Image by Matthias Böckel from Pixabay

As a supplement, the flowering borage herb is best known for its seed oil, which is one of the richest known sources of the highly anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid gamma linoleum acid (GLA).

Most of the studies out there are on the oil, both used topically and ingested. However, the plant itself is an annual with lovely and edible flowers, and edible leaves and stems as well. Traditionally, dried leaves have also been used as a tea. In addition to GLA, borage is also high in other anti-inflammatory fatty acids including linoleic, oleic, palmitic, stearic, eicosenoic, and eructic acid.

Here are some of its medicinal benefits. 

Borage for the Skin

GLA is particularly well known for its importance in skin health. 

Ingestion of dietary essential fatty acids, including GLA from borage as well as EPA and DHA, leads to higher levels of those fatty acids in the skin. This can assist with chronic inflammatory skin disorders. 

Topical application of borage can be effective as well. This study shows that after 2 weeks of treatment with borage, children who suffered from atopic eczema demonstrated improvement in redness and itching, as well as less water loss from the skin. 

Borage for the Lungs

Essential fatty acids generally are also very important for the lungs. This study specifically shows that borage decreases production of leukotrienes, an inflammatory fatty acid, leading to improvement in asthma symptoms. It also decreases production of other pro-inflammatory fatty acids as well, and decreases accumulation of white blood cells secondary to such inflammation. 

Potentially related, this study showed that GLA from borage decreased serum IgE levels, the immunoglobulin associated with allergic responses.

It’s also possible that borage’s effect upon asthma might have to do with not just decreased leukotriene production, but also its bronchodilating (widening the airways) and spasmolytic (decreasing smooth muscle spasm) effects. This study suggests that borage works by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker, which may also have implications for other uses. In addition to its support for the lungs, its spasmolytic properties may be why borage is often used for menstrual cramps. 

Borage for Bones and Joints

Since GLA is anti-inflammatory, it’s not surprising that it can be useful to reduce inflammation in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. This study shows that RA patients given borage experienced symptomatic relief. 

This animal study likewise demonstrates that decreased inflammation leads to decreased osteoporosis with age, as well.

Borage as an Antioxidant 

Usually decreased inflammation and protection against oxidative stress go hand in hand. 

Borage is no exception. This study shows that borage protects DNA from oxidative damage—which may have implications for protecting against cancer. 

Borage as an Antimicrobial

Traditionally, dried borage flowers have been used for antimicrobial activity, for acute infection and fever. This study demonstrates that dried flowers do indeed demonstrate antimicrobial activity against the bacteria staph aureus. 

Borage for Gut Protection

Essential fatty acids are often protective to mucosal linings. 

This study shows that GLA can protect against gastric ulcers or mucosal damage generally, whether secondary to a procedure or to NSAIDs. 

Potential Concerns

As with all essential fatty acids, there is a possibility of increased blood thinning. This can be useful for clotting disorders, but anyone on blood thinning medication should be cautious.

Borage also contains—maybe—small amounts of liver-damaging pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Because of this, even though the plant is edible, it should never be consumed in large quantities. Most supplements are already certified to be pyrrolizidine alkaloid-free, but it’s advisable to make sure. 

Borage is also contraindicated in pregnancy and breastfeeding.