A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
The herb known as the borage is a common plant found growing in the wild areas of most European and Mediterranean countries, where the climate suits the herb. While borage does not grow native in North America, herbalist are very familiar with the plant and the herb borage is cultivated now in some places in the North American continent. The herb is difficult to grow in cultivated gardens and nurseries, strangely though, this herb is found to grow well as a weed in unlikely places such as junkyards and other waste spaces, cultivating the plant in ideal herbal nurseries is hard - the herb is well known for many healing properties and is used in a variety of remedies by traditional herbalists around the world.
The herb is characterized by the presence of numerous white, very stiff, and prickly hairs which covering both the leaves and the stems of the entire plant - for this reason, gloves are always required to avoid the stings of these outgrowths from the plant. During the summer months the plant gives off star shaped flowers which are blue or purplish in coloration, the plant itself reaches only about two feet in length.
The main uses and the reputation of the borage since the earliest and the most ancient times has been its property of driving off melancholia and inducing gladness or courage in a person. Some herbalist also venture that the name of the herb might be a derivation from or the corruption of the word corago-courage, or translated as "I bring courage", thus this property of inducing confidence in a person has been associated with this herb since very early times. The word borage on the one hand may still be a derivation of yet word from the Latin language, this word is “burra” translated into "a flock of wool", which may be the association of wool to the hairy leaves and stems borne by the herb. However, still other possible origins of the name are also given by some other plant historians, who say that borage may in fact be a derivation of the Celtic word barrach which can be translated into "a man of courage". Borage was called the "herb of gladness" by the Welsh. Pliny the Roman historian, informs us that, the ancient Romans made use of the borage flowers to produce an elixir, which they used to lighten the spirits and raise confidence, this use of the plant to beat back depression was also common during the Elizabethan age in England, when melancholy was typically treated using a herbal concoction made from the borage.
As pollinating bees seem to love to hover and collect around the flowers of the borage, it has also been nicknamed the “bee's bread” probably because of its nectar rich flowers, the borage is a very hardy annual plant as plants go and can thrive under adverse conditions. The characteristic hairs that cover the whole plant give the herb a silvery look, however, the actual color of the stems and the leaves of the borage are a dark blue-green, the silvery look is given to the plant by the presence of the prickly white hairs on the surfaces of the herb. Leaves are about three inches in length and grow alternately, they also have a wrinkled appearance about them, and the stems of the borage on the other hand are hollow and succulent and covered all over with the hairs. The star like flowers of the borage are a very beautiful blue color, the flowers also have black anthers which mark them off distinctly. The borage usually reaches about one to two feet in height, it is a beautiful plant and pleasing to the eye. The borage has a wonderful rounded shape as all of its branches spread out to a width of about three feet. It is believed that the borage acts as a repellent against insects, and as a herb it often grows alongside plants like the strawberries, it looks very nice when planted among other plants and herbs in the garden, marked by its distinct beautiful flowers, it is believed that the insects are discouraged from attacking plants near the borage because of chemicals in the borage which act as insect repellents.
The native origin of the borage is believed to be in areas lying in the present northwestern parts of Syria, however, the plant now grows wild and is cultivated as well in many different areas of Europe and the United States, the plant grows in the wild as well as in cultivated gardens in these places. The plant is cultivated using seeds borage usually when any danger of frost during the year has long disappeared. The borage does not need extensive care following the introduction of the first plant as the primary populations of the plant will self propagate around the area in which they are planted, and soon the many new plants that appear around the primary center can be transplanted to other places or thinned for maximum utilization of space. The young borage must be handled carefully; especially when it is being transplanted from one place to another - young plants are very delicate and easily die from physical shock. Once a plant has been established in an area, the single plant itself will spread over an area of four square feet around itself by self propagation, for this reason, plenty of room must be given to any new borage plants which are being transplanted to a new place. Borage flourished and grows well in new places to which it is transplanted, even in well tended gardens as long as the new place possesses sufficient undisturbed soil around its roots, and if the transplantation is done with care and if with minimum physical handling - the plant is very hardy once it has established itself in one place within the garden or in the wild. The best type of soils for the cultivation and growth of the borage are loose and well-aerated soils, which are preferably moist and fairly rich in humus and minerals, this is not to say that the plant does not grow at all in deficient soils. When cultivation of the borage is being carried out in the garden, it is important to add some composted manure to the soil for maximum growth of the plant. The best and ideal moist environments for the borage plant can be gained by carefully mulching the soil bed when the borage plants are young plants and only a few weeks old, such soils will ensure the young plants have a very successful growth rate and expand in all directions once established and rooted.
Throughout the growth season of the borage, harvesting of the fresh leaves and flowers can be done following careful selection, to provide for all kinds of herbal use. The leaves intended for herbal medical use must be harvested before the flowering of the plant, following this the gathered leaves must be dried carefully away from excessive heat, these leaves must not be expose to too much heat while drying as that can destroy the beneficial properties in the herb, once the drying process is over, the leaves can then be stored for future use in herbal medicine. The reason for the avoidance of excess heat is that the borage leaves may be easily discolored by heating and this will make them the viable healing powers of the herb disappear, for this reason drying of the borage leaves is usually done in warm places that have good air circulation without being moist or hot. Drying of the flowers is also carried out similarly, and the borage flowers are usually harvested when they are in full bloom.
Borage was also used popularly as a salad herb and vegetable by many Europeans during the Middle Ages and the succeeding centuries. Culinary use of the borage is made nowadays as well, the refreshing flavor of the salad made from young borage leaves and flowers are attested by many well known chefs and culinary experts. Borage is used in other culinary items as well, for example, the leaves of the borage are made into an herbal infusion which is served cold in the form of a beverage or herbal tea, and this is often decorated using the gorgeous and sky blue flowers of the borage. As a garnish and decoration, the flowers of the borage are used on special desserts and confections after they are candied or caramelized. Culinary experts and people familiar with the borage attribute a cucumber like taste to the borage.
Aerial parts, flowers, seed oil.
Respiratory disorders of all kinds can be alleviated using herbal remedies made from the borage, this is because of the high content of plant mucilage, and due to this the borage acts as a demulcent. Inflammation in the skin and sores on the skin can be alleviated and treated as the borage also possesses useful herbal properties as an emollient, the borage is often prepared as freshly squeezed herbal juice, and it is also used in the form of a topical herbal poultice and in infusion form for easy ingestion by the patient. Borage leaves are known to have a diuretic property, at the same time, perspiration in the body is encouraged by the borage flowers - these excellent qualities possessed by the herb are utilized in a variety of herbal medications. Borage as a herb is also used for other purposes, notably for the preparation of seed oil, compared to seed oils of other herbs like the evening primrose, the seed oil of the borage is very rich in polyunsaturated fats and is superior to many other herb derived oils. Topical as well as internal problems are treated using the seed oil of the borage, disorders such as all kinds of premenstrual complaints, different types of rheumatic problems and problems such as eczema are treated using the seed oil of the borage.
Fevers can be alleviated using the borage based herbal remedies and herbal medicine makes extensive use of the borage in this respect as it possesses a calming and cooling effect on the body, which can rapidly decrease elevated body temperatures. Convalescing and recovering patients in many parts of Europe, have been traditionally treated using the herbal borage tea, this is drunk as a strengthening tonic for patients to regain their strength and boost their chances of recovery from disease or weakness. Different disorders have also been treated using the borage. It is suggested that individuals suffering from high blood pressure can benefit from taking herbal remedies made from the borage. Borage based herbal remedies are also excellent for the treatment of individuals suffering from nervous disorders such as excessive apprehension or persistent worry including mild to long term depression.
The detoxification of the body can also be accomplished by the herbal remedies made using the borage. In general, borage is a cleansing herb with cooling effects on the whole body, and because of this it may be used for the treatment of any disorder connected to congestion and excessive heat in the body of an individual. Perspiration in the body is also increased by the borage herb and the plant is known to have a very strong and distinct diuretic action in the body, it can accelerate the excretion of toxins in the body, through the pores on the skin and via the urine due to its diuretic property. Different kinds of skin problems, including all kinds of boils and bodily rashes can also be treated using the herbal tea made from the borage, the borage plant is also an excellent remedy for the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism in patients afflicted by these physical disorders, the borage is also excellent as a remedial measure during the onset of various infections and is an excellent herbal agent capable of quickly bringing down a fever affecting a person. Children specific eruptive diseases and disorders can also be treated using the herbal remedies made from the borage, these can be diseases such as measles and chickenpox, the remedy made from the borage is also used in the treatment of feverish colds, different coughs and the common flu in children. The respiratory system benefits from remedies of the borage, as the herb has a decongestant and expectorant property, it is therefore used in the effective treatment of conditions such as catarrh, it is used extensively in the treatment of sore throats and for the treatment of all types of infections in the chest region of the body. Irritations in the throat and the chest can be soothed and alleviated by the abundant mucilage present in the borage, this high mucilage content also enables the soothing of sores on the skin of affected patients. The borage also performs similar and very effective alleviating actions in the digestive system as well as the urinary system, for this reason, remedies based on the borage are very useful for the treatment of disorders such as persistent gastritis and problems such as the irritable bowel syndrome affecting patients. Milk production in nursing mothers is said to be promoted by consuming the leaves and seeds of the borage.
As an herbal heart tonic, the borage has a long and ancient reputation and was and is still used by many herbalists in this role. The herbal remedies made from the borage are said to be capable of soothing and reducing palpitations in the cardiac muscles and are attributed with a property of revitalizing the entire system in persons under convalescence, at the same time, the borage based herbal remedies are also used in the treatment of physical and emotional exhaustion in different individuals. As has already been mentioned, the herb is attributed with endowing courage and confidence in a person, the relaxing and soothing effect of the borage helps in quick relief from grief and sadness, for this reason it is used in the treatment of long term depression affecting many people. The adrenal glands are also said to be stimulated by the borage, and the herbal remedy is valued as it is said to effectively counter the effects of steroids and other substances in the body, it is believed to encourage the adrenal production of steroid hormones and is used as a helpful herb when weaning a person off steroid therapy - it thus has a natural hormonal stimulatory role in the body of the affected person. During the period of menopause in women, estrogen production is taken over by the adrenal glands and the borage is very effective and useful in the stimulation of this gland at this crucial juncture. The same properties possessed by the leaves are also induced by the gamma linoleic acid rich borage seeds.
Other medical uses
Many culinary preparations can be made from different parts of the borage, you can spice up your favorite salad by adding the finely chopped flowers and fresh young leaves of the borage. The freshly plucked leaves and flowers of the borage can be steamed in a way similar to how spinach or Swiss chard is steamed.
Floral arrangements can be made more pleasing by including the pretty flowers of the borage.
Habitat and cultivation
Borage is considered quite a common plant in many areas of the Mediterranean, it is seen as a wild and hardy weed in these areas of the world. Extensive cultivation of the borage is mainly done for its seed oil and the plant.
Heavy and poorly drained soiled is not suitable to cultivation of the borage, even though by and large the herb can be said to be very tolerant of many different soil types, it is also remarkably adaptable and can grow in different climates though originally from a native sunny region. The borage has a pH tolerance range between 4.3 to about 8.5; this is quite an exceptionally wide range of tolerance for any plant. Ideally though, the best growth conditions for the plant are a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0, this pH range is usually recommended by most gardeners. The borage can grow in partially shaded areas, however, the best growths are observed in areas that have good sunlight all throughout the day. Dry and arid conditions can be resisted successfully by the borage, which will thrive even under such adverse weather; however, soils containing some moisture are ideal for good growth of the herb. Cool climates are preferred by the borage and the hardiness of the plant is such that it is remarkably resilient against frost and cold. When cultivating borage in the garden, the seeds can be planted directly in the areas where you want the plants to grow, this is because transplantation of the borage is not very easy to carry out successfully. The seeds of the borage must not be planted to depths exceeding more than 6 mm or ¼ of an inch deep, this is because borage seeds need a lot of air to germinate successfully. It takes about 5 to 8 days for the first seedlings to germinate and come out of the soil. Young plants must be tended well, and the soil where they are growing must be kept moist at all times. When planting is done, all the plants in an area must be spaced at intervals of about 30 to 50 cm or 12 to 20 inches from one another to ensure sufficient space for each plant. A row of new seeds can be sowed in the soil every few weeks, so as to ensure that there is a permanent or constant supply of fresh young leaves to be plucked for various uses. When the borage plant has successfully established itself in the garden, it tends to self propagate in the immediate area and the result is a profusion of new borage plants in and around the original parent plant. As and when necessary, all the new seedlings in an area must be thinned out for space. The borage plant when cultivated in gardens is quite vulnerable to many insect pests including the painted lady butterfly, the tarnished plant bug, and the wooly bear caterpillar as well as the flea beetle, it is also vulnerable to fungal and bacterial infections such as crown rot which may affect the stems and the leaf spot which may affect the leaves of the plant.
Growing in containers
Data on the specific doses requirement for the seed oil of the borage does not exist. The borage seed oil has been used during various human studies on test subjects at the daily equivalent adult dose of 330 - 5230 mg of linolenic acid, at a dosage rate of three 500 mg borage seed oil capsules per day or up to twenty-four one gm borage seed oil capsules every day. The adult dosage requirement for the herbal infusion form of the borage is different; this is about 10 ml of the dried herb steeped in 250 ml of boiling water, taken thrice every day of the dosage period.
Side effects and cautions
Large amounts of the borage must not be consumed as the herb is known to contain traces of a toxic chemical harmful to health, taken in moderation, the borage is quite harmless and is an effective herbal remedy fro the treatment of many types of disorders and diseases. Large quantities of the borage must not be consumed by certain people, these includes women who are under a term of pregnancy or mothers who are nursing, individuals suffering from epilepsy and those suffering from schizophrenia must also avoid consuming the borage based herbal remedies. In addition, touching the hairs on the leaves and the stems of the plant causes certain individuals to suffer from bouts of dermatitis - such people should preferably avoid using the herbal remedies made from the borage.
Collection and harvesting
The new leaves of the borage can be plucked fresh and harvested young during the entire length of the growing season. It is best to pluck leaves only in the period immediately before use; this is because the leaves that are harvested tend to wilt very quickly once they are plucked. Midmorning is the best time to pick the flowers, these can be taken off either as single flowers or in entire clusters of flowers, the reason for this is that at this time the flowers tend to be fully open and are dry. Due to the tendency of dry leaves to lose all flavor and color, the borage herb is not considered good for drying and long term storage. Though difficult to grow indoors, if you succeed then the leaves can be harvested on a regular basis just like spinach in the garden, the young leaves are preferable at all times.
Tomato salad with borage
Peel the tomatoes and cut into wedges. Mince the pepper and onion. Wash, drain, dry the lettuce, and chill everything.
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