What to Know About Borage

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 12, 2023
3 min read

Borage, also known as starflower or bee flower, is a plant harvested mostly for its seeds. It’s an annual plant with coarse, hairy leaves. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and has blue, star-shaped flowers. The leaves and stems are a grey-green color.

In traditional medicine, borage is used as a sedative and a diuretic, and as a treatment for seizures and kidney disease. The leaves are often used as dried herbs or tea.

Today, fresh borage is eaten and used as a garnish or in drinks. The seeds are also pressed to make borage seed oil, which is used as a supplement.

Borage seed oil is often used with evening primrose oil, but borage has more gamma-linoleic acid, or omega-6 fatty acid.

You can find lots of different borage products, including:

  • Fresh herb
  • Dried herb
  • Seed oil supplement
  • Skin creams

Because of its high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, borage oil is anti-inflammatory. Researchers want to know if it could help for health conditions like:

  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Asthma
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Diabetic nerve pain
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Depression
  • Diabetes

But there’s not a lot of evidence for these uses. In some cases, using borage might not be safe. Don’t take it for any health condition without talking to your doctor first.

Using borage oil and borage long-term or in high doses can cause health problems.

Liver trouble. Borage leaves and flowers have a small number of compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These can damage the liver if you take borage long term or if you take certain medications. Most of the time, there are only traces of alkaloids left in the borage after it's processed to sell. But these might still cause problems.

Bleeding. Gamma-linoleic acid in evening primrose oil can cause bleeding problems. Evening primrose oil is 10% gamma-linoleic acid while borage oil is 25%. By extension, borage oil might cause bleeding problems, too.

Seizures. In one report, an otherwise healthy woman took very high doses of borage oil for a week and had seizures.

‌Breastfeeding. The alkaloid compounds in borage leaves and plant parts might get into breast milk, which is unsafe for your baby.

Blue baby syndrome. This is a rare blood disorder in babies that causes the skin to turn blue. This can be caused by eating pureed borage, which has a lot of nitrates. Babies can’t process nitrates very well.

Medications. Borage can affect some medications and change how they work. This could cause serious health problems or make your medicine stop working as intended.

Side effects. There are common side effects of taking borage. You might have:

  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramping

Allergies. You might be allergic to borage. Allergic reactions can include:

  • Skin rash
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Runny nose
  • Sudden tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Throat swelling

Trouble breathing and swelling in your throat are signs of anaphylaxis. This is an emergency and you should call 911.

While you might hear or read about lots of ways to use borage, there isn’t enough evidence for most suggested uses. Borage oil might be helpful for easing certain rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, though.

Talk to your doctor first before taking a supplement. If your doctor gives you the green light to take it, make sure you take a certified alkaloid-free product and take only the recommended dose.

Some people shouldn’t take borage or borage oil. These include people who take:

  • Blood thinner meds
  • Drugs that can cause liver toxicity, like ketoconazole and anabolic steroids
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, COX-2 inhibitors, and ibuprofen

Also, don’t use borage or borage oil if you:

  • Have liver disease
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Take medicines for seizures

Herbs can be useful for some things, but they’re not meant for everyone. Make sure to discuss your health with your doctor first before taking borage.