Borage, Bees and Courage

I have just returned from my travels to New Zealand to be part of the First Light Flower Essence of NZ workshop at the serene Tauhara Centre in Taupo. Apart from attending the workshop I’d been intending to photograph New Zealand’s native flowers but as so often, the flower world has its own plans and the borage in the veggie garden of the centre called to be portrayed enticing me with dew drops sparkling in the morning sun.

Borage Borago officinalis also known as Starflower and Bee’s Bread is an annual herb native to the Mediterranean. Known by the ancient Greeks Dioscorides and Pliny, it has been cultivated in Europe for its medicinal and culinary uses since the 15th century. There are different thoughts on the origins of the name:

  • Some consider it to be derived from the Latin name Borago, a corruption of courago, from cor, the heart and ago, I bring.
  • In the Mediterranean it is spelled with a double ‘r’, e.g., in Italian borra or French bourra, hair or wool, referring to the hairy appearance of the plant.
  • Clergyman, botanist and geologist John Stevens Henslow suggests its origin from the Celtic “barrach”…”a man of courage”. 

Interestingly though that the plant’s name is so closely linked to Courage as some the pharmaceutical effect of Borage relate to strengthening the heart and lifting the spirits.

Bees love borage, which according to various scientific studies and apiarists, have a preference for colours in the blue/violet spectrum. Another explanation for their attraction might however be the nectar-rich flowers that refill with nectar every two minutes.

IMG_5247_cTo nourish the bees and yourself you probably can’t go wrong growing some borage in your garden. The cucumber flavoured leaves can be added to salads or you can steam the leaves as you would spinach. The flowers can also be used in salads, they can be candied or used to dye vinegar blue.

The plant is highly nutritious containing vitamins (C, A, B3), minerals (eg, iron, calcium, potassium) and tannins as well as the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (omega 6). Culinary use comes with a health warning as the plant contains small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage. As this toxin is present in extremely small quantities you’ll need to eat borage in very large quantities for it to be harmful.

IMG_5271Medicinally, Borage is used for diseases of the urinary and respiratory tracts, constipation, fever, wounds, ulcers, menopause problems and the oil for skin disorders.

The high percentage of gamma gamma-linolenic acid makes Borage seed oil ideal to for skin regeneration, improves its elasticity and helps to ease wrinkles. The oil has shown to be effective treating skin disorders including eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and neurodermatitis.

Taken internally, it is extremely effective for PMS – balancing hormones and the psyche. The Italian doctor and naturalist Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501 – 1577) summarised the psychological benefits of borage oil, “It strengthens the heart and vital spirit, takes away anxiety, depression and grief.”

‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ Nelson Mandela

Borage flower essence (FES – Flower Essence Society) likewise supports us in situations when we require courage. It is indicated to be used for heavy heartedness, lack of confidence in facing difficult circumstances.

The indications for use of this essence are beautifully described in the Flower Essence Repertory: ‘Borage is an excellent heart remedy, especially for the feeling of heaviness in the heart, and perhaps throughout the body. … At times when the soul experiences too much grief, sadness, or other adversity, the heart can become contracted and heavy. We call this feeling ‘discouraged’ or ‘disheartened.’ The soul needs to learn that is can counter-balance this fettered feeling in the heart by contacting that which is ‘light’, or uplifting. This quality of soul courage is not so much connected to grit or strength, but to a condition of buoyancy in the soul which helps it to rise above, rather than sink into the weight of discouragement or depression. Borage flower essence helps the heart to experience this ebullience and lightness, filling the soul with fresh forces of optimism and enthusiasm.’

Each time I’m writing one of these posts I’m becoming more and more reverent to the plant kingdom. It amazes me how years ago I could just walk past plants being ignorant of what they have to offer. It’s been an honour to be called by Borage in Tauhara’s garden to allow me to learn more about it and to share it with you here.

© 2013, Annette Zerrenthin

P. Kaminski, R. Katz. Flower Essence Repertory. The Flower Essence Society, 1992.
Dr. U. Kuenkele, T. R. Lohmeyer. Herbs for Healthy Living. Parragon Books Ltd., 2007.
A. Rausch, B. Lotz. Dumont's Lexicon of Herbs. Rebo, 2006.
M. Roberts. Tea. Recipes for Health, Wellbeing and Taste. New Holland, 2011.
D. Wabner. Aromatherapie. Urban & Fischer, 2012.

Sweet Violet

A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute.
Shakespeare in  ‘Hamlet’

Violets are in bloom right now in the cool Melbourne mid-winter. My discovery of their return into flower the other day was not by seeing them but smelling their fragrance when walking past … then the remembering … ahh, the violets!! … and my trying to slow down my step to indulge in their sweet scent.

Violets Viola odorata are native to Europe and Asia but are now cultivated across the world.  Who wouldn’t grow a violet for  their wonderful scent,  health benefits and culinary use?

In the beautifully illustrated book ‘wild kochen’ Anette Eckmann uses her violets in recipes for making  tea, a vinaigrette, candied violet flowers or liqueur. The web shares many recipes for candied violets and violet syrup to flavour ice creams, cakes or sparkling wine.


Violets were mentioned  as an important medicinal plant as far back in history as the first century AD. The whole plant – leaves, flowers and roots are used in herbal healing for their constituents of saponins, salicylic acid glycosides, essential oils, mucilage and alkaloids (odoratin, violin).

Treatments include bronchitis, lung diseases, coughs, influenza, skin diseases (ulcers, rashes, pimples) wounds, rheumatic complaints. The soothing mucilage of violet leaves, flowers and roots acts as a decongestant in the lungs and throat and opens blocked sinuses. It is helpful for hay fever, sneezing and itchy eyes.

In homeopathy viola odorata is used as a remedy for earache, eye diseases and whooping cough.


The expensive essential oil made either from the flowers or leaves of violets is cleansing to the kidneys and decongestive to the lower body, speak it has laxative properties. It is beneficial for the respiratory tract, soothes inflammation of the throat and has been found to have painkilling properties. It balances the emotions, helps with anxiety and nervous exhaustion.


So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them. ~ Sylvia Plath


This quote by Sylvia Plath describes so well the person who could benefit from the harmonising qualities of Violet flower essence (Flower Essence Society). Violet is for the person with profound shyness, being aloof, reserved and with a fear of being submerged in groups. It brings about harmonising qualities of having a highly perceptive sensibility, an elevated spiritual perspective and the ability to share with others while remaining true to self.

Just as the hidden violets come out to shine with their powerful fragrance when warmed by sunshine, so may the flower essence help a reserved person to feel comfortable to open up in the presence of others and shine.

 P. Kaminski, R. Katz. Flower Essence Repertory. Flower Essence Society, Nevada City, 1992.
 S. Chiazzari. Colour Scents. Saffron Walden, Essex, 1998.
 W. Sellar. The Directory of Essential Oils. Vermillion, London, 2001.
 M. Roberts. Tea - Recipes for Health, Wellbeing and Taste. New Holland, Chatswood, 2011.
 A. Eckmann. wild kochen - Aus der gruenen Speisekammer der Natur. Christian, Muenchen, 2011.
 Dr. U. Kuenkele, T.R. Lohmeyer. Herbs For Healthy Living. Parragon, Bath, 2007.

Lifting the veil on Wild Carrot

Wild carrot Daucus carota is a flowering plant in the Apiaceae  (or Umbelliferae) family of mostly aromatic plants that include angelica, anise, caraway and parsley. These plants are known for their umbrella shaped flower head . Light and feathery, Wild carrot also named Queen Anne’s lace, bishops lace or bird’s nest graces meadows and gardens all over the world. Native to temperate climate zones of Europe and south-west Asia the plant has migrated across the oceans to North America and Australia.

The domesticated carrot is a subspecies known as Daucus carota subsp. sativus.

 Early Geek texts from the 1st century AD describe the use of the plant as a vegetable as well as a medicinal plant thought to contain contraceptive properties.

Carrot seed essential oil is used in aromatherapy as a tonic for the digestive system, especially the liver and gallbladder, and to relieve stress and mental exhaustion. With its carotol properties the oil is a premier skin healing oil, and is used externally mixed in a carrier oil for dryness, dermatitis, ageing skin and eczema. Personally, I love use essential oils in my daily skincare by blending a few drops of  helicrysum, frankincense and carrot seed oils in sweet almond oil and  I am yet to try this face mask of honey, olive oil and carrot seed oil. When using essential oils it is common sense to test if it causes irritation to your skin.


The healing properties of Wild carrot flower essence centre around vision and seeing in all forms from eyesight, insight to clairvoyance. The doctrine of signature of the plant with its lace like, umbrella shaped flower head suggests a veil that may conceal repressed emotions or hurt, a not wanting to see what is, an obstruction of sight.


“But when the self speaks to the self, who is speaking? The entombed soul, the spirit driven in, in, in to the central catacomb; the self that took the veil and left the world — a coward perhaps, yet somehow beautiful, as it flits with its lantern restlessly up and down the dark corridors.” ~ Virginia Woolf


The harmonising qualities of the Flower Essence Society’s Queen Anne’s Lace essence are indicated as follows: “This essence is helpful for many who are seeking balanced psychic opening, or who may experience vision problems connected with emergent clairvoyance. The Queen Anne’s Lace flower helps to ground and stabilize, as well as to refine and sensitize the soul’s “clear-seeing.”  

Wild carrot flower essence by the German brand Rosengarten-Essenzen supports us in seeing and recognising what is. It can be used to accompany therapy supporting clear reflection on experiences that had been repressed. The essence relieves eye strain caused by bright sunlight or computer monitors.

© 2013. Annette Zerrenthin

Bodyworks. Murdorch Books, 2007
Davies, P. Aromatherapie von A-Z. Knaur, 1990.
Chiazzari, S. Colour Scents. Saffron Walden, 1998.
Alber-Klein, C. & Hornberger, R. Bach-Blueten und 52 neue Bluetenessenzen. Edition Tirta, 2005.
Kaminski, P. & Katz, R. Flower Essence Repertory. Earth-Spirit Inc., 1992.


The Abbortsford Convent is perfect for spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon with friends sharing delicious Japanese treats at Kappaya, afternoon tea or a vegetarian meal at Lentil As Anything. At the banks of the Yarra and with the Collingwood Children’s Farm next door it feels just like being in the country, yet Abbotsford is a 4km hop, skip and jump from the Melbourne CBD.

On a walk through the convent’s garden, the sunshine magnified the bright orange and yellow coloured Nasturtium flowers growing in one of the garden beds.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) have their origins in South America and were introduced to Europe around 1684 by the Dutch statesman and botanist van Beverning.  Nasturtiums made their way into monastery gardens for their medicinal properties as they had been found useful against scurvy. They contain high levels of vitamin C and a natural antibiotic to reduce throat infections. The leaves are still used in South America for treatment of bladder and kidney ailments as well as colds, coughs, flu, sore throats and bronchitis.


As a flower essence Nasturtiums support glowing vitality and radiant warmth when the life force is depleted by over study and over thinking. The Flower Essence Society writes on their essence: ‘This remedy is very helpful for students, those whose career demands strong intellectual activity, or for any phase of life where the intellect predominates. If these head forces are allowed to prevail, the soul life will become cold and disconnected from its physical body and from the larger physical body of the Earth. This imbalance predisposes the individual to many forms of physical illness, from colds and congestion in the head, to immune dysfunction and general hardening of the body.’

In her book Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume Silvena Rowe highlights cooking with flower petals such as roses and hibiscus and uses nasturtium flowers in a sauce over asparagus and an aioli to accompany fish or vegetable dishes. Their sweet, peppery taste adds a delicious flavour to salads or to this pesto recipe. You can pickle the half green seeds and use to substitute capers.

© 2013. Annette Zerrenthin