Also known as Borago officinalis.
Virtually all parts of the borage plant have been used for centuries for their healing properties and as a flavouring for foods. As early as the 1600s, Europeans mixed borage leaves and flowers into a wine that was renowned for dispelling depression.
While modern science has found little evidence that the herb itself has any therapeutic effects, its seed oil does appear to help in treating a number of conditions, from rheumatoid arthritis to menstrual problems. Research has shown that borage oil's medicinal effects can be traced to its rich stores of a therapeutic fat called gamma linolenic acid (GLA).
As in evening primrose oil, the presence of essential fatty acids in borage oil - the most important of which is GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid - provides it with healing powers. While borage oil is often used interchangeably with evening primrose oil, ounce for ounce, borage oil boasts more than twice as much GLA.
Once processed by the body, the GLA in borage oil is converted into hormone-like substances that seem to calm inflammation, making it an ideal treatment option for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
However, the presence in borage oil of other fatty acids may interfere with GLA absorption. In addition, borage leaves and flowers contain potentially toxic substances (pyrrolizidine alkaloids, or PAs), which could cause harm if ingested over long enough periods of time. Borage seed oil may also contain minute amounts of PAs. Adverse reactions to the PAs are not widespread, but based on these concerns, borage oil often rates second to evening primrose oil as the GLA supplement of choice.
Specifically, borage oil may help to:
Reduce the aches and pains of rheumatoid arthritis - researchers found that high doses of borage oil (1.4 grams a day) led to a significant reduction in pain and swelling in arthritic joints. In a separate study, patients with active rheumatoid arthritis demonstrated fewer clinical signs of inflammation after taking GLA-rich capsules for several months, compared to those who took a placebo. Other researchers reported reduced damage to joint tissues and less joint pain and swelling in those rheumatoid arthritis sufferers given very high GLA doses in the form of borage oil.
Relieve the discomforts of PMS, endometriosis, and fibrocystic breasts - by interfering with the production of inflammatory substances called prostaglandins which are released during menstruation, the GLA in borage oil may help ease related cramping and pain. Borage oil may also reduce some of the breast tenderness that women feel before their periods and calm endometriosis-associated inflammation. Many PMS sufferers are found to have unusually low levels of GLA in their systems, which is why supplements may help. In women with fibrocystic breasts, the oil's essential fatty acids can minimise breast inflammation and promote the absorption of iodine, a mineral often found in abnormally low levels in those with this condition.
Reduce the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis - in some cases, skin disorders develop when the body has problems converting dietary fats into GLA. Getting supplemental GLA from borage oil may therefore be helpful. GLA and other essential fatty acids also revitalize the skin by quieting inflammation and causing blood vessels to contract. People who suffer from the redness, itching, and other discomforts of eczema may even tolerate reduced doses of steroid creams and drugs, many of which cause unpleasant side effects, if they also take GLA.
Clear up acne and rosacea - by working to dilute sebum that is oversecreted in some people with acne, the essential fatty acids in borage oil may reduce the risk of pores becoming clogged. The oil's essential fatty acids help treat rosacea by reducing inflammation, controlling the cells' use of nutrients, and by producing prostaglandins, which stimulate the contraction of blood vessels. Astringent substances in borage called tannins may also help by tightening skin.
Alleviate inflammation associated with lupus - inflammation in the joints, kidneys, skin, and other areas of the body caused by this condition may subside as a result of borage oil's anti-inflammatory actions.
Prevent nerve damage (neuropathy) caused by diabetes - people with diabetes are more likely to lose feeling in their sensory nerves, which can lead to tingling and numbness in the limbs. An inability to convert GLA may be one reason for this. Diabetes patients given GLA-rich evening primrose oil often experience improved nerve damage (neuropathy) symptoms.
Combat damage from multiple sclerosis - the abundant supply of essential fatty acids in borage oil may be valuable in minimising the inflammation associated with this disorder. The fatty acids may also contribute to healthy nerve development when taken over time.
Ease cough and soothe throat disorders - borage oil has been used in folk medicine for many years to treat respiratory conditions, including coughs and sore throats. Borage oil contains mucilage, a gummy, gel-like substance that soothes mucous membranes often irritated by a cough. Mucilage also works as an expectorant, making it easier to cough up mucus. According to a recent study from one university, patients with acute breathing problems needed fewer days on ventilation and spent less time in the hospital after taking fish oil and borage oil than those who didn’t.
Treat Alzheimer's-related memory deficiencies - by boosting the transmission of nerve impulses, borage oil may be helpful in treating this progressive brain disorder.
Reduce stress and high blood pressure - research on animals suggests that borage oil may protect against high blood pressure (hypertension). Less is known about whether it affects blood pressure in humans, but in one study, borage oil limited stress-related jumps in blood pressure and heart rate. By relieving tension, borage oil also made it easier to perform normal tasks.
Nourish nails, scalp, and hair - the rich essential fatty acids in borage oil not only prevent nails from cracking, but also help to keep them generally healthy. In addition, the essential fatty acids nourish the scalp, making the supplement potentially valuable in treating a variety of hair problems.
Treat gout - borage oil's anti-inflammatory actions, largely a function of its GLA stores, make it potentially valuable in protecting against the sudden and severe joint pain caused by uric acid buildup, known as gout.
Counter impotence and female infertility - by promoting blood flow, the GLA in borage oil can help treat a primary cause of male impotence - compromised circulation leading to impaired penile blood flow. By improving uterine function, GLA may also help women who are unable to conceive.