Borage, the Brave! The title reminds me of a children’s book but this beautiful plant is anything but child’s play. I have known of Borage for many years and eaten the flowers as part of a salad or a simple snack as I walk past my garden. The leaves sauteed in a stir fry are a wonderful treat too but it was my teacher, Rosemary Gladstarr https://www.sagemountain.com/ who shared with me the real strength of this beautiful plant. Last year, when my oldest son was killed in a motorcycle accident, I was deep in the throes of grief. As a nurse and herbalist, I have seen my share of death but nothing prepares you for a loss so deep as that of your child. I received many herbal gifts of support and each of them gave me what I needed in some way, they still do but Rosemary sent me a note suggesting, “now might be a good time for a little borage.” Her words helps me develop a deeper relationship with this strong yet gentle plant beyond what I knew helping me face the most difficult days now and ahead of me.
Borage is easily grown in a garden from seed. It can spread from one year to the next so be sure to plant it in a place you don’t mind having a little extra. It prefers a richer soil but I have gotten it to grow in sandy soil as well. It is a favorite of bees when the flowers bloom and adds a textural variety to your garden. The leaves have a soft texture but rubbed the wrong way can stiffen but not bite. The flowers are a real treasure! In the shape of a indigo blue star with a lance like stamen the flowers bow their heads as if they are looking at your feet! I initially placed borage in my garden for its pollinating effects and is a welcome surprise for the winged ones.
Borage leaves are often used as a part of a spring tonic. Borage contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (comfrey also contains this) which is currently suspected of causing liver toxicity and cancer. Historical herbal use does not show a problem with this and is still used in European herbalism today. It was used as a PART of a spring tonic and could be eaten as part of spring greens. It is NOT the herb to be eaten/used on a regular basis but more for occasional use. Micheal Tierra in his book The Way of Herbs, suggests no more than 3-7 days. He suggests it use be for more acute situations such as “fevers, lung congestion, heart problems or for increasing mother’s milk.” Matthew Wood (Earthwise Herbal) uses borage for stagnant or atrophic tissue states. It has a slightly bitter,sweet taste and is overall cooling. Wood describes borage as a “deep acting nervine suited to cases where there is thorough exhaustion and low spirits. Often the person is run to death by responsibilities or, alternately, runs themselves down with self-criticism and impossible standards.” While Tierra discussed the more physical qualities of the plant, the emotional spiritual has the real power for me. I found that just 2-5 drops when needed of a borage flower essence were enough to keep me going on days I didn’t want to do anything. It was subtle and gentle. I felt much like the borage flower with my head bowed but as the sun got warmer the flowers will lift their face to the light. I too could do this and just as the sun would wean each day, the blooms would bow down so did I. The beauty of this, borage flowers tend to bloom all summer long rising and bowing with the warmth of the sun. Grief , I have learned, is much like this rising and bowing with the warmth of others support.
Borage can be prepared in a variety of ways. The leaves in spring can be chopped and added to a stir fry or as part of a frittata once or maybe twice a week. The leaves and flowers can be tinctured and used in drop doses of “1-3 drops 1-3 times a day” (Earthwise Herbal). Culpepper suggested using “the juice made into a syrup…the flowers candied or made into a conserve but also as a cordial” (Culpeper’s Complete Herbal). The leaves and flowers after first bloom can also be made into an oil and applied topically but where I have found borage to be the most effective and safest is as a flower essence. As Rosemary taught me, to prepare an essence, simply harvest the flowers at their prime. I place them in a clear bowl with 1/2 pint of pure water, local if possible. The flowers should cover the water. Leave the bowl in the area where the flowers were harvested in the bright sun for a good 2-4 hours. I like to do this in summer when the sun is strongest! The flowers should be removed with a plant part (I use a stem) and place the essence-infused water in a one ounce bottle half filled with brandy. To keep your stock bottle put 2 drops of the original essence in a 1 oz bottle filled with brandy. For a dosage fill a 1 oz dropper bottle with pure water and a tsp of brandy adding 2 drops from flower essence stock. Flower essence can be taken as needed.
Grief touches us all, whether from the loss of a job, loss of a pet, loss of a dream or like me, the loss of your child. How we integrate that loss and move to the future requires courage. Borage is one plant that has helped me.