Borage is a flowering herb full of fatty acids and antioxidants. Its oil has shown promise for premature infant growth, heart health, arthritis, and skin health. Read on to learn more.
What is Borage?
Borage (Borago officinalis), also known as the Star Flower, is an herb native to parts of Asia, North Africa, and Europe .
Borage has been used since ancient times in Iranian traditional medicine as a tranquilizer. In the modern day, its oil is being researched as a potential aid in arthritis and respiratory distress .
Polyunsaturated fatty acids make up a large portion of borage oil .
The herb is an excellent source of Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA), the compound responsible for many of the healing powers of borage. GLA helps maintain animal cell membranes’ structure and function. It is the precursor to many vital active compounds and hormones (prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes) .
Borage contains another fatty acid called stearidonic acid. Both stearidonic acid and GLA help treat conditions where people’s bodies lack these fatty acids, such as blood clotting, inflammation, and cancer [3, 4].
Other constituents found in borage include [5, 6, 7]:
- Intermedin: a protein that aids in the normal function of the gut, heart, and other processes 
- Saponins: a group of plant compounds, many of which have the potential to lower cholesterol [9, 10]
- Alpha-linolenic acid: an essential fatty acid [11, 12]
- Rosmarinic acid: an antioxidant fatty acid with potential activity against bacteria, inflammation, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease 
- Flavonoids: a group of antioxidant plant compounds 
- Polyphenols: a group of antioxidant plant compounds which are considered by some to be vital nutrients [15, 16]
- Essential nutrients like potassium, calcium, and vitamin C
Borage leaves had high antioxidant activity when in hot water. Borage had high levels of tannins, flavonoids, and phenols. These compounds increase antioxidant capacity, which may protect against DNA damage and harmful mutations .
In one study of 38 participants, the subjects drank borage twice daily for 2 weeks. The total amount of antioxidants in their blood samples increased. This study attributed the herb’s ability to combat oxidative stress largely in its key antioxidants .
Potential Benefits of Borage
Borage oil supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use and generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
Possibly Effective For
1) Infant Growth
In a study of 238 premature infants, the infants were given borage and fish oil supplements for 9 months after birth. They had benefits in overall growth and development. However, there was no significant difference between the 2 groups in regards to brain development .
2) Heart Health
In an 8-week study of 59 subjects, a combination of oils from borage and echium reduced total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. The oil also increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels and lessened the severity of type 2 diabetes in the short term .
In a 28-day study of 30 men, the participants had their heart response to stress tested. Those given borage oil supplement experienced lower blood pressure and heart rate and better performance under stress .
In mice, borage oil treatment protected against heart failure and heart attacks. Unlike other drugs and anti-inflammatory medicine, borage oil did not leave deformations or scars in heart tissue .
A borage oil diet in mice also reduced plaque buildup in the arteries that lead to coronary heart disease. The high amount of fatty acids in the oil reinforce cell membranes and blood, which is associated with improved heart health .
In an 18-month study of 150 participants, the participants who took borage seed oil capsules had fewer rheumatoid arthritis symptoms .
Also, several studies demonstrated that borage seed oil reduced inflammation in the lining of joints (synovitis). Thus, the need for anti-inflammatory drugs was also reduced [24, 25, 26].
A GLA-rich diet reduced acute and chronic (long-term) inflammation in rats with arthritis .
4) Skin Health
Borage oil contains high levels of omega-6 fats that are vital to the proper structure and function of the skin barrier .
Borage oil promotes a healthy skin barrier. In one study of 37 children, 3 to 4 weeks of topical borage oil treatment cleared skin symptoms of infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis .
In another study of 32 children with eczema, wearing undershirts coated with borage oil for 2 weeks improved their skin barriers. They also had relief from itch .
About 2 g of borage oil supplements a day increased skin hydration and reduced skin roughness and scaling in a study of 45 healthy women with sensitive and dry skin .
However, another study of borage oil supplements found no improvement to atopic dermatitis in 160 patients .
Overall, the results have been more promising in trials of topical borage oil than in trials of oral borage supplements.
Insufficient Evidence For
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of borage oil for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before taking borage supplements or using topical borage creams, and never use them in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes.
5) Mental Health
Borage extract capsules significantly reduced depression in 19 patients in a 6-week study. The borage oil contained flavonoids that contributed to antidepressant actions [33, 6, 34].
In a similar, 6-week study of 24 people, borage extract capsules significantly reduced OCD symptoms and anxiety .
In mice with an induced-brain decline, borage extract treatment helped maintain their brain function. Borage constituents reduced oxidative stress in the brain and therefore may be used for the treatment of memory impairment and Alzheimer’s disease .
Borage extract also reduced anxiety in rats .
Ingesting 5 mL of borage extract 3 times daily for 1-month improved symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, mucus production, and airway narrowing in a study of 38 patients with moderate asthma. In addition, asthmatic flare-ups and trips to the emergency room decreased significantly over the course of the study .
7) Weight Management
In a study of 50 obese subjects, consuming 5 g of borage oil daily for 33 months of borage oil helped formerly obese individuals reduce the amount of weight that they gained back .
Animal & Cell Studies (Lacking Evidence)
No clinical evidence supports the use of borage for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
8) Bone Health
Osteoporosis is the weakening of bone and loss of bone density. As bones become more brittle, one becomes more susceptible to breaks and injury.
In mice, a 10-month borage and fish oil diet prevented age-related bone loss by reducing inflammation .
9) Liver Health
In mice with alcohol-induced liver disease, borage’s antioxidant properties helped protect the liver. Treatment with borage improved liver shape, reduced fat content, set liver enzymes back to their normal function, and reduced oxidative stress .
In another mouse model, borage oil improved fat breakdown in the liver and improved fatty liver disease symptoms .
Borage oil fed to rats reduced liver injuries induced by gamma-irradiation. The vitamin E (tocopherols) and GLA gave borage antioxidant properties that protect the liver. It prevented free radical production and thus may help patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment .
11) Antimicrobial Activity
Borage extract killed various pathogens, including E. coli. and Staphylococcus .
Borage extract stopped the growth of Staphylococcus, the virus that causes staph infection .
In a study of 72 subjects, individuals that regularly consumed borage developed stomach cancer at one third the rate of those who didn’t .
In fruit flies, phenols from borage detoxified chemical particles, thus protecting them from cancer .
GLA from borage also caused liver cancer cell death in rats. Borage oil antioxidants also protected normal cells from oxidative stress .
In another study, small silver compounds from borage leaf extract reduced cancer cell growth, though cell studies are not useful when attempting to determine whether borage supplements are of any use to cancer patients .
Limitations and Caveats
Studies on borage should be taken with caution due to the minimal amount of human trials reported. There are not many publications on the side effects of long-term use.
Side Effects & Precautions
Commonly reported side effects include :
- Epileptic episodes
- A headache
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
Borage may induce labor and harm fetal growth or cause abortion. Pregnant women should avoid borage .
Borage supplements may negatively interact with anticonvulsants in elderly patients .
To avoid adverse effects and unexpected interactions, talk to your doctor before using borage oil.
- Borage seed oil
There is no safe and effective dose of borage seed oil because no sufficiently powered study has been conducted to find one. However, most studies used less than 2,000 mg a day .
Many users report that borage improves skin appearances and clears the redness and itch of eczema. Additionally, improvements in inflammation have also been reported.
Women note relief from PMS and menopause symptoms provided by taking borage. However, scientific studies have not shown any effect on PMS symptoms .
Other users state that they did not see any health benefits at all.