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Borage, Borago officinalis

The annual herb, Borage, better known as Starflower, originated in Syria, but has been naturalized throughout the Mediterranean region, in addition to Asia Minor, Europe, North Africa and South America.

The plant grows to heights of about 2 to 3 feet with bristly stems and leaves. The leaves themselves are alternately arranged and simple, and measure between 2 and 6 inches long. Five narrow, triangular-pointed petals make up the individual flowers. However, many of these flowers bloom together in clusters to make up a larger display. Typically, the flowers are bluish in color, although sometimes they can be pink. Cultivated flowers are sometimes white. It has an unpredictable growth habit which promotes highly productive spreading. The starflower has been known to bloom continuously in climates of mild temperature.

Today, the plant is commercially cultivated primarily for its oilseed, but in the past was grown for culinary and medicinal purposes. The starflower is the highest known plant-based source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), the oil produced from the seed. In addition to GLA, the seed oil also contains significant amounts of fatty acids, stearic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, eicosenoic acid, erucic acid, and nervonic acid. When marketing the oil, it is often referred to as “starflower oil” or “borage oil” to be used as a GLA supplement. Healthy adults, however, generally produce sufficient amount of GLA through dietary linoleic acid.

Borage production is also grown for use as a fresh vegetable or a dried herb. Similar to the flavor of cucumber, it is often added to salads or used as garnish. The flower taste like sweet honey and is one of the few truly blue-colored edible things, which make it a favorite dessert decoration. It is notable to make mention that the leaves contain miniscule amounts of the liver-toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids: intermedine, lycopsamine, amabiline and supinine.

In Germany and the Spanish regions of Aragón and Navarra, borage is a popularly used vegetable. A famous borage recipe is the Green Sauce made in Frankfurt, but it is often used in soup recipes. The popular Pimms cocktail originally used the leaves and flowers of the Borage until it was replaced by mint. In Poland, it is used to flavor pickled gherkins.

Borage is utilized by naturopathic doctors to regulate metabolism and the hormonal system. Some believe it is an effective remedy for PMS and menopausal symptoms like the hot flash. Its anti-inflammatory and balsamic properties help to alleviate colds, bronchitis, and most all respiratory infections. The flowers are often infused in tea as another form to intake its medicinal advantages. The oleic and palmitic acid of Borage may also help to reduce cholesterol.

Iranians traditionally make tea from the dried flowers for a soothing drink. By adding a few drops of lemon juice to the rich purple brew, it turns bright pink.

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Borage Borago officinalis


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