Borage or Boragio officinalis, to give it its official Latin name, is believed to have originated in the southern Mediterranean area, and some writers have claimed that it comes from Aleppo. Whatever the case it has been naturalized in many parts of the world and it is believed that there are more than fifty species of this plant.
We know from Dioscorides that was used to make a cooling drink and Pliny tells us that it is a “euphorosinum” which means a plant of euphoria or extreme joy. In Welsh it is called llanwenlys or herb of gladness. It is also supposed to be the Nepenthe of Homer which, when steeped in wine brought about total forgetfulness. Romans would put the flowers and leaves in their wine and this was very popular. It was also used to give a man the courage to propose marriage, as it has long been believed that borage is the herb of courage.
Like lavender, borage has a natural calming effect so could be used in oil form to revive women who succumbed to hysteria in older times. Now it is probably best known as an ingredient for Pimms No1 (gin based) which is a cooling alcoholic summer drink. Borage has a slight cucumber flavour so is excellent to put in summer punches, be they alcoholic or not, as it is a natural coolant.
Goazban (the Urdu name for borage) has been used for centuries in traditional medicine as an expectorant, demulcent, diuretic, cardiac tonic, coolant, laxative, diaphoretic, emollient and febrifuge. It is said to relieve restlessness in fever suffers and stop functional palpitations of the heart, and often prescribed as a diuretic to relieve cystitis and other irritations of the urinary tract. It is also given in cases of bronchial ailments, dry coughs, colds, catarrh and is said to relieve asthma attacks. It is also prescribed for rheumatism, some symptoms of syphilis, probably skin irritations and leprosy.
Omega-6 fatty acids in our diets normally come in the form of linoleic acid (LA). This is converted to GLA (Gamma-Linoleic-Acid) by the body and this can come from borage oil. It has a higher GLA content than Evening Primrose oil which is more commonly used in nutritional supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids convert to DGLA which is effective in fighting inflammation, so borage oil is especially useful. If GLA is taken over time there is growing evidence to support the use of GLA to reduce nerve pain. There is also some medical evidence to show that this can also help in cases of breast cancer. GLA reduces stress and borage seed oil can be used to treat skin problems such as eczema and dermatitis successfully.
Leucotrienes are produced from the GLA found in borage oil, and these hormone-like substances can help reduce cholesterol levels, cause dilation of the blood vessels (necessary for the male reproductive system to work efficiently) as well as reducing inflammation in the joints.
In cookery the leaves can be eaten raw in a salad and the leaves are tasty steamed or sautéed in the same way as you sauté spinach. The stems can be steamed too with the leaves or sautéed or substituted for celery. The leaves and stems go well with poultry, fish, cheese and vegetable dishes and the flowers can be put in salads or used as a garnish. They can also be candied and used to decorate cakes. As a herb, borage goes well with dill, mint and garlic. If the leaves are added to pea or bean soup they give the finished soup a different flavour, and as they have traditionally been used as a pot herb you can boil potatoes etc with them. The leaves and flowers are good added to red wine especially if it isn’t a very good one - they make it more palatable. You can make hot or cold tisanes with the leaves, typically 1 oz of fresh leaves to a pint of boiling water and leave to steep for 15 minutes before straining. Add sugar and lemon juice to taste. However don’t drink too much as borage has a laxative effect.
If you dry the borage flowers, they can be added to pot pourris too. The borage plant is very versatile.
CUCUMBERS WITH BORAGE
3 large cucumbers
½ pint soured cream
(or single cream with a tsp of lemon juice added and stirred into it)
2 tbsps red wine vinegar
½ tsp crushed coriander seeds
½ bunch spring onions, finely chopped
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup fresh young borage leaves
salt and pepper to taste
Salt the cucumbers and leave to drain upside down for half and hour. You should remove the seeds too.
Mix the other ingredients together.
Rinse the salt from the cucumbers and pat dry with absorbent paper. Thinly slice them.
Mix the cucumbers into the other ingredients, garnish with borage flowers and chill for an hour before serving.
This has Taste and is a Treat.