Saturday, September 6, 2008

Borage

Borage is a coarse, hardy, annual herb of the natural order Boraginaceæ. Its popular name, derived from the generic, is supposed by some to have come from a corruption of cor, the heart, and ago, to affect, because of its former use as a cordial or heart-fortifying medicine. Courage is from the same source. The Standard Dictionary, however, points to burrago, rough, and relates it indirectly by cross references to birrus, a thick, coarse woolen cloth worn by the poor during the thirteenth century. The roughness of the full-grown leaves suggests flannel. Whichever derivation be correct, each is interesting as implying qualities, intrinsic or attributed, to the plant.

The specific name indicates its obsolete use in medicine. It is one of the numerous plants which have shaken off the superstitions which a credulous populace wreathed around them. Almost none but the least enlightened people now attribute any medicinal virtues whatever to it.

The plant is said to come originally from Aleppo, but for centuries has been considered a native of Mediterranean Europe and Africa, whence it has become naturalized throughout the world by Europeans, who grew it probably more for medicinal than for culinary purposes. According to Ainslie, it was among the species listed by Peter Martyr as planted on Isabella Island by Columbus's companions. The probability is that it was also brought to America by the colonists during Queen Elizabeth's time. It has been listed in American seedsmen's catalogues since 1806, but the demand has always been small and the extent to which it is cultivated very limited.

Borage is of somewhat spreading habit, branchy, about 20 inches tall. Its oval or oblong-lanceolate leaves and other green parts are covered with whitish, rather sharp, spreading hairs. The flowers, generally blue, sometimes pink, violet-red, or white, are loosely racemed at the extremities of the branches and main stems.