July 14 2024

Medicinal uses of borage or starflower (Borago Officinalis)


borago officinalis

Borage is an annual plant, with robust appearance, 30-70 cm tall or more, covered with hairs consistent, oval leaves, also covered with whitish hairs. Flowers of a deep blue, although there are varieties of white or purplish colours, star shape, with 2.5 cms. of diameter, grouped in a loose nosegay with anthers very dark brown.

The plant, native to the Mediterranean basin, subsequently spread through Europe and Asia, is found naturally in gardens, fallow land, sidewalks, embankments, etc.. It has spread to every continent, being many endemic. For this reason, borage has been used in latitudes as diverse as Mexico under the category of plants for the respiratory system [1] or the Madeira Islands [2].

Borage flowers in spring, but outbreaks are born in autumn, although in hot climates can be observed blooms in midwinter. The leaves are harvested before the stem takes consistency. The flowers are collected one by one, by the upper stalk, facilitated by spring dry days.

This plant can be cultivated easily. Once planted for the first time it is not necessary to its replanting.


Borage contains abundant mucilage, tannin and hints of essence. It also contains rosmarinic acid in an amount similar to Salvia officinalis. The concentration of this substance correlates well with the degree of free radical scavenging activity of Borago Officinalis[3][4]. Contains also intermedine and lycopsamine.

The plant contains various pyrrolizidine alkaloids[5]. Of these, thesinine-4'-O-beta-D-glucoside was the first molecule identified[6].

The essential oil content of borage varies between 0.01% and 0.13% respectively in new and in older leaves [7]. In that substance have been identified 23 volatile compounds (nonadecane, tetracosane, heptacosane and aldehydes). However, in adult leaves alcohols predominate. Equally, fatty acids increase in mature leaves with respect to the new in a ratio of 6 to 1.

Traditional applications     

Popularly is attributed to borage flowers a perspiratory effect, applied by infusion, while the leaves would have diuretic and blood purifying properties, applied in decoction. The plant would have emollient properties applied as poultice, justifying its use in local application in various rheumatic affections.

The plant has been used as food and in the treatment of cough, colds and also in most important bronchopulmonary disorders (bronchitis, pneumonia)

Although this is a plant used extensively, the German Commission E has ranked in the list of unauthorized plants due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloid and the lack of evidence of its effectiveness. However, the alkaloid content is low, less than 0.001. It is actually considered that the plant should not be consumed, especially for medicinal use.

Experimental studies     

In an experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in mice, the fatty acids from Borago Officinalis changed the course and recurrence of the disease[8].

In different hepatoma cell lines, borage showed cytotoxicity in vitro, which is interpreted as a possible antitumor effect[9].

An in vivo study on edema caused by croton oil showed anti-inflammatory properties from borage in laboratory animals[10].

On preparations isolated from different organs of laboratory animals, borage showed properties antispasmodic, bronchodilator, vasodilator and cardio-depressant . The spasmolytic effect is probably due to a calcium channel mechanism, which could be associated with cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal hyperactive disorders in which the plant has been traditionally used, according to the opinion of the researchers[11].

Clinical Studies     

Has not been published information relevant to the date of this review

However, we have collected the following paper, published in the BMJ.

A review of clinical trials on the treatment of a hangover by excessive alcohol consumption, published in the British Medical Journal on eight interventions, including clinical trials with Borago Officinalis. None of the tested treatments gave results in the treatment of these problems[12].

Adverse reactions and interactions     

No relevant information available at the time of this review. Borage is considered that it is of low toxicity, due to the low concentration of alkaloids contained.

Important Information

One case reported in the medical literature contains a Mandragora autumnalis poisoning on a 72-year old woman who mistook this herb with Borago officinalis[13]. This case is a serious warning to fans of the collection of plants without a full understanding of them. Unfortunately, the confusion between the two plants is common.


1: Andrade-Cetto A.Ethnobotanical study of the medicinal plants from Tlanchinol, Hidalgo, México.J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Dec 25.
2: Rivera D, Obón C. The ethnopharmacology of Madeira and Porto Santo Islands, a review J Ethnopharmacol. 1995 May;46(2):73-93.
3: Bandoniene D, Murkovic M, Venskutonis PR.Determination of rosmarinic acid in sage and borage leaves by high-performance liquid chromatography with different detection methods.J Chromatogr Sci. 2005 Aug;43(7):372-6.
4: Bandoniene D, Murkovic M. The detection of radical scavenging compounds in crude extract of borage (Borago officinalis L.) by using an on-line HPLC-DPPH method. J Biochem Biophys Methods. 2002 Oct-Nov;53(1-3):45-9.
5:Lüthy J, Brauchli J, Zweifel U, Schmid P, Schlatter C. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids in medicinal plants of Boraginaceal: Borago officinalis L. and Pulmonaria officinalis L. Pharm Acta Helv. 1984;59(9-10):242-6.
6: Herrmann M, Joppe H, Schmaus G. Thesinine-4'-O-beta-D-glucoside the first glycosylated plant pyrrolizidine alkaloid from Borago officinalis.: Phytochemistry. 2002 Jun;60(4):399-402.
7: Mhamdi B, Aidi Wannes W, Marzouk B.Biochemical evaluation of borage (Borago officinalis) rosette leaves through their essential oil and fatty acid composition.Ital J Biochem. 2007 Jun;56(2):176-9.
8: Harbige LS, Layward L, Morris-Downes MM, Dumonde DC, Amor S. The protective effects of omega-6 fatty acids in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) in relation to transforming growth factor-beta 1(TGF-beta1) up-regulation and increased prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production. Clin Exp Immunol. 2000 Dec;122(3):445-52.
9: Lin LT, Liu LT, Chiang LC, Lin CC. In vitro anti-hepatoma activity of fifteen natural medicines from Canada. Phytother Res. 2002 Aug;16(5):440-4.
10: Conforti F, Sosa S, Marrelli M, Menichini F, Statti GA, Uzunov D, Tubaro A, Menichini F, Loggia RD.In vivo anti-inflammatory and in vitro antioxidant activities of Mediterranean dietary plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Feb 28;116(1):144-51.
11: Gilani AH, Bashir S, Khan AU.Pharmacological basis for the use of Borago officinalis in gastrointestinal, respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Dec 3;114(3):393-9.
12: Pittler MH, Verster JC, Ernst E.Interventions for preventing or treating alcohol hangover: systematic review of randomised controlled trials.BMJ. 2005 Dec 24;331(7531):1515-8.
13: : Piccillo GA, Miele L, Mondati E, Moro PA, Musco A, Forgione A, Gasbarrini G, Grieco A.Anticholinergic syndrome due to 'Devil's herb': when risks come from the ancient time.Int J Clin Pract. 2006 Apr;60(4):492-4.

Page updated: February 27, 2009.


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