific, anti-rheumatic, and purifying. For these purposes, the plant is used in cooking, mainly utilizing the young leaves. It is mainly used for regional dishes, while the flowers are used for decorative purposes. However, an important clarification must be made: the consumption of these parts of the plant must always occur after cooking, such as blanching. This is because, during certain vital stages of the plant, it contains hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids. After cooking, these are naturally eliminated, nullifying the risk of toxicity.
Borage oil is extracted through the cold-pressing of the plant’s seeds. It is a highly valued oil with a light yellow color. It has no particular taste, and its consumption has no contraindications. Its value comes from its composition. It contains, among other things, about 20% γ-linolenic acid (GLA), a polyunsaturated fatty acid of the ω-6 series. It also contains α-linolenic acid of the ω-3 series. The oil, usually sold in the form of pearls or capsules, is an excellent dietary supplement and can be found here. The GLA introduced through borage oil supplementation is transformed by the body into dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid. This is incorporated into triglycerides and is used for the synthesis of prostaglandins and leukotrienes following an inflammatory stimulus. These compounds act as modulators of various biological functions.
The Therapeutic Properties of Borage
There are many uses and therapeutic properties of borage oil. Firstly, this oil has shown therapeutic efficacy in treating rheumatoid arthritis and other arthropathies. Secondly, it has beneficial properties for various skin problems, such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis. In this case, it can be administered both orally and transdermally, i.e., as skin oil.
In children with seborrheic dermatitis, topical application of the oil improved symptoms through rehydration and reduced evaporation. Therefore, γ-linolenic acid contained in borage oil, with its emollient, decongestant, and cell-regulating properties, has positive effects on the general condition of the skin. For example, it’s an excellent supplement for treating acne vulgaris.
Finally, a widespread use of borage oil is for the natural treatment of premenstrual syndrome, a very common female issue. This manifests itself in the days before the start of the menstrual cycle, with symptoms such as breast tenderness, irritability, tendency to depression, bloating, and headaches. It is widely believed that premenstrual syndrome is caused by excessive prolactin production and that prostaglandin E (PGE), produced from polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega-6 series, helps alleviate the effects of hyperprolactinemia. For this reason, it is suggested for treating this syndrome.
- NCBI – Nutrients: “Cancer Prevention and Health Benefices of Traditionally Consumed Borago officinalis Plants” – The article discusses the health benefits and potential cancer prevention properties of traditionally consumed Borago officinalis plants.
- NCBI – Front Vet Sci: “Protective Effects of Borago officinalis on Cold Restraint Stress-Induced Gastric Ulcers in Rats: A Pilot Study” – This pilot study investigates the protective effects of Borago officinalis on cold restraint stress-induced gastric ulcers in rats.
- NCBI – Antioxidants (Basel): “Neuroprotective Profile of Edible Flowers of Borage (Borago officinalis L.) in Two Different Models: Caenorhabditis elegans and Neuro-2a Cells” – The study assesses the neuroprotective properties of edible flowers of borage in two different models.
- NCBI – Foods: “Evaluation of Borage (Borago officinalis L.) Genotypes for Nutraceutical Value Based on Leaves Fatty Acids Composition” – This research evaluates different genotypes of borage for their nutraceutical value based on the fatty acid composition of their leaves.
- NCBI – J Diabetes Res: “Hypoglycemic Activity of Tilia americana, Borago officinalis, Chenopodium nuttalliae, and Piper sanctum on Wistar Rats” – The article delves into the hypoglycemic activities of various plants, including Borago officinalis, and their effects on Wistar rats.
- NCBI – Front Plant Sci: “Climate Change–Induced Stress Reduce Quantity and Alter Composition of Nectar and Pollen From a Bee-Pollinated Species (Borago officinalis, Boraginaceae)” – The research discusses how climate change-induced stress can impact the quantity and composition of nectar and pollen from bee-pollinated species, specifically focusing on Borago officinalis.
- NCBI – J Food Drug Anal: “Chemical compositions of the volatile extracts from seeds of Dendranthema nankingense and Borago officinalis” – This study analyzes the chemical compositions of volatile extracts from the seeds of Dendranthema nankingense and Borago officinalis.
- NCBI – Basic Clin Neurosci: “Protective Effect of Borage Seed Oil and Gamma Linolenic Acid on DNA: In Vivo and In Vitro Studies” – The research investigates the protective effects of borage seed oil and gamma-linolenic acid on DNA, both in vivo and in vitro.
- NCBI – Ecol Evol: “Temperature and water stress affect plant–pollinator interactions in Borago officinalis (Boraginaceae)” – This article explores how temperature and water stress can influence plant-pollinator interactions, with a focus on Borago officinalis.
- NCBI – Antioxidants (Basel): “Extraction of Antioxidants from Borage (Borago officinalis L.) Leaves—Optimization by Response Surface Method and Application in Oil-in-Water Emulsions” – The study delves into the extraction of antioxidants from borage leaves, discussing optimization techniques and potential applications.
- ResearchGate – Suleyman Demirel University: “General overview of importance, cultivation, and uses of borage (Borago officinalis) hodan otu (Borago officinalis) bitkisinin önemi, tanimi ve kullanım alanlari” – This article provides a comprehensive overview of the importance, cultivation, and uses of Borago officinalis.
- ResearchGate – Poznan University of Medical Sciences: “Ocena właściwości kosmetycznych ekstraktów etanolowych z wytłoków oenothera biennis, borago officinalis i nigella sativa (evaluation of cosmetic properties of ethanolic extracts from oenothera biennis, borago officinalis and nigella sativa seedcakes)” – The article evaluates the cosmetic properties of ethanolic extracts derived from seedcakes of Oenothera biennis, Borago officinalis, and Nigella sativa.
- MDPI – Applied Sciences: “Comparative analysis of phytochemicals and antioxidant properties of borage oil (borago officinalis l.) and milk thistle (silybum marianum gaertn)” – This research article conducts a comparative analysis of the phytochemicals present in Borage Oil (Borago officinalis L.) and Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum Gaertn).