Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain

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Borage, the Starflower, Brings Always Courage

What a busy week! I have been enjoying my new freedom now that my marathon migraine from December has been banished. Now though things are settling back into routine, but it has been a great reminder that keeping your spirits up while you are hurting is so very important. So the bringer of courage, borage is the natural herb to discuss.

Borage, or Borago officinalis, probably not a plant most people in the States are familiar with, but very common, in Europe, Middle East and in the UK. This plant originally comes from the Mediterranean area, and the generally blue star shaped flowers is where it gets it’s common name of starflower. Other names are: bee bread, ox’s tongue, Herb of Gladness, and cool tankard (from its cooling effect in drinks in the days before ice beverages were common). Traditionally borage leaf is eaten in Mediterranean areas, it adds an almost cucumber like flavor to soups, sauces, salads, even as pasta filling. The infamous Pimms cocktail was originally garnished with borage flowers, but has in modern times been replaced by mint. Borage flowers are one of the few truly edible blue flowers, and has a sweet, almost a cucumbery, honey taste. They are quite delicious candied and added to desserts.

picture by Jengod

The ever so lovely starflower

Pliny the Elder wrote of borage that it dispels melancholy, there is a long tradition that borage helps to “gladden the heart” or help to generally improve the mood by relieving anxiety or tension. It for that reason is recommended by Culpeper for chronic illness sufferers, since this can wear on emotions. Gerard wrote:

“Pliny calls it Euphrosinum, because it maketh a man merry and joyfull: which thing also the old verse concerning Borage doth testifie:
Ego Borago – (I, Borage)
Gaudia semper ago. – (Bring alwaies courage.)”

This sturdying effect for emotions is possibly where it gets its name from, its thought from the Latin Borago, a corruption of corago. From cor for ‘the heart”, and ago “I bring.” Its fortifying effects made it a tea that was taken by Greek soldiers prior to battle to help give them courage. Another etymological origin is it could be derived from the Celtic word borrach which means  a brave or courageous person. Dioscorides and Pliny both speculate that borage is the famous Nepenthe mentioned by Homer, that when drunk in wine becomes “that which chases away sorrow,” making it the herb of forgetfulness. The addition of borage to wine was used up until the Middle Ages, where the flowers and leaves were added to wines to help dispel sadness. The leaves of borage are traditionally used in the Middle East to treat chest colds and ailments, and it is thought that borage tea can help more oxygen to reach the heart.

Borage is an anti-inflammatory which will help to reduce pain and even in some cases to reduce any man made steroids that have been prescribed. This is also a great herb for post surgery inflammation, and to help with inflammation from allergies. The reason it works well as an anti-inflammatory is borage has high levels, in fact one of the highest plant sources available, of GLA. GLA is Gamma-Linolenic acid and is processed by the body into different things, but most importantly prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are part of the body’s immune system and helps to fight inflammation. Most plants that carry large amounts of GLA are usually used by the natives for treating swelling issues. Native Americans used evening primroses, another plant source of GLA, to treat swelling traditionally. This is a fairly gentle herb, but it can cause toxicity issues if taken over an extended period of time, it should not be taken for longer than a month. The fresh leaves are preferred for most preparations, but dried works in a pinch. Young leaves are best for eating fresh like in salads, yogurt, sandwiches, or for cold beverages and teas. The older leaves can be cooked, like in Spain where it is commonly with potatoes. We have previously discussed how very important it is to keep your spirits up when dealing with chronic pain issues, and this is another great herb to add to your de-stress arsenal. Plus it is a two for one herb, got to love efficiency!

Simple Borage Tea

  • 1 tablespoon of bruised young leaves
  • 8 oz Boiling water

If you are unable to get fresh, 1 teaspoon of dried leaves will work just as well. Steep for 5-10 minutes, in a covered teacup or increase for steeping in a teapot. This is a fantastic tea to relieve inflammation, or just boost your spirits during a tough time, and to help reduce anxiety or fatigue from over work.

Since this is such a good pairing with cooling drinks, during a hot summers day the mix of lemon and the slight hint of cucumber borage brings is a great way to cool down.

Borage Lemonade

  • 1/4 c fresh squeezed Lemon juice
  • a tablespoon of honey (more or less can be used depending on how sweet you like things)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 3-4 young borage leaves

For the lemon juice, quality and freshness is key, take the time to squeeze your lemons fresh you will notice the difference. Put all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth. Strain and serve cold, borage flowers can be used as a garnish if you feel fancy. This recipe can also be increased for large numbers of people, and is a refreshing way to cool off on a hot afternoon. Not to mention it will help relieve any stress you are feeling.

Borage Cocktail

  • 3-5 young Borage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of Simple Syrup (or less depending on how sweet you like things)
  • a shot of Gin (vodka or white rum works fine too)
  • Tonic, Club Soda, or Sparkling water
  • Lemon wedges

Muddle leaves in a highball glass and fill with ice, add shot of gin and the simple syrup. Fill glass the rest of the way with the fizzy water and add the lemon wedge. This is just about the most restorative drink you can have after a rough week.

ProTip: If you feel very fancy you can fill an ice cube tray halfway with water, freeze, and place borage flowers on them and cover with water the rest of the way. Freeze and serve in Borage Lemonade or in a Borage Cocktail.

And since wine was always a common vehicle for borage I have found this recipe floating around (claimed by a few different authors), but have not tried it myself, but did make a few changes because pink champagne is disgusting in my personal opinion. If you do try this let me know what you think!

Borage Wine Cup (Punch)

  • 5/8 cup Brandy
  • 1/8 cup Sugar
  • 3 1/4 cup Dry White Wine
  • 5/8 cup Orange Juice
  • 1 cup Crushed ice
  • 3 1/4 cup Champagne (or Sparkling Wine)
  • 1 cup Lemonade
  • 1 cup Ginger Ale
  • 1/4 cup Borage leaves, chopped
  • Borage flowers for garnish or flower ice cubes, orange slices

Combine brandy, sugar, wine, orange juice and crushed ice. Keep chilled until right before serving, this can be made in advance and whole orange slices can be added. Just before serving combine chilled champagne, lemonade, ginger ale (home made is best for this), borage leaves and add to existing punch. Serve chilled with borage flowers, or with borage flower ice cubes.

You can like mentioned previously just throw a few young leaves on your sandwich, or in a glass of water you would like to jazz up a bit. Dicing 3-4 leaves goes great in yogurt, and you can even throw them into your smoothies if you are looking for an on the go fix.

Now besides the leaves and flowers, the seeds of borage are used as well to make borage seed oil. Now there is some controversy around borage seed oil, since there was some marketing for it to treat eczema, for which there does not seem to be any evidence of it treating and this bad PR has followed poor borage ever since. Borage seed oil is a great way to keep borage around in a form that is more functional and retains more medicinal properties than the dried herb. Borage seed oil is in some ways a more condensed version of the plant itself. The oil has very high concentrations of the important GLA but it also has another important fatty acid, nervonic. This is a fatty acid that is used by the body to create the coating around nerve cell’s axons called myelin. Myelin is basically like the coating around a wire, it helps to prevent “signal loss” and allows nerve cells to function properly when sending nerve signals. Now in some nerve disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, this myelin layer can break down, or even disappear completely. CRPS has many symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis, and is a nerve issue, so it is possible that borage could be beneficial for CRPS symptoms. So far I have had good results, and I find that my nerve pain overall is more manageable when I use it, but time will tell though if this can be called an herb to assist with CRPS.

The one issue I have run into to borage seed oil is it is usually sold in pre-made preparations, it is important to do your research on a brand for yourself. Make sure you know that you are buying a pure product, as additives can cause unwanted side-effects. I would suggest using this as topically only, while there has been evidence shown that the seed oil does not contain high levels of the alkaloids that can cause liver toxicity, it is always better to be safe than sorry. A lot of local herb stores will carry borage seed oils, and your grocery or health stores will carry them as well. I tend to purchase mine from these locations and have had good results so far with it. Again, I have only used this topically, if you are sure you want to try this internally, I would suggest consulting your doctor, or herbal professional, before starting a regimen.

With any herbal remedy, you need to use caution. Borage has some components that if taken continuously over an extended period of time can cause health issues. It does have Pyrrolizidine alkaloid, in the fresh plant, which can start to become toxic after prolonged use, and some of the hairs on the leaves can be irritating to those with sensitive skin. Do your own research and see if this might be a good herb for you, always check WebMD for any reactions. And if ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional! 

For some more interesting borage recipes go here.