Blue Stars from Earth

Showers of cornflower blue stars will be falling to earth soon, appearing in scintillating clusters of fuzzy bristling green leaves. The Starflower, or Borage as the herb is commonly known, falls straight from a graphic designer’s pen; five delicately curved petals of the most heavenly imagined blue, end in witchy points, with long columns of purple black anthers; perfect landing pads for bees and pollinating insects.

Flowers of this intense Mediterranean blue are not always easy to find in our gardens, though this is the time of year many of them appear, like the forget me not, the bluebell, and the mesmerising magical Mecanopsis blue Himalayan poppy. There’s something about this intense, flawless sky-blue colour that skewers our attention, attracts and reaches our very soul, strengthening the spirit. It has to be the mind’s immediate correlation with blue skies and warmth, summer is here.

Borage has been used in traditional medicines for centuries and even today there is ongoing research into its use as a natural and effective antidepressant, for possible treatments for stress and for certain types of heart disease. Our ancestors have long used it to alleviate pensiveness, sadness and melancholy. Like a twinkling star at night, the bright blue starflower can help to overcome the “blue” feeling.

Called ‘euphrosynum’ by Pliny for its ability to bring joy, merriment, and drive away dullness and melancholy, Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” writes:

“Borage and Hellebore fill two scenes,

Sovereign plants to purge the veins

Of melancholy, and cheer the heart

Of those black fumes which make it smart;

To clear the brain of misty fogs,

Which dull our senses, and soul clogs;

The best medicine the e’er God made

For this malady, if well assaid.”

The plant originates from the Middle East and I wasn’t in the least surprised to read that it was widely sought after by the Romans, who believed it had the ability to instil happiness in people. In fact, in many countries and cultures the leaves and flowering tops of borage have traditionally been used to drive away sorrow and melancholy from a man’s heart and to instil joy, happiness and comfort. According to Dioscorides and Pliny, when steeped in wine, borage leaves would bring ‘absolute forgetfulness.’

Our Celtic ancestors name for borage, was ‘borrach’, which translates as 'courage' and both the Greeks and Romans regarded the borage flower as being not only comforting but also imparting courage, and it is said that the exquisite blue flowers were floated in stirrup cups to give courage to the Crusaders before they set off.

The 17th century botanist, John Gerard translated the old Latin verse, “Ego Borago, Gaudia semper ago” as “I, Borage, bring always courage”.

Some scholars believe the Latin name of the herb to be a corruption of ‘corago’ from ‘cor’ ("heart") and ‘ago’ ("I bring").

Others think borage derived its name from the Latin ‘burra’ ("flock of wool"), in reference to the plant's fuzzy leaves.

As we know it is now commonly cultivated all over Europe, and in fact many gardeners regard it as a weed and a nuisance as it spreads and sprawls so readily across the garden. Even the most disapproving gardener will find a use for its lovely pale green leaves though. Soaked in a bucket of water for around a week to ten days or more, it rewards the garden, giving back a rich if pungent liquid fertiliser feed, guaranteed to enrich the soil, bring plants to bloom and fruit and rather wonderfully, thus completes the gardening circle.

Borage bestows many other benefits in the garden too. It is an excellent companion plant, deterring cabbage and tomato caterpillars, and it can help plants increase their disease resistance. In contrast, its flowers attract beneficial pollinators such as bees and wasps.

Borage is beautiful in a wildlife garden also, as it provides a huge abundance of nectar for bees to enjoy. They love it so much it has become known by many as ‘Bee Plant’ and ‘Bee Bread’.

As its stems and leaves are rich in calcium and potassium, borage is also useful as a mulch and is a marvellous addition to a compost heap, adding trace minerals to the soil. In Organic Farming, it is enthusiastically used to enhance soil fertilisation and planting borage close to tomatoes and strawberries will improve their growth and fruit production.

As these sky-blue flowers of the stars begin to appear, this may also be the time of year you are becoming more than fed up with your dry, itchy skin. Whether eczema or psoriasis, rough or just dry dehydrated skin aggravated by winter woollies and central heating, Borage seed oil could perhaps be of help. Borage oil is an extract made from the seeds of the Borago officinalis plant, its official name.

This oil is prized for its high gamma linoleic acid (GLA) content, which is excellent at protecting the skin’s vital natural barrier and overall health. It is thought that this fatty acid can help reduce inflammation. GLA is an essential fatty acid for skin because skin cannot synthesise it and it must therefore be provided through diet or other application. Topical application of GLA has been shown to improve skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and other inflammatory skin problems most often associated with a damaged or impaired skin defence barrier.

Because Borage oil may be readily added as a natural ingredient into a moisturising cream, it thus works to improve the barrier weaknesses inherent in these skin problems, meaning the skin becomes less sensitive to the irritants and triggers that cause eczema type flare ups. It also helps improve skin hydration, which itself improves the skin’s ability to strengthen and resist irritation.

Drawing from my own background in natural botanical skincare manufacture, our moisturisers containing borage and rosehip seed oil, formulated for sensitive and damaged skin, are sone of our top selling products. They bring almost instant relief and gradually work to improve the skin’s condition and overall functionality.

Back to our gardens, and If you’re wandering outside on a dusky summer evening as the falling light gilds leaves and hovering insects, perhaps you can’t resist reaching out, picking a few of these magical stellar flowers. Have you ever noticed how intense a blue is at twilight? Just before the celestial stars appear, blue borage flowers shine and pulse with an ethereal almost impossible blue that takes the breath away.

Once picked, you may be so pleased to know you can eat them too. They look so pretty decorating summer salads, cakes and tarts and taste a little like cucumber, sharp and slightly aromatic. Try the little blue flowers steeped in water and mixed with wine, add lemon and sugar, it provides a delightful refreshing summer drink. You may already be familiar with them as a garnish in a good summer evening’s Pimms!

Borage flowers have traditionally been candied and eaten as sweets or used as cake decorations too, their colour and shape making them timelessly irresistible.

I can’t think of a more magical plant and wait with nearly as much anticipation as a hungry bee to glimpse and light upon the first bewitching blue stars as they fall from the earth.

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