What Is Borage?

Borage is an herb that has long been prized for its health-promoting properties.

It’s especially rich in gamma linoleic acid (GLA), which is an omega-6 fatty acid that has been shown to decrease inflammation

Borage may also help treat several conditions, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and atopic dermatitis

However, there are some serious side effects to consider, and certain groups of people should avoid this ingredient altogether.

This article takes a closer look at the benefits, uses, and potential side effects of borage.


What is borage?

Also known as starflower, borage is an herb notable for its vibrant purple flowers and medicinal properties.

In traditional medicine, borage has been used to dilate blood vessels, act as a sedative, and treat seizures

Both the leaves and flowers of the plant are edible and commonly used as a garnish, dried herb, or vegetable in a variety of drinks and dishes.

The leaves are sometimes also ground up and steeped in hot water to brew herbal tea.

Meanwhile, the seeds are used to make borage oil, which is usually applied topically to the hair and skin.

Furthermore, borage is widely available in supplement form and used to treat a variety of respiratory and digestive disorders


Borage is an herb with edible leaves and flowers that’s known for its medicinal properties. It’s widely available as an oil, softgel, or herbal tea.


Borage has been linked to a number of potential health benefits.

May alleviate inflammation

Some research has shown that borage may possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

According to one test-tube and animal study, borage seed oil was found to protect against oxidative cell damage, which could contribute to inflammation

Another animal study demonstrated that administering borage seed oil to mice decreased age-related markers of inflammation

Additionally, one study in 74 people even observed that taking a borage oil supplement for 18 months, with or without fish oil, reduced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disorder

May help treat asthma

Several studies have found that borage extract could help relieve symptoms of asthma by decreasing inflammation and swelling in the airways.

In one study, consuming capsules containing borage oil and echium seed oil daily for 3 weeks decreased levels of inflammation in 37 people with mild asthma

Another 12-week study in 43 children found that taking a supplement containing borage oil, along with a blend of other ingredients like fish oil, vitamins, and minerals, decreased inflammation and symptoms of asthma .

However, it’s unclear whether borage specifically was responsible for the beneficial effects observed in these studies.

On the other hand, one study in 38 people showed that taking 5 mL of borage extract 3 times daily improved symptoms of asthma but didn’t decrease inflammation, compared with a control group

Therefore, more research is needed to evaluate how borage extract may affect asthma and inflammation.

May promote skin health

Borage oil contains high amounts of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid that’s integral to the structure and function of your skin

Borage oil also boasts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help promote wound healing and repair your skin’s natural barrier

Some research has found that borage may benefit several common skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis, which is a type of eczema.

In one study, wearing an undershirt coated in borage oil every day for 2 weeks significantly improved redness and itching in 32 children with atopic dermatitis (4Trusted Source).

That said, a large review of 27 studies observed that borage oil supplements were not effective at relieving symptoms of eczema when taken orally

Further studies should be conducted to determine how borage oil could affect skin health when administered orally or topically.


Studies show that borage may help alleviate inflammation, reduce symptoms of asthma, and improve skin health.

Potential side effects

Like other essential oils, borage oil should not be ingested but rather applied topically.

Before applying, be sure to dilute borage oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut or avocado oil, to prevent skin irritation.

You should also perform a patch test by applying a small amount to your skin and checking for any adverse reactions.

You can also find softgel supplements at many health stores and pharmacies, typically in doses ranging from 300–1,000 mg.

Loose-leaf or prepackaged teas are available as well, which can be steeped in hot water to make a soothing cup of borage tea.

Borage supplements may be associated with mild side effects, including digestive issues like gas, bloating, and indigestion

In rare cases, taking high doses of borage oil has been shown to cause more serious side effects, including seizures

These supplements may also interact with some medications, including blood thinners 

Keep in mind that the borage plant also contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which are compounds that can be toxic to the liver and may contribute to cancer growth

However, these compounds are mostly removed during processing and PA-free borage supplements are widely available ).

That said, remember that supplements are not regulated by the FDA. For this reason, it’s best to purchase products that have been tested for quality by a third party.

What’s more, borage should not be used by those with liver problems or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Finally, if you’re taking any medications or have underlying health conditions, be sure to talk to a healthcare professional before taking the supplement.


Borage oil should be diluted and applied topically. Borage supplements may cause mild side effects, including digestive problems. Those with liver issues and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid borage.

The bottom line

Borage is a medicinal herb that has been associated with a number of powerful health benefits.

In particular, borage has been shown to decrease inflammation, improve skin health, and decrease symptoms of asthma.

Written by Rachael Link, MS, RD on April 2, 2020

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