Borage: Pimm’s decoration which fed the crusaders and lifted the “dark melancholy”

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Once considered so sacred that the Druids consecrated their weapons with its starflower petals before battle, borage deserves more recognition, says Ian Morton.

Closest to today’s bugloss is the intensely blue flower nestled atop a properly constructed Pimm’s glass.

No herb, once so generous in its offerings to mankind, has drifted further from popular consciousness. Its many English folk names – bee plant, bee bush, bee bread, ox tongue, talewort, starflower, cool tankard, joy grass, borak, lisan selvi, lesan-el-tour, euphrosinum and bugloss common – reflect its perceived attributes.

Its five-petalled flowers grow together in long scorpioid cymes and are surrounded by a mist of soft hairs. On the palate, they have a more gourmet honey taste. The leaves and hairy stems can be compared to bovine tongues by their texture and shape – hence bugloss, an inelegant word that comes from the Greek bou, a cow or an ox, and Latin gloss, language.

Borage, sometimes written borage, derives from Celtic borrach, or courage, because the plant was sacred to the Druids: the weapons were dedicated to it before the battle and their warriors prepared for the melee by drinking the wine in which the borage had been soaked. Its virtue was recognized throughout the classical world, as the Greeks and Romans used it alike – Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder both recognized it.

Woman hoping to get positive response from cautious suitor could slip it in wine

Some scholars assume that this was Homer’s “nepenthe”. Odyssey Book IV, a substance which, when dropped into wine, “relieved the pains and irritations of men, making them forget their troubles – a glass of it, when soaked in wine, would ensure that no man would leave a tear fall on his cheek, his father and mother are dead ”.

Belief in its tendon-stiffening powers persisted until the Middle Ages, when family and friends bidding farewell to the initially Crusader Knights offered stirrups in which borage flowers floated. At the domestic level, folklore suggested that a woman hoping to get a positive response from a cautious suitor might slip borage into her wine to encourage her to ask the question.

Borage (Borago officinalis) has close equivalent names in other European languages ​​and is common throughout the region, although it originates from the Aleppo region of Syria. In various mainland regions, its cucumber-tasting leaves are a food.

In Poland and Russia it is used to flavor pickled pickles; it is eaten as a vegetable in Germany – with its green soup a specialty of Frankfurt – and, in northern Spain and northwestern Italy, it can be added to ravioli and pansotti fillings. It was one of the plants carried across the Atlantic by pioneers determined to establish traditional dishes and herbal remedies in the New World; its habit of self-seeding in temperate climates has also transported it across North America.

In a favorable position, borage will remain in bloom for many months, self-seeding only to reappear later in the same season and bigger and bolder the next year. Bees and bumblebees, especially the yellow-marked garden and the ginger-clad carder, rush to its drooping flowers, which replenish their nectar as soon as it is taken – a rare quality.

Its presence as a companion plant would help squash, spinach, cabbage, cucumbers, strawberries and fruit trees by attracting pollinating insects. It also repels unwanted pests and is considered particularly beneficial for tomato plants – it confuses the female five-point hornworm as to where to lay her eggs, the resulting caterpillars of which known as the tomato hornworm. , can cause serious damage. Therefore, any gardener who treats borage like an intruder is doing his plot and insect visitors a disservice.

The factory’s reputation for boosting morale continued until the Renaissance. that of Jean Gérard Herbal, largely a 1597 translation of a 1554 treatise by Rembert Dodocus, widely available in Europe in Latin, Dutch and French, quoted an old saying, ‘Ego borago, there is gaudia semper‘(I borage always brings joy).

    Borage (Borago officinalis).  Close up of flower bud

Praising his “gallant blewe flour”, Gérard declared that “those of our time use flowers in salads to exalt and rejoice the spirit. There are also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, to drive away pain and increase the joy of the spirit. The leaves and the flowers… put in the wine make men and women happy and joyful and dispel all sadness, dullness and melancholy as Dioscorides and Pliny affirms. Borage flower syrup comforts the heart, purges melancholy and soothes the frenzied and the mad. ‘

Half a century later, in his Complete herbal, Nicholas Culpeper acknowledged that borage and the related single-stemmed variety, viperine, were “so well known to be inhabitants of every garden that I consider it unnecessary to describe them.”

It grows wild in many parts of the country and can be found in abundance near London, such as between Rotherhithe and Deptford by the edges of the ditches … the herbs of Jupiter and under Leo, all great cordials and tonics of the nature “. He also praised the plant’s many medicinal properties.

Bee on a borage flower

“The leaves or roots are very well used in putrid and pestilential fevers, to defend the heart and help resist and expel poison or venom from other creatures … seeds and leaves are good for increasing milk in women’s breasts… leaves, flowers and seeds are good for warding off reverie and melancholy, for clearing the blood and easing the heat in fevers.

Culpeper further recommended borage syrup for yellow jaundice, itching, ringworm, and the spread of scabs or sores. It was “good for the weak suffering from long illness, and for comforting the hearts and minds of those who are consumed, or troubled by frequent fainting, or passions of the heart.” He proposed borage preparations for inflamed eyes, mouth and throat ulcers, coughs, phlegm, and “rheumatic distillations on the lungs.”

The flowers… put in the wine make men and women happy… and dispel all sadness

Culpeper’s contemporaries also supported the esteem of borage. Herbalist John Evelyn recommended it “to revive the hypochondriac and encourage the hard student.” Statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon, although an early proponent of the scientific approach, reiterated the long-held belief that it was “an excellent mind to quell the searing vapor of dark melancholy” .

Modern herbalists accept its value as a treatment for fever, cough, lung inflammation, depression, as a diuretic and sedative, and for skin and cosmetics. It is also claimed to help control cholesterol levels and may have a beneficial effect against Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Indeed, over the past 30 years, the UK has grown to become the world’s largest commercial producer and producer of borage seed oil, which is rich in fatty acids and one of the best-known natural sources of borage seed oil. gamma-linolenic acid.

Two sides of the viper bugloss

Although the familiar garden borage may also be referred to as the common bugloss, Culpeper’s mention of resistance and poison expulsion recognized another widely held member of the Boraginaceae family, viper bugloss. The most common of a dozen tall, spiky varieties, it was traditionally used as an antidote to snakebites, although this may have developed into folklore because the flared flowers have the appearance of ready-made snake heads. hit. According to the ancient doctrine of signatures, the appearance of a plant was considered a heavenly sign of its medicinal effectiveness.

This variety (Vulgar echium), also known as the Serpent’s Flower, Blue Devil, and Blue Grass, thrives on road shoulders, in limestone wasteland and disturbed areas – even the old chariot tracks of Salisbury Plain – and in the sand . An area on the Marske Dunes, near Redcar in North Yorkshire, is known as “Blue Mountain” for the intensity of its display. Attractive to many insects – and a food plant for Painted Lady caterpillars – it is the East Lothian County Flower and the traditional language of flowers classifies it as the symbol of lying, a rather mixed message.

A related strain also has a double-edged sword in Australia. Introduced there in the 1880s by settler Jane Paterson to bring color to his garden in Cumberoona, New South Wales, Echium plantagineum seeded freely: it’s vilified like a weed in the southern states and known as the Paterson’s Curse.

Four species of Mediterranean insects have been introduced to attempt a biological control. Yet in dry spells, the intruder offers fallback pasture for ruminants when other forage crops wither, justifying his alternative nickname, Jane of Salvation. Briefly, by the sheep and cattle ranchers, the woman and her intrusive introduction are forgiven.


The moss is fascinating, ancient and bizarre, and grows so slowly – an inch in every quarter century – that it grows


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