Posted by: Bystander PJ8 JAN 2014
Have you come across starflower oil? Perhaps you even sell it in your pharmacy. Products based on starflower oil are marketed as a natural source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and claimed to be valuable in eczema, arthritis, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal symptoms and other conditions. However, there is little evidence that they offer any significant benefit, since healthy adults typically produce ample GLA from dietary linoleic acid.
There is also no evidence that the plant from which starflower oil is derived has ever been known as starflower. The oil is obtained from the seeds of borage (Borago officinalis). This herb has many other folk names, such as bee bread, bee plant, ox-tongue, tailwort and cool tankard. But, as far as I am aware, it was never called starflower until the herbal medicine industry got to work on marketing it. Perhaps because the name “borage” is too similar to “porridge”, they usurped a name that has traditionally been applied only to other plants with star-like flowers, such as tormentil, lesser celandine and star of Bethlehem.
Language is a living thing, and I have no objection to organic changes, but I despise the way English is being forcibly altered by commercial interests.
Turning borage into starflower is by no means a unique sales ploy. In the 1960s New Zealand fruit producers rebranded the Chinese gooseberry as the kiwi fruit, even though it is not a native of New Zealand. Their success inspired other marketeers to attempt to boost the image of their own products, so that rapeseed oil has become canola oil in North America, Niger seed has been distorted into nyjer seed and bog myrtle has lost its lovely old Scottish name and become sweet gale.