The Indispensable Nerve Rebuilder - Borage

Jul 12 / Matthew Wood, MS
It is always necessary, in some cases, to sedate and calm a deeply vexed and worn-out nervous system. The best remedy for this is borage, though it has been nearly forgotten in North America. It can be used in combination with burdock to rebuild the adrenals.

Borago officinalis. Borage.

Borage is a member of the comfrey family native to the Eastern hemisphere but easily grown in gardens elsewhere. It has been used since the most ancient times and has always been classified as a cooling herb. In the days before iced drinks it was known as ‘cool-tankard.’ Borage is still liberally used in British herbalism, but not much in North America. From British herbalists, I have obtained my understanding of the remedy.

Borage is a deep-acting nervine suited to cases where there is thorough exhaustion and low spirits. Often the person is just run to death by responsibilities or, alternately, runs themselves down with self-criticism and impossible standards. Rosari Kingston, herbalist (MNIMH), of County Cork, Ireland, says borage is indicated in “menopausal women who are overworked and totally exhausted. Teachers are a good example. Start on vervain, then go to borage to tone the entire system from the hypothalamus on down. Or follow with lycopus. It is assisted by avena.” Another experienced herbalist, Anita Ralph, MNIMH, of Kent, confirms the use of borage in the nervous exhaustion sometimes found in menopause. Borage contains silicon, which has a powerful rebuilding effect on the nervous system (cf. Avena, Equisetum, homeopathic Silicea).

In addition to acting on the nerves borage has an action on the endocrine system. Mrs. Leyel cited it as a remedy for adrenal exhaustion. It probably works higher up the endocrine cascade. Bernard Jensen recommended it for thyroid issues. It has been traditionally used to increase lactation, so it probably acts on the top of the endocrine chain, on the hypothalamus and pituitary.

Maude Grieve (1931, 120) notes: “By virtue of its saline constituents, it promotes the activity of the kidneys.” Borage was traditionally used to treat ‘melancholic’ conditions, especially those affecting the heart. The properties of borage are still somewhat unknown to modern herbalism, so in closing I will quote from a traditional source.

William Salmon (1710, 112) writes that borage “ effectually purifies the blood, and is of excellent use in all putrid, malign, spotted and pestilential fevers, to defend the heart from their poison and malignity, and to expell the same, as also the poison of other creatures.” That would make in cooling in the third degree, i.e., capable of sedating heat from systemic infection, microbes, and poisons. It has been used for contagious fevers, scarlet fever and chickenpox. “Mixt with juice of fumitory, it cools and cleanses the blood, and is profitable against the yellow jaundice.”

By strengthening the heart borage is good “against fainting and swooning fits, and other passions of the heart” and “revives the spirits.” The infusion of the herb in wine “admirably recreates the spirits, and gratifies or pleases the stomach, is good against the cardiack passion, and melancholly, and is prevalent against the falling-sickness.” He also mentions heart palpitations.

Borage contains some mucilage. The syrup is used for coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, colds, and asthma. The distilled essence “strengthens nature,” a phrase meaning that it improves resistance to chills and fevers by toning the sweat pores or the basic immunity.

Borage is used externally on wounds, running sores and ulcers “in bodies of an ill habit;” also on inflammation of the eyes. Richard Banke (1525) used it to cure abscesses due to collection of melancholic humors, that would be conditions tending towards uncleanness and putrefaction.

Taste: slightly sweet and salty, moist, cooling
Tissue State: atrophy, stagnation

Specific Indications

Mind, Senses, Nerves, Emotions, Personality
  • Downcast, heavy-hearted, weighed down, depressed (borage oil, borage herb).
  • Nervousness, insomnia, fainting, dizziness, melancholy.
  • Overwork, nervousness, exhaustion; especially in menopausal women.

  • Sore and inflamed eyes (eyewash).

  • Colds, bronchitis; chronic catarrh, congestion, pleurisy, fever.

  • Indigestion, jaundice.

Cardiovascular System
  • Heart palpitations (probably from hyperthyroidism, not heart disease).
  • Varicose veins (lotion or compress, 20% Borago).

  • Hyperthyroidism.

Female Sexual System
  • Pregnancy: softens the cervix (borage oil, black currant oil, primrose oil).
  • Postpartum: nervous exhaustion.
  • Diminished lactation; increases flow of milk.
  • Menopause in exhausted women.
  • Menopausal hot flashes.

  • Corns.
  • Skin rashes, ringworm.

  • Fever with mucus.
  • Scarlet fever, chickenpox.
  • Peritonitis (cf. Eupatorium maculatum).

Preparation and dosage:
The annual herb is picked at the end of the season during flowering. Culpeper preferred to use the fresh herb preserved in syrup, which increases the cooling and moistening properties (Graehme Tobyn). John Hill (1740, 90) required that the herb be infused or tinctured cold rather than warm. “Throwing it into cold wine is better than all the medicinal preparations.” Due to the proven toxicity, dosage should be small. I find 1-3 drops, 1-3x/day a fine dose, or the flower essence.

The hairs on the fresh leaves can irritate the skin. Borage contains pyrrozolidine alkaloids that have demonstrated hepatoxicity. Dosage should be small.

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"In a busy practice covering over twenty-five years and tens of thousands of clients, a person learns what remedies are of invaluable service. I would like to share my selection – herbs I choose and herbs that choose me."
Traditional (18), Flower Essence Society (1), Julia Graves (1), Anita Ralph (1, 14), Rosari Kingston (1, 2, 3, 13), Otto Wolff (8), Bernard Jensen (9), Jack Ritchason (15), Louise Tenney (4, 5, 6, 12, 15), Maude Grieve (16), Hakim Chishti (5, 12, 19).

Selections from The Earthwise Herbal By Matthew Wood MS published by North Atlantic Books, in two volumes, 2008-9
The information provided in this digital content is not medical advice, nor should it be taken or applied as a replacement for medical advice. Matthew Wood, the Matthew Wood Institute of Herbalism, ETS Productions, and their employees, guests, and affiliates assume no liability for the application of the information discussed.