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Borage (Borago officinalis)

Physicians of the late Middle Ages recommended borage-an herb native to the eastern Mediterranean-for restoring ife's energy. They believed it supplied courage, confidence and cheerfulness. Now we know that borage stimulates the production of adrenaline, which prepares the body to handle stress; so in fact, the medieval belief was well founded. Other names for the blue flowering herb, such as "good cheer", "dear friend" and "sparkling eyes: reflect borage's ability to brighten the mood. Rich in a polyunsaturated fatty acid, borage seed oil is used to address metabolic problems from obesity to premenstrual complaints. Borage also promotes lactation, helps break a fever by inducing a sweat and breaks up phlegm while easing sore throats and coughs.

Help for viral infections
A borage and Echinacea tea has a calming effect, reduces fever and induces sweating. It helps the body combat measles, mumps, chicken pox, colds and flus. Mix equal amounts of fresh borage leaves and powdered Echinacea root. Brew it in hot water, steep for 10 min and sweeten with honey. Drink 1 cup 3 times per day.

Therapeutic Effect:
Borage leaves are diuretic, gently increasing sweat and urine. The herb also acts as an adrenal stimulant, useful for countering stress and the lingering effects of steroid therapy. A tea made from borage soothes sore throats and irritated coughs.

The seed oil contains gamma linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid of strong medical significance. The acid is used to address metabolic disturbances, including obesity, premenstrual syndrome, eczema, high blood pressure and alcoholism. Recent evidence suggests that borage may be useful for treating heart disease and cancer. Its leaves are a good source of vitamin C, organic calcium and potassium, essential oils, tannins and mucilages, as well as saponins that strengthen resistance and flavonoids that prevent infection. The silicic acid in borage stimulates hormone production and balances mood swings.

Extra tip
For a refreshing taste, cut borage leaves into thin strips and mix them into strawberry punch. Strain the punch through a paper filter before serving.

For lactation
Borage tea promotes healthy milk flow while you're nursing. Add a generous handful of fresh borage leaves to ½ gal. of lemonade, or to the same amount of a mild hot tea whose flavor you enjoy - chamomile, fennel, nettle and violet blossoms are good choices. Let steep for at least 20 min. and then strain through a paper filter. Drink a cup 3-4 times a day for best results.

From your garden
Borage can be hard to find commercially. If you plan to make it a regular part of your diet, plant the herb in your garden. It will also attract honeybees, ensuring pollination of other plants. Plant borage in sandy soil in which water drains rapidly. Sow in mid-or late spring, in full sun or partial shade, and again in early and midsummer. An annual, the plant will die at the end of the season, but self sown seedlings germinate for replacement plants. For medicinal use, the leaves are best gathered before the flower buds appear. Handle gently (the plant bruises easily) and use right away. If you don't mind its prickly texture, you can eat the young leaves.

Kitchen Hints

  • You can preserve borage in vinegar or in an alcohol tincture. It does not dry or freeze well.
  • Capture he unique flavor of borage over the long term by making a beautiful blue vinegar from the blossoms or an emerald green vinegar from the leaves. These vinegars make excellent gifts in decorative bottles.
  • "Cucumber herb" is another name for borage, and it does complement plain and pickled cucumbers. It also adds flavor to salads, soups and summer stews. Try it with eggs and fish.
  • The pretty blue blossoms are also edible. Remove the green sepals on the undersides before using; then sprinkle the flowers over soups and salads.
  • Freeze the flowers in ice for an attractive garnish for punches and other summer drinks.
  • For cooking, use tender, young leaves that are no bigger than a half dollar. For teas, the larger leaves are fine.
  • Borage is an essential ingredient to many Italian dishes. Borage risotto is especially popular, as is ravioli stuffed with borage.
  • To enhance the flavor of dishes, sprinkle on borage leaves or stir them in before serving. When cooked, the herb loses much of its flavor and aroma.