Three Faces of Borage:
Medicinal Herb, Homeopathic Remedy, Flower Essence

Joel Kreisberg, DC, CCH

For thousands of years, wise women and shamans have cultivated the lore of medicinal plants, based on their intuitive inner perception, their observation of the plants in the wild, and their experiences with plants as healers. The ancient herbal tradition focused primarily on physical healing, with some relatively rudimentary and generic potions for mental and emotional conditions.

Homeopathy, developed 200 years ago, is a relative newcomer in the field of natural medicine. Yet its founder, the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, translated texts of herbal medicine from around the world and used medicinal herbs as the primary source of his newly formulated pharmacy. From the very beginning, homeopathy was deeply rooted in the rich lore of herbal knowledge from the ancient past.

The refinement process of the homeopathic pharmacy brought out the subtle power of plants to heal a range of issues including mental, emotional, behavioral and energetic imbalances. Yet homeopathic remedies maintained the strengths of their herbal predecessors in addressing physical conditions as well. Still more recently, the flower essence system of healing has taken the medicinal uses of plants to yet another level of refinement. Developed first by English physician Edward Bach, the flower essence system focuses entirely on emotional healing, based on the principle that healing on the soul level will heal ailments on the physical level.

Integral Homeopathy

Integral Homeopathy bridges ancient herbal lore, classical homeopathy and the modern practice of flower essence therapy. Integral Homeopathy offers a more complex use of medicines, by considering a variety of perspectives.

All three traditions—herbs, homeopathy, flower essences—use medicinal plants in ways that overlap, yet each maintains its own perceptual lens. This article examines how each of the three healing modalities views plants and their powers to heal, using as a model the common pot-herb Borage. Borage will first be introduced through the objective lens of botany, as Borago officinalis.

Traditional Botany

Thought to originate in Syria, borage is now naturalized throughout most of Europe and the United States. It flourishes as a weed near houses and on rubbish heaps. While many modern gardeners consider it a nuisance, it was traditionally grown in gardens to use as an herb, for its edible flowers, and for its ability to increase the yields of honey.

The plant is easily recognized by its white prickly hairs and its bright blue star-shaped flowers. It grows to about 1-2’ high, with many hollow, almost succulent branching stems. The ovate to lanceolate leaves are 3” long and 1-1/2” wide, growing in an alternate pattern up the stems. The lower leaves are stalked, with stiff one-celled hairs on the upper surface as well as on the veins below. The deep green leaves have sinuous, wavy margins. The inch-wide bright blue star-shaped flowers have prominent black anthers forming a cone in the center. The fruits consist of brownish-black nutlets in groups of four.

Borage does well in ordinary soil. It can be propagated by division of rootstocks, however, it is easily grown from seed, which it does quite successfully on its own year after year. The seeds often grow in the same place. (Hoffman 1995)

Constituents

According to the US Department of Agricultural, Borage contains:
• macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fats, fiber, glucose and galactose, and gamma-linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid)
• vitamins such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta carotene (pro-vitamin A), and choline, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine (elements of the B complex)
• minerals including calcium, cobalt, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc
• other plant compounds including allantoin, lactic acid, malic acid, mucilage,
rosmarinic acid, and tannin (Warkinton 2002)


Origins of the Common Name

While there are many popular theories as to the origin of the name ‘borage,’ it is believed that the Latin borago is a corruption of the word corrago, having the root cor, ‘heart’, and ago, ‘I lead.’ The plant was said to have a ‘cordial’ effect, i.e. to have a tonic and strengthening effect on the heart. The Italian borra and French bourra, signifying ‘hair’ or ‘wool,’ are derived from the Latin burra, ‘a flock of wool.’ These names for the plant apparently refer to its thick covering of short hairs.
Interestingly, the herbalist Henslow suggested that the Celtic barrach, meaning ‘a man of courage’ relates to the borage plant as well. (Grieve 1971)

Historical Herbal Use

The French herbalist Gerard discussed Borage by referring to the ancient Greek naturalist Pliny, who said that the plant ‘maketh a man merry and joyful.’ (Hoffman 1995) Dioscorides, the first century Greek physician, mentioned the use of Borage to ‘comfort the heart, purge melancholy and quiet the lunatic person.’ Both Pliny and Dioscorides believed Borage was the famous nepenthe of Homer, which when steeped in wine brought about forgetfulness.

John Evelyn, the seventeenth century English herbalist, spoke of Borage ‘to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student’, while his contemporary Culpepper used the plant for ‘putrid and pestilential fever, the venom of serpents, jaundice, consumption, sore throat and rheumatism.’ (Hoffman 1995)

The tops of Borage were used throughout Europe as a pot-herb for making soups and stews, and the young leaves were often added to salads. With a faint cucumber-like flavor, the leaves can impart coolness to sweetened drinks. It has been added to vinegars and wine to enhance flavor, and the flowers were traditionally made into candies.

Modern herbals consider this plant a diuretic, promoting the activity of the kidneys; a demulcent, soothing raspy sore throats; and an emollient. (Grieve 1971) It is also used for fevers and pulmonary complaints. Other modern herbalists use borage as a restorative for the adrenal cortex for people who are overworked, exhausted and burned out. The leaves stimulate production of milk in nursing mothers. (Hoffman 1995)

Modern clinical trials have shown that Borage seed oil “reduces cardiovascular reactivity to stress by reducing the systolic blood pressure and heart rate and by increased task performance .” (Haughton 2001) It helps prevent inflammation of the gastrointestinal mucosa in cases of allergy and infection, and it may also assist in iron absorption. It has also been useful as an eyewash to relieve irritation. It has anexpectorant action, promoting the loosening of phlegm in a cough.

The oil is rich in gammalinolenic and linoleic acid, used as a source of prostaglandins to treat menstrual problems and chronic skin conditions. Combined with evening primrose oil, it helps reduce blood cholesterol levels. (Haughton 2001)

Homeopathic Medicine and Empiricism

As Samuel Hahnemann established the principles of homeopathic medicine between 1796 and 1804, one of the key tenets was that the action of a medicinal substance is ‘discovered’ through an empirical process or ‘proving.’ This process involves healthy people ingesting the substance and empirically noting, by self-observation, all the resulting physiological and psychological changes.

Borage has recently been added to the homeopathic pharmacopeia through such a proving, conducted by four provers under the supervision of Stephen Olsen. The resulting proving journals were published (Olsen 1997) and will be briefly summarized here. The combined experience of these provers point to a remedy type of a strong-minded person who has difficulty compromising. This type of person becomes hard and abrasive or even angry to the point of rage if not listened to and from an inability to listen to others and to see different points of view.

A person needing Borage fears failure. They feel that it is their duty to take on all the responsibility in a given situation, resulting in resenting their role in life. Somatically this attitude can be expressed as stiffness in the joints, high blood pressure, tension headaches and flaring eczema. People needing the remedy Borage tend to be warmer than others and to feel worse in the heat.

It seems this ‘borage type’ may have a history of taking on the role of parent in their family at young age. If a parent was missing or sick they take on heavy family responsibilities such as looking after younger siblings. Since they are often not ready for this task, they may compensate for their anxiety by taking on a more exaggerated parental nature, becoming overly protective, strict and authoritarian. They are argumentative, forceful, and angry, tending to create tension and to lack flexibility. (Olsen 1997)

There is a sense that they must attend to every detail or a catastrophe will befall the family. By saving others, they are limiting the possibility that they themselves will be abandoned. Gradually they lose any playful, carefree, and spontaneous aspects, because they feel that everything has to be right. They may become very disagreeable and easily offended, resenting the choices of other people.

Flower Essence and Goethean Science

Flower Essence Therapy was developed by Edward Bach in the early 20th century. (Barnard 2002) Richard Katz and Patricia Kaminski (1996) in the development of the Flower Essence Society, have taken the work of Bach and further developed its principles, using Goethean science. Borage is one of the remedies developed by the Flower Essence Society.

Borage, as a flower essence, is for heavy heartedness and lack of confidence when facing challenges. The remedy is said to bring courage to the taker, providing a condition of “buoyancy of the soul”. (Katz and Kaminski 1994) Borage is said to bring “lightness and ebullience to the soul, filling it with optimism and enthusiasm.”

The use of Goethean science allows the flower essence approach to consider the ‘gesture’ of the flower and the plant as a whole. The practitioner first observes the plant carefully, then meditates upon the flower, trying to bring a mental image of the plant into the mind. This active or ‘exact’ imagination allows one to “see the essential gesture of the plant” (Katz & Kaminski). As we tend to our perceptions, our understanding becomes richer.

When I did this with the Borage growing in my front yard, I first began to notice the contrast between heaviness and lightness. The stems are thick and the flowers drop back down towards the earth, yet the tiny hairs are light and almost translucent. The leaves have a heavy mucilaginous, watery quality, while the light blue flowers have a richness and lightness of color. The star flower radiates outward, with well defined symmetry. The newly blossomed flowers look up toward the sun before nodding downward with age. This uplifting form bestows lightness and speaks of spiritual harmony.

I chose to meditate with the borage plant when I was feeling heavyhearted myself, and I could feel my inner state resonating with the drooping of the older flowers. Yet the longer I meditated, the more I could feel the lightness and upliftment of the newer flowers soothing my heart.

The full vitality of the plant in spring becomes quiet and calm in the summer months, dying back in the full summer sun. The heavy nodding of the flowers down to earth links Borage to usage for venous blood such as phlebitis, where gravity plays a part in the action of the blood stream. (Pelikan 1997)

Borage:
a Remedy for An Integral Homeopathy

Each healing modality which uses Borage— medical herbalism, classical homeopathy and flower essence therapy—illumines different aspects of this plant. In Integral Homeopathy, the practitioner uses any of these forms of the remedy, depending on which aspect of the plant is needed.

As an herb, it comforts the heart, bringing cheer, restoring adrenal functioning, promoting lactation in nursing mothers and healing fevers of pulmonary origin. As well, it reduces cholesterol and soothes the gastric mucosa and respiratory tract.

As a homeopathic remedy, it brings playfulness and spontaneity to persons who have been burdened by family responsibility, becoming hardened and resentful. Their argumentativeness stems from their protective nature due to their anxiety about the family’s welfare.

The flower essence promotes optimism and enthusiasm in a person who has suffered burdens experienced in the heart.

A central theme emerges: Borage is a remedy for heaviness of the heart, bringing lightness and flexibility. Dioscorides’ remarkable observation of two thousand years ago is consistent with all three modern perspectives: he said that Borage ‘cheers the heart and helps drooping spirits.’

May the reader find Borage, as a remedy or flower essence or even a living plant to meditate with, as a healing balm for a heaviness of the heart.

References

Barnard, J. (2002) Bach flower remedies: form & function. Bodmin, Cornwall: MPG Books Ltd.

Grieve, M. (1971) A Modern Herbal. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/borage66.html

Haughton, C. (2001) www.purplesage.org.uk/profiles/borage.htm

Hoffman, D. (1995) http://www. healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp? borage

Katz, R. & Kaminski, P. “The Twelve Windows of Perception.” www. flowersociety.org.

Olsen, S. (1997) Trees and plants that heal. Maple Ridge, British Columbia: Legacy Publications.

Pelikan, W. (1997) Healing plants: insights through spiritual science. Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press.

Warkinton, D. (2002) Reference Works San Rafael, CA, Kent Associates.

Dr. Joel Kreisberg, DC, CCH, is the Director of the Teleosis Foundation, founder of the Teleosis School of Homeopathy, and a practicing homeopath and chiropractor in Berkeley, CA. He lectures nationally on Ecologically Sustainable Medicine.

 

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About
Symbiosis: The Journal of Ecologically Sustainable Medicine

Symbiosis explores the ecological principles of healing and medicine that promote a healthy relationship with the earth (Gaia). It is an educational forum bringing together thoughtful perspectives of vibrant medical philosophies that are congruent with sustainable living.

Symbiosis is published by the Teleosis Foundation, a not-for profit organization dedicated to the belief that safe, environmentally sustainable forms of medicine are central to our personal and planetary well-being. This belief is articulated through the concept of Ecologically Sustainable Medicine*, ESM, an emerging field that lives at the intersection of personal health, medicine and environmental sustainability.

The Foundation has four primary programmatic areas. These include:

· Education of health professionals, environmentalists and the general public about the principals of ESM, including the publication of the journal, Symbiosis
· Providing access to high quality, cost-effective Ecologically Sustainable Medicine through low-cost health clinics for underserved populations
· Training of medical professionals in ESM
· Providing a community network for those who are teaching, researching and practicing ESM

For more information about programs or membership write to
teleosis@igc.org.

*The primary principals of ESM include medical practices that are:

· Safe and harmless
· Clean and non-toxic
· Cost-effective
· Non-polluting
· Adaptable and flexible
· Renewable
· Protective of the quality of life on earth, of the environment and of earth’s natural resources
· Synergistic with human and health and planetary well-being
· Increasing our connection with the web of life

 

 

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