Borage – “Herb of Gladness”

(Borago officinalis – Boraginaceae)


Borage is an herb that is sometimes referred to as “bee plant”, “bee bread”, talewort, starflower, and cool-tankard. Long ago references have also been found for “burradge” and “burrage”. Borage earns its bee nicknames as a result of its dainty brilliant blue, or sometimes pinkish, star shaped flowers being attractive to honey bees and bumble bees. There is also a white-flowered cultivar named ‘Alba’ or otherwise as just referred to as “White-flowered Borage”. No matter the color, the flowers of borage are truly lovely to behold.

Borage’s older leaves are hairy, but its young hairless leaves and stems impart a mild cool cucumber flavor and are desirable in salads.

“Plant seed in late summer, and a rosette of leaves will form. By early summer the next year, the plant will be in full flower. Self-sown seedlings will appear after the first seeding, and there will no need to sow seed ever again!” –Growing & Using Herbs Successfully by Betty E.M. Jacobs

“I, borage, bring always courage.” –The Herball by John Gerard

Care and Cultivation

Borage is a hardy annual that is suitable for growing in all USDA hardiness zones and will reseed on its own and survive if left undisturbed if in region where winters are not too harsh. It thrives in full sun, but can grow in light shade. Direct seed 1/4″ deep in rows 18″ apart in February or March, or as soon as the ground can be worked. Germination period is 7 to 14 days. Once seedlings have reached a height of 2″, thin to 12″ to 15″ apart. The plants are subject to mildew if grown too close together, so it is recommended to allow plenty of space. Borage does not transplant well due to its long tap root.

A rich soil is preferred and most important is to ensure adequate draining. Borage can be grown in pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes, keeping to 1 to 2 plants per container, and using one part peat-based compost or garden soil and one part compost.

Moderate watering is required with daily watering during hot days. Borage grows easily and rapidly and will mature in about 5 to 6 weeks. Mature plants will reach a height of 12″ to 40″ with a spread of 18″ to 24″.

Pick off deadheads to encourage continual flowering. As stated above, Borage reseeds easily so be sure not to till the dead flower heads if you don’t want to end up with a garden full of borage (thankfully, any unwanted plants are easy to pull out). Seeds that drop will lie dormant, sprouting when temperatures reach about 60°F/16°C in most cases.

Borage is a companion plant to strawberries (if kept small) and is said to be a good companion plant to cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes as well. Japanese beetles and tomato hookworms are said to be deterred by borage. As noted above, borage is attractive to bees, as well as other pollinating insects. It is not bothered by much with regard to destructive pests or diseases.

Harvest and Preservation

Harvest the young leaves before the plant has flowered for best flavor. Flowers should be picked when they have just fully opened. Refrigerate leaves and flowers immediately after harvesting. Flower blossoms can be crystallized or frozen (see below) and stored in airtight containers. Leaves do not freeze well as most of the flavor will be lost.

Culinary And Other Uses

The fresh young leaves are used in salads and can also be lightly boiled or cooked as a green. Other ideas for using fresh borage leaves include using them in cream cheese or added to yogurt. The dried leaves are sometimes used in teas, infusions, and tisanes. The blossoms are popular garnishes for iced drinks and gin-based cocktails, fruit cups as well as candied by dipping in egg white or rose water then in superfine sugar and used for decorating desserts such as cakes and ice cream. For a nice touch with drinks, freeze blossoms in ice cubes or in an ice ring mold to be placed in a punch bowl. The flowers also make attractive garnishes for salads and sandwiches.

Borage flowers are also colorful additions to potpourris and to floral arrangements.

See also Borage Seed Oil.

“Borage tea is said to be good for reducing high temperatures when taken hot. This is because in inducing sweat — it is a diaphoretic — it lowers the fever. This makes it a good remedy for colds and flu, especially when these infect the lungs as it is also good for coughs. Both leaves and flowers are rich in potassium and calcium and are therefore good blood purifiers and a tonic.” –Herbs for the Home by Jekka McVicar

“As a folk remedy, borage tea continues to be taken for depression, exhaustion, and menopausal symptoms.” –the northwest herb lover’s handbook by Mary Preus

The prolonged use and consumption of borage, especially in large amounts, is discouraged due to the toxicity of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids which may lead to moderate to severe liver damage. Borage is subject to legal restrictions in some countries. Be sure to consult your doctor regarding any medical or health concerns.

Recipes and Ideas

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