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(Borage or Forget-Me-Not family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: •
• Adverse effects: The coarse trichomes covering many of these plants have been described as urticarious (Muenscher 1939) and capable of producing mechanical irritation (Wimmer 1926). The most likely occasion on which this may occur is during patch testing with the plant material (Woods 1962). Some members of this family appear to have the capacity to sensitise on contact. The cordiachromes, which are terpenoid benzoquinones, appear to be the compounds responsible. Several species of Cordia L. have been reported to harbour ants and are therefore a potential cause of pseudophytodermatitis when growing in the wild. •
• Veterinary aspects: • Hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids present in many species can cause liver damage in grazing animals, producing fibrosis of the liver, and associated secondary effects including jaundice, ascites, and photosensitisation of sun-exposed parts of the animals.

Members of this family of 2000 species in 100 genera are found in tropical and temperate regions, and are especially well represented in the Mediterranean region. They are herbs or dwarf shrubs, typically being covered with coarse hairs (trichomes). The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2003) has recently moved into this family several genera previously classified in the family Hydrophyllaceae, including Nama L., Phacelia Juss., and Wigandia Kunth.

Many species are commonly grown in temperate regions as border or rockery plants. These include Myosotis L. species (forget-me-not, scorpion grass), Lithospermum L. species (gromwell, puccoon, red root), Heliotropium L. species (heliotrope, cherry pie), and Echium L. species (viper's bugloss).

The roots of some species yield useful dyes. Alkanna tinctoria Tausch, the red alkannet, yields alkanna. Tincture of Alkanna is used in microscopy for detection of oils and fats (Todd 1967). Lithospermum erythrorhizon Siebold & Zucc. is used in Japan to make a purple dye.

Certain boraginaceous plants have an established place in herbal medicine, the most important being borage (Borago officinalis L.), comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.), and lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis L. and Pulmonaria angustifolia L.).

It has recently become apparent that all genera in this family may yield possibly hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These alkaloids have also been detected in honey originating from bees foraging on, for example, Echium plantagineum L. (Smith & Culvenor 1981).

Alkanna tinctoria Tausch
[syn. Anchusa tinctoria L.]
Red Alkanet, Dyer's Alkanet

Gerarde (1636), referring to this plant as Anchusa Alcibiadion, noted that "the root is a finger thicke, the pith or inner part thereof is of a wooddie substance, dying the hands or whatsoeuer toucheth the same, of a bloudie colour, or of the colour of saunders." [Saunders, otherwise known as red saunders or Santalum Rubrum is a dye derived from Pterocarpus santalinus L.f., fam. Leguminosae]. He noted also that "The Gentlewomen of France do paint their faces with these roots, as it is said."

Amsinckia menziesii A.Nelson & J.F.Macbr. var. intermedia ined.
[syns Amsinckia echinata A.Gray, Amsinckia intermedia Fisch. & C.A.Mey., Amsinckia irritans Brand, Benthamia intermedia Druce, etc.]
Coast Fiddleneck, Common Fiddleneck, Intermediate Fiddleneck, Tarweed, Rancher's Fireweed, Yellow Burweed, Yellow Forget-Me-Not

This is a common, ruderal plant native to western North America, which is highly variable in morphology over its extensive range, to which over 150 names, now condidered synonyms, have been applied.

The specific epithet for the synonym Amsinckia irritans suggests that the plant has irritant properties. McCulloch (1940a), citing Pammel (1926), noted that Amsinckia intermedia has been known to produce mechanical injuries. Gardner & Bennetts (1956) describe Amsinckia intermedia as an annual herb covered with almost prickly, spreading stiff yellow hairs.

Whilst all species of Amsinckia Lehm. contain hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, the leaves and/or seeds of this and only three other species (Amsinckia lycopsoides Lindl. ex Lehm., Amsinckia menziesii A.Nelson & J.F.Macbr., and Amsinckia tessellata A.Gray), when eaten by grazing animals, have caused liver damage, possible secondary effects of which being jaundice, ascites, and photosensitisation of sun-exposed parts of the animals. The toxicosis is recognised as "walking disease" or "staggers", which, if severe, leads to the death of the animal (McCulloch 1940a, McCulloch 1940b, Smith & Culvenor 1981, Knight & Walter 2001-2003, Panter et al. 2017, Hussain et al. 2018). However, McCulloch (1940a, 1940b) noted that because of its irritant character the plant is not grazed by livestock, but that the seeds are readily eaten in grain if grain for animal feed is contaminated with the seeds during harvesting (leading to "winter wheat poisoning"). However, poisoning cases attributable to ingestion of the plant do occur, these usually being associated with contaminated hay or lack of good-quality forage on the rangeland (Panter et al. 2017).

Anchusa arvensis M.Bieb.
[syn. Lycopsis arvensis L.]

The rough hairs of this species have irritant properties (Woods 1962).

Borago officinalis L.

Both Wren (1975) and Stuart (1979) note that the leaves of this plant may be used externally as a poultice for inflammatory swellings.

White (1887) recorded that the short bristly hairs on the leaves are irritant to the hands. Gardner & Bennetts (1956) included this species in a list of plants known or suspected of causing dermatitis.

Coldenia procumbens L.

The dried leaves, when pulverised, provoke sneezing (Quisumbing 1951).

Cordia L.

Some 250 species are found in warm regions.

A number of tropical American species are known to provide nesting sites for various biting and stinging species of ants, mostly within fistulose swellings on their branches. Such species are therefore a potential dermatological hazard when growing in the wild. In addition to those considered individually below, the following species are known to be myrmecophilous:

Cordia chamissoniana Steud.
Cordia cujabensis A. Silva Manso & Lhotsky
Cordia glabrata A.DC. var. orbicularis Chodat & Vischer
Cordia hassleriana Chodat
Cordia longituba Chodat & Vischer
Cordia rusbyi Britton 

Cordia africana Lam.
[syns Cordia abyssinica R.Br., Gerascanthus africanus Borhidi, Varronia abyssinica DC.]
Large-Leaved Cordia, Large-Leaved Saucer-Berry

Hausen (1981a) reported that his guinea pig sensitisation experiments with extracts of Cordia abyssinica were successful. Moir et al. (1972) and Moir & Thomson (1973a) isolated and identified three naphthoquinones (cordiachromes A, B, and C) from the active extract, of which two (cordiachromes A and B) elicited strongly positive reactions in the sensitised guinea pigs (Hausen 1981a).


Cordia alliodora Oken
[syns Cerdana alliodora Ruiz & Pav., Cordia gerascanthus Jacq., Gerascanthus alliodorus M.Kuhlm. & Mattos, Lithocardium alliodorum Kuntze]
Ecuador Laurel, Onion Cordia, Bois de Chypre, Bois de Rose, Salmwood, Spanish Elm

Morton (1981) records that the leaves and bark have been used as a flavouring, like garlic (Allium sativum L., fam. Alliaceae).

Carpenters who saw the timber of this species become very thirsty because of the peculiar properties of the sawdust; the shavings withdraw so much moisture from the hands that workmen find it an unpleasant timber to handle (Wheeler 1942). Großmann (1920) referred to a type of "rosewood" as a source of dermatitis, believing it to have been derived from Cordia alliodora.

The presence of cordiachromes A, B, and C in the heartwood of this species was reported by Moir & Thomson (1973a). Cordiachromes A and B are potent elicitors of allergic contact dermatitis in sensitised guinea pigs (Hausen 1981a). See also Cordia millenii Baker.

Spruce (1908), cited by Wheeler (1942) and by Menninger (1967), noted that in Cordia gerascantha Jacq. [sic], at the point where the branches divide there is mostly a sac, inhabited by very vicious ants of the tribe called "Tachi" by the Brazilians. Wheeler (1942), referring to Cordia alliodora, noted that the twigs and young branches often bear hollow swellings inhabited by ants. Perhaps four species of ants are known to be obligate tenants in the wild. The Azteca species most commonly found are timid and lethargic and bite only infrequently; the Pseudomyrmex species have been described as being "fierce" and "very vicious".

Cordia americana Gottschling & J.S.Mill.
[syns Cordia patagonula Aiton, Patagonula americana L., Patagonula australis Salisb., Patagonula glabra Miers, Patagonula tweediana Miers]

Moir & Thomson (1973b) reported the presence of three major pigments in the heartwood of Patagonula americana, one of which [a 2,3-dialkylbenzoquinone] they named cordiachrome G, the second [a quinol] was named leucocordiachrome H, and the third was in a subsequent publication identified as a cinnamaldehyde derivative named patagonaldehyde (Moir & Thomson 1973c). The contact sensitising / eliciting potential of these three compounds was not evaluated, but their structural features would suggest that they should be regarded as potential contact allergens. The origin of the statement by Hausen (1981a) that Patagonula americana contains cordiachromes A—F is unclear. See also Cordia millenii Baker above.

Cordia dodecandra DC.
[syns Cordia angiocarpa A.Rich., Cordia dodecandria Sessé & Mocçiño, Plethostephia angiocarpa Miers]
Ciricote, Zericote, Ziricote

Rackett & Zug (1997) described a case of a domestic woodworker who had worked with several exotic woods and developed allergic sensitivity to zericote and as well as to macassar ebony, pao ferro, cocobolo, becote, and padauk. Later testing confirmed sensitivity to R-3,4-dimethoxydalbergione (found in pao ferro), obtusaquinone (found in cocobolo), and macassar quinone (found in macassar ebony).

Cordia elaeagnoides DC.
[syns Cordia exsucca Sessé & Mocçiño, Gerascanthus elaeagnoides Borhidi]
Bocote, Becote

Rackett & Zug (1997) described a case of a domestic woodworker who had worked with several exotic woods and developed allergic sensitivity to becote and as well as to macassar ebony, pao ferro, cocobolo, zericote, and padauk. Later testing confirmed sensitivity to R-3,4-dimethoxydalbergione (found in pao ferro), obtusaquinone (found in cocobolo), and macassar quinone (found in macassar ebony).

The common name becote may also be applied to wood derived from Cordia boissieri DC.

Cordia gerascanthus L.
[syns Cerdana gerascanthus Moldenke, Cordia bracteata DC., Cordia geraschanthoides Kunth, Cordia gerascanthus Kunth, Cordia langlassei Loes., Gerascanthus geraschanthoides Borhidi, Gerascanthus lanceolatus J.Presl, Lithocardium gerascanthus Kuntze]
Baria, Prince-Wood, Spanish Elm, Yauco

Hartmann & Schlegel (1980) reported contact dermatitis from the wood dust of this species in a Swiss woodworker.

The presence of cordiachromes A, B, and C in this species was reported by Moir & Thomson (1973a). Cordiachromes A and B are potent elicitors of allergic contact dermatitis in guinea pigs (Hausen 1981a). See also Cordia millenii Baker below.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Cordia goeldiana Huber
Brazilian Walnut

Hartmann & Schlegel (1980) reported contact dermatitis from Cordia goeldiana wood dust in a Swiss woodworker.

The heartwood has been found to contain the cordiachromes A, B, C, D, E, and F (Moir & Thomson 1973a). Cordiachromes A, B, E, and F are known elicitors of allergic contact dermatitis in guinea pigs (Hausen 1981a). See also Cordia millenii Baker below.

Schwartz (1931) wrote about 11 cases of dermatitis venenata attributed to contact with the sawdust of "Brazilian walnut" among 100 workmen in a cabinetmaking plant. The timber in question was at the time identified as "embuia" derived from a Nectandra species, which, like the timber from Cordia goeldiana, is also sold under the trade name "Brazilian walnut". Record & Hess (1943) later identified the botanical source of the embuia more precisely as Phoebe porosa Mez (fam. Lauraceae).

Cordia millenii Baker

Hausen (1981a) demonstrated that extracts of this species could induce allergic contact dermatitis in guinea pigs. The heartwood is known to contain cordiachromes A, B, and C, with smaller quantities of D, E, and F (Moir & Thomson 1973a). Cordiachromes A, B, E, and F were found to elicit allergic contact dermatitis in the guinea pigs thus sensitised (Hausen 1981a).


Cordia nodosa Lam.
[syns Cordia collococa Aubl., Cordia formicarum Willd. ex Roem. & Schult., Cordia hispidissima A.DC., Cordia miranda DC., Cordia umbrosa Spruce ex Rusby, Cordia volubilis Pittier]

Referring to Cordia hispidissima, Wheeler & Bequaert (1929) noted that the tops of the branches are swollen to form spindle shaped myrmecodomatia, which may house small colonies of a timid ant (a Neoponera species) that is very active and stings rather severely when handled. Menninger (1967), citing Spruce (1908), noted that Cordia nodosa is usually tenanted by small fire ants. According to Wheeler (1942), extremely populous colonies of a pale yellow ant (an Allomerus species) may occupy most or all of the cauline swellings of the bush. All the swellings are connected with one another and with the forest floor by the ants. They construct a peculiar system of galleries and arcades on the surface of the plant, consisting of minute particles of earth supported by the long red hairs of the plant. When one handles the plant, the workers swarm all over one's clothing and for some time keep on stinging, but their stings are so feeble that they produce merely a rather unpleasant itching, and that only of parts with very thin epidermis. The ants associated with Cordia nodosa are known to vary with geographic location. The most frequent associated ant species are Allomerus octoarticulatus Mayr and various Azteca species (Dejean et al. 2004).

von Reis & Lipp (1982) noted that the hairy parts of the plant burn painfully

Cordia platythyrsa Baker

Cordiachromes A, B, and C, with smaller quantities of D, E, and F have been reported from this species (Moir & Thomson 1973a). See also Cordia millenii Baker.

Cynoglossum officinale L.
Hound's Tongue, Dog's Tongue, Gipsy Flower

A poultice prepared from this plant has been used in folk medicine as a remedy for haemorrhoids (Wren 1975, Stuart 1979). Stuart (1979) also notes that the bruised leaves may be rubbed on insect bites, but cautions that the plant may cause dermatitis.

The fruits are covered with hooks.

Echium lycopsis L.
Paterson's Curse, Salvation Jane

This species caused an irritating rash to a person who handled the plant. The rash was considered to have been caused by the bristly hairs on the leaves and stems (Aplin 1976).

Echium plantagineum L.
Paterson's Curse, Viper's Bugloss

This species can cause a rash when handled by susceptible persons. The rash arises from the abrasive action of its stiff hairs, and possibly also from a contact allergen (Aplin 1966).

Echium vulgare L.
Viper's Bugloss

The hairs of the plant can cause dermatitis (Pammel 1911). Gardner & Bennetts (1956) also list this as a plant known or suspected of causing dermatitis, probably from Pammel (1911).

Heliotropium L.

A pharmaceutical worker developed an itching papular eczema from contact with a species from this genus after developing a contact allergy to Duboisia R.Br. (fam. Solanaceae) leaf. Cross sensitivity between the tropane alkaloids in the latter species and the pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the former species was postulated but no patch testing was reported (Trautner 1949).

Heliotropium aegyptiacum Lehm.
[syns Heliotropium cinerascens Steud. ex DC. & A.DC., Heliotropium pallens Delile]

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Heliotropium europaeum L.
Common Heliotrope

Gardner & Bennetts (1956) noted that in South Australia this plant has caused sheep mortalities, which have been characterised also by severe manifestations of photosensitisation.

Lappula squarrosa Dumort. subsp. squarrosa
[syns Echinospermum lappula Lehm., Lappula myosotis Moench]

The fruits are armed with hooks.

Myosotis L.
Forget-me-not, Scorpion Grass

Species of this genus may produce irritant patch test reactions (Hjorth 1968).

Nama hispida A.Gray var. spathulata C.L.Hitchc.
[syns Nama hispida A.Gray subsp. spathulata A.E.Murray, Nama biflora Choisy var. spathulata Torr.]
Bristly Nama

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Onosma irritans Popov ex Pavlov

The specific epithet suggests that the plant has irritant properties.

Pentaglottis sempervirens Tausch
[syn. Anchusa sempervirens L.]

The plant may have irritant properties from its rough hairs (Woods 1962).

Phacelia Juss.

About 200 species are native to North America and the Andes.

Plants of this genus can produce a vesicular dermatitis resembling poison ivy dermatitis (Toxicodendron, fam. Anacardiaceae) (Munz 1932, Berry et al. 1962). Walking amongst the plants and handling the flowers produced dermatitis of the lower limbs and on the hands. Patch tests confirmed that the plants were the cause of the dermatitis (Berry et al. 1962). The sap stains the skin brown (Munz 1932).

The following species are recorded as being capable of eliciting dermatitis (Munz 1932, Weber 1937, Berry et al. 1962):

Phacelia brachyloba A.Gray
Phacelia campanularia A.Gray
Phacelia crenulata Torr.
Phacelia grandiflora A.Gray
Phacelia infundibuliformis Torr.
Phacelia minor Thell.
Phacelia parryi Torr.
Phacelia pedicellata A.Gray
Phacelia viscida Torr. 

Certain other species of Phacelia did not produce dermatitis in sensitised individuals; those eliciting dermatitis belonged to three different sections of the genus, their most obvious common feature being their viscid glandular hairs (Munz 1932).

Phacelia humilis Torr. & A.Gray
[syn. Phacelia irritans Brand]
Low Phacelia

This species occurs naturally in California, USA. The specific epithet irritans suggests that the plant has irritant properties.

Pulmonaria officinalis L.
Lungwort, Jerusalem Cowslip, Spotted Dog

Woods (1962) describes one patient who developed dermatitis after handling this plant in her garden. A patch test with a leaf provoked diffuse erythema and oedema. In 8 of 17 control subjects tested there was a mild punctate erythema; in the remainder there was no reaction. It appears that there is an individual susceptibility to mechanical irritation by the trichomes, and that allergic sensitisation may also occur.

Symphytum officinale L.
Comfrey, Blackwort, Bruisewort, Knitbone, Nipbone, Consolida

According to Wren (1975), comfrey leaves subdue every kind of inflammatory swelling when used as a fomentation. Stuart (1979) notes that the leaves or macerated root are applied as a poultice, lotion or decoction to wounds, bruises, ulcers and other dermatological complaints. The plant contains allantoin (Todd 1967, Forrest 1982), to which the vulnerary properties of the plant have been ascribed.


The hairy leaves of this species have irritant properties (Woods 1962).

Tournefourtia hirsutissima L.
Chiggernit, Crocus Bush

This hairy plant can produce mechanical injury (Oakes & Butcher 1962).

Trigonotis peduncularis Benth. ex Baker & S.Moore var. peduncularis
[syns Eritrichium japonicum Miq., Eritrichium pedunculare A.DC., Myosotis peduncularis Trevis.]
Cucumber Herb

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Varronia curassavica Jacq.
[syns Cordia brevispicata M.Martens & Galeotti, Cordia chacoensis Chodat, Cordia curassavica Roem. & Schult., Cordia hispida Benth., Cordia macrostachya Roem. & Schult., Cordia verbenacea DC., Varronia macrostachya Jacq., etc.]
Black Sage, String Bush

Wheeler (1942) noted that Cordia chacoensis from Paraguay had true [myrmeco]domatia, but no account was given of the structure of the domatia or of their tenants. See also Cordia nodosa Lam. above.

Lans et al. (2000) reported the ethnoveterinary use in Trinidad and Tobago of black sage as a preventative treatment for repelling flies and ticks in dogs. A bundle of the leaves and stems is rolled and placed in a bucket of water. The resulting solution is then rubbed into the coat.

The common name black sage is also applied to the unrelated Salvia mellifera Greene (syn. Audibertia stachyoides Benth.) of the family Labiatae.

Varronia cylindristachya Ruiz & Pav.
[syns Cordia caracasana A.DC., Cordia cylindristachya Roem. & Schult., Cordia cylindrostachya Roem. & Schult., Cordia macrostachya Spreng., Varronia cylindrostachya Ruiz & Pav., Varronia macrostachya Ruiz & Pav., etc.]

A woman had recurrent dermatitis of the hands from handling the leaves of Cordia cylindrica (Chan 1974), a name of no botanical standing. Chan may have been referring to Cordia cylindristachya.

Moir & Thomson (1973a), possibly referring to this species, failed to detect any cordiachromes in an extract of "C. cylindristachya Kunth". See Cordia millenii Baker above.

Wigandia crispa Kunth
[syns Hydrolea crispa Tafalla ex Ruiz & Pav., Wigandia pruritiva Spreng., Wigandia reflexa Brand]

von Reis Altschul (1973) found an herbarium note stating that Wigandia reflexa bears spiny, possibly stinging hairs.

Wigandia urens Kunth
[syns Ernstamra urens Kuntze, Hydrolea urens Ruiz & Pav., Wigandia kunthii Choisy, Wigandia peruviana Mill.]
Caracus Wigandia, Ortiga

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Wigandia urens Kunth var. caracasana D.N.Gibson
[syns Wigandia caracasana Kunth, Wigandia caracasana Kunth var. macrophylla Brand, Wigandia kunthii Choisy var. macrophylla Choisy, Wigandia macrophylla Schltdl. & Cham., Wigandia scorpioides Choisy]
Caracus Wigandia, Ortiga

All parts of Wigandia caracasana, which is one of the most active stinging nettles found in Panama, are covered with extremely painful stinging hairs (Allen 1943).

Vesiculo-bullous dermatitis occurred in a woman, her gardener, and her neighbour who repeatedly came into contact with Wigandia caracasana Kunth var. macrophylla in cultivation. Patch tests to the leaf and stem, applied for 5 minutes only, produced on the following day an erythematous papular itching eruption. Patch tests on 5 control subjects produced no reaction (Anderson & Ayres 1931).


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Richard J. Schmidt

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