What Is Borage Oil?
A golden-yellow oil (a pale-green color if you look closer) with a faintly pleasant odor,1 borage oil is derived from borage (borago officinalis) or “starflower,” a wildflower from the Boraginaceae family.
Borage is an annual herb that’s native to Syria but now grows throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, South America, and many Mediterranean regions.2 It’s identified by its bright blue, star-shaped flowers, ferny leaves covered in prickly white hair, and cucumber-like fruit. Borage is also called the “bee plant” and “bee bread,” because its bright flowers attract bees all summer long.3
There are many speculations on where the name “borage” came from. Some say its Latin name “borago” comes from words “cor” or “heart” and “ago” or “I bring,” meaning “one that brings a cordial or pleasant effect.” In some Mediterranean countries, it’s spelled “borrago,” derived from the Italian “borra” and French “bourra,” meaning “hair” or “flock of wool,” pertaining to its prickly white hair.4
Borage oil’s benefits have been well-known in medieval Syria and Turkish Asia (Asia Minor) for quite some time. The Moorish Arabs brought borage and borage oil to Spain, where they became more popular. Borage even became a source of inspiration for the poem “An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician” written by 19th-century English writer Robert Browning. In this poem, he described borage as “very nitrous.”5
Uses of Borage Oil
Borage has a history of medicinal and culinary use that dates back over 1,500 years. It’s cultivated and widely used in Europe for its healing properties and as a nice addition to salads, soups, and sauces, or eaten by itself as a healthy side dish. Even borage flowers are edible, and are often candied as a cake decoration or made into sweet syrup.
Borage oil is one of the herbal oils that I recommend for alleviating pain and other symptoms of inflammation. This oil has many other uses, such as:
- Moisturizing your skin. It’s an effective natural anti-aging oil that repairs and hydrates your skin.
- Relieving discomfort among women, such as breast tenderness, premenstrual stress, endometriosis,6 PMS symptoms, and menopausal symptoms.7 Borage oil also helps ease related cramping and pain.8
- Easing respiratory disorders. Borage oil has long been used in folk medicine to treat cough and sore throat. It contains a gel-like substance called mucilage, which soothes your mucous membranes.
- Reducing stress and high blood pressure. A study conducted on 30 Canadian university students found that those who took borage oil capsules reduced their stress vulnerability after 28 days of supplementation.9
Borage oil is used in aromatherapy. It can be inhaled or vaporized, but can also be used as carrier oil for more powerful and ultra-concentrated essential oils. It blends well with other thin and easily absorbed oils like jojoba, rosehip, thistle, and sweet almond oils. Borage oil is said to have an uplifting and euphoric effect, and may help ease mood swings and depression.10
Composition of Borage Oil
Borage is packed with macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fats), vitamins (A, C, niacin, choline, thiamine, and riboflavin), minerals, and other plant compounds.11 Meanwhile, borage oil is loaded with healthful fatty acids, which sets it apart from other herbal oils.
Borage oil is the richest natural source of gamma-linoleic acid or GLA (17 to 25 percent), followed by black currant oil (15 to 20 percent) and evening primrose oil (seven to 10 percent). 12,13 GLA is an important polyunsaturated omega-6 fat that helps keep your skin and joints healthy. It is converted by your body into prostaglandins, which regulate your immune system and help fight inflammation. GLA can also suppress inflammatory responses by directly influencing inflammatory cells.14
Another essential fatty acid found in borage oil is linoleic acid, which is converted into GLA in your body. This herbal oil is also rich in oleic, icosenoic, docosenoic, stearic, and palmitic fatty acid chains.
Benefits of Borage Oil
Along with evening primrose and black currant, borage oil is one of the natural anti-inflammatories I highly recommend. The essential fatty acids in this herbal oil are useful for healthy metabolic functions, and can help support optimum brain function and maintain bone, skin, and hair health.
Here are other inflammation-related health conditions that borage oil may help alleviate:
- Rheumatoid arthritis - A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that rheumatoid arthritis patients given 1.4 grams of borage oil daily experienced reduced pain and swelling in their joints.15
- Skin conditions - This herbal oil can help treat acne, eczema, or psoriasis. Animal studies found that skin disorders caused by fatty acid imbalances may be treated with borage oil. A 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition also found that women who had skin conditions that caused irritation and reddening experienced relief after taking flaxseed or borage oil.16
- Periodontitis – A study published in Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids found that people who took borage oil supplements had improved gum health and reduced periodontitis-related gingivitis.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) - It may help minimize symptoms such as muscle spasms and numbness that are associated with this nerve disorder. Borage oil also helps combat nerve damage and contribute to healthy nerve development over time.
- Alzheimer’s disease – Borage oil can boost the transmission of nerve impulses, which may be valuable in treating this debilitating disease.26
Borage oil is also cited as effective for helping treat rosacea, gout, female infertility, impotence, and even diabetic neuropathy.17
How to Make Borage Oil
Borage oil is derived by cold-pressing the seeds of the flower. However, unlike other herbs that can be cold- or heat-infused with a carrier oil, such as lavender and calendula oils, infusing borage may not be practical and may not yield the same amount of nutrients.
I advise you to purchase high-quality borage oil with high levels of GLA. Look for a cold-pressed product, as heat during processing may damage or break down the fatty acids found in the oil.
How Does Borage Oil Work?
Borage oil can be applied topically or ingested. If taken orally, borage oil can help repair cellular activity and keep your internal organs healthy. If used externally, its healing effects are felt more specifically on where it is applied, but it can still be absorbed deep into your skin and into your bloodstream.
Borage oil is best used directly from the bottle. Avoid heating it, as heat can break down the fatty acids in the oil and render its beneficial compounds useless. To maintain its freshness and potency, store it in a cool place or in the refrigerator after opening.
Is Borage Oil Safe?
Borage oil is safe as long as it’s taken in the right dosage. Ideally, you can take 1,000 to 1,300 mg of borage oil daily, which provides you with 240 to 300 mg of GLA. If using borage oil orally, take it with food to boost GLA absorption and minimize the side effects. This oil is also available in softgel or capsule form. 18 Look for a high-quality product that guarantees freshness and safe manufacturing processes.
You should make sure that your borage oil is free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA), a carcinogenic liver toxin. Exposure to even small amounts of PA may cause severe veno-occlusive disease, so opt for borage oil that’s certified “hepatotoxic PA-free.”19
If you are nursing, pregnant, or considering getting pregnant, I recommend avoiding borage oil, as there are still no studies confirming its safety on a developing fetus or with an infant.
Side Effects of Borage Oil
There are some reported side effects associated with borage oil, such as nausea, indigestion and stomach upset, constipation or diarrhea, rashes, belching, and bloating, but these are rare.
Borage oil may lower the seizure threshold in some patients, thereby increasing the likelihood of seizure. It may also act moderately as an anti-clotting agent or blood thinner, and may interact with medications like warfarin. If you are taking seizure medications or blood thinners, avoid using borage oil.