The borage herb is used to provide relief for rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation, colds, bronchitis and depression. It's also used to combat high blood pressure, eczema and other skin conditions and digestive conditions. Borage (Borago officinalis) is an annual plant. It is native to the Mediterranean and Europe, where it is found in the wild and has been used for centuries to treat numerous conditions. Its other names include bee plant, ox's tongue, starflower, tailwort and cool tankard.
The University of Maryland Medical Center states that omega-6 fatty acids must be consumed from food because the human body cannot make them. They are essential to maintaining overall health, including healthy brain function. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is a type of omega-6 fatty acid, or polyunsaturated fatty acid, which is found in several plant oils, including borage oil.
Borage contains mucilage, which soothes the respiratory tract by coating it with a healing, mucus-like substance. This is beneficial for bronchitis, throat infections, colds and other respiratory ailments.
Borage was called the "herb of gladness" by the Welsh. The Romans made treatments for melancholy using borage flowers to help reverse feelings of depression. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that some women experience relief from depression associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) when they take borage.
Oils extracted from borage seed have been used topically to treat eczema, skin rashes and other skin conditions. According to the Herbs 2000 website, the effects of borage oil on the skin are due to the polyunsaturated fats in the oil. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that the GLA stimulates skin cell growth.
Taken internally, borage oil is used for premenstrual discomfort. During menopause, borage stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more estrogen. Borage is not recommended for lactating women nor for pregnant women, due to its possible harm to the fetus and in shortening the length of the pregnancy, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The GLA found in borage oil is a good source of omega-6 fatty acid. The American Cancer Society states that GLA slowed down or stopped tumor growth and the spread of cancer, and that the effects of borage on different types of cancer are still under research. These findings were released the American Cancer Society in two studies: a 2002 study "Intravesical Meglumine Gamma-Linolenic Acid in Superficial Bladder Cancer: An Efficacy Study" and in the 2003 study "Synergistic Activity of Gamma-Linolenic Acid and Cytotoxic Drugs Against Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Cell Lines - Pancreatology."
The National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine cites that the effectiveness of GLA is inconclusive. However, it does have an effect on inflammation of the joints and arthritis.
The GLA found in borage oil may adversely interact with prescription medications and health conditions. The pyrrolizidine alkaloids present in the oil may harm the liver, but there are borage oil products available that are free of this substance. Borage oil also complicates blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin and warfarin, according to Northwestern Health Sciences University.
Some individuals are allergic to borage. Contact your doctor before taking it, and go to the emergency room immediately if an allergic reaction occurs. An allergic reaction to borage induces itching or rash, swelling of the hands, face, mouth and/or throat, a tingling sensation in the mouth, difficulty breathing and/or chest tightness, according to the Physician's Desk Reference Health website.