By Audrey Stallsmith
I, Borage, bring always courage.
The Crusaders quaffed borage in their stirrup cups before riding off to battle. "Blue borage filled the clinking cups" as in Stephen Vincent Benet's poem, "The Drug-Shop." And "claret cup" once meant a drink made with clarified wine, brandy, lemon, and borage. Some believe the Latin name of the herb to be a corruption of corago from cor ("heart") and ago ("I bring").
Others think borage derived from the Latin burra ("flock of wool"), in reference to the plant's fuzzy leaves. The herb has, in fact, also been known as burrage.
Its sky-blue, star-shaped flowers with their cone-like eyes showed up in the embroidery of the knight's ladies as well. Bees love those blooms and they make an excellent honey. They also add color to salads and potpourris. Frozen inside of ice cubes, they make an unusual garnish for summer drinks. Borage tea, with its refreshing cucumber-y taste, can be added to lemonades as well.
The plant's leaves are served raw in salads, cooked like spinach, or added to soups. Their fuzziness, however, may make them feel a little peculiar on the tongue!
Borage is very easy to grow, preferring light soil in sun or partial shade. I only ever had to plant it once. Although an annual, it self-seeds so freely that it might as well be perennial.
Pliny called the plant euphrosynum, because it supposedly produced euphoria in those consuming it. Gerard wrote, "Those of our time do use the flowers in sallads to exhilerate and make the mind glad." Borage's chemicals are thought to act upon the adrenal glands, imparting cheerfulness as well as bravery. Not surprisingly, it stands for "courage" in the Language of Flowers.
Borage oil--made from the plant's seeds--has also become popular as a source of GLA, gamma-linolenic acid. According to Dr. Andrew Weil's web site, that acid is "frequently suggested for skin conditions (including brittle nails and hair), arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and premenstrual syndrome."
Borage tea will cleanse the blood and break a fever. The herb is beneficial to the kidneys and, as a poultice, for swellings. But its most splendid effect is probably still on the psyche.
Borage's blooms were listed among the so-called "cordial" flowers, which were guaranteed to "cheer the heart." On a summer day, when the bees are buzzing deliriously around those blue stars, you won't even have to consume borage for it to make you happy!
Plant plate is from A Supplement to Medical Botany by William Woodville, courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden Library.