Posted by & filed under Food Plants - Perennial, Medicinal Plants, Plant Systems.

Photos by Kelly Pagliaro unless otherwise indicated

Beautiful. Traditional. Functional. Therapeutic. What am I talking about you say? Why borage of course!

Borage is a wonderful plant to have around the garden. Borage (Borago officinalis), also known as starflower, bee bush, bee bread, and bugloss, is a medicinal herb with edible leaves and flowers. In my garden, borage and sunflowers share the honor of being bee hot-spots.


Exhibit ‘A’

It’s not only a favorite plant of the honey bees, but also bumble bees and small, native bees. It has served many purposes from the time of ancient Rome to the present. Pliny the Elder believed it to be an anti-depressant, and it has long been thought to give courage and comfort to the heart. One old wives’ tale states that if a woman slipped a bit of borage into a promising man’s drink, it would give him the courage to propose. At one time it was grown by beekeepers to boost honey production. It can be, and has been grown as an ornamental plant, but is also edible and medicinal. You could say that borage is a sort of super plant.


Exhibit ‘B’, from down in Melbourne, on the other side of the world
This photo © Craig Mackintosh

With a taste comparable to that of cucumber, borage has various culinary applications. The leaves can of course be used as a salad green and the flowers as edible decorations, but to stop there would be an insult to the wide variety of uses for borage. This herb can be used in soups, salads, borage-lemonade, strawberry-borage cocktails, preserves, borage jelly, various sauces, cooked as a stand-alone vegetable, or used in desserts in the form of fresh or candied flowers, to name a few.


Borage ice cubes; the perfect way to chill your borage lemonade

This herb is also the highest known plant source of gamma-linolenic acid (an Omega 6 fatty acid, also known as GLA) and the seed oil is often marketed as a GLA supplement. It is also a source of B vitamins, beta-carotene, fiber, choline, and, again, trace minerals. In alternative medicine it is used for stimulating breast milk production and as an adrenal gland tonic; thus it can be used to relieve stress.

In the garden, the uses of borage include repelling pests such as hornworms, attracting pollinators, and aiding any plants it is interplanted with by increasing resistance to pests and disease. It is also helpful to, and compatible with, most plants — notably tomatoes, strawberries and squash. Borage adds trace minerals to the soil it is planted in, and is good for composting and mulching. It is an annual, but readily self-seeds and thrives in full sun. It is so proficient in self-seeding, in fact, that once a borage plant has established itself in your garden, you will likely never have to reseed again. The bloom period is different for various climates and growing zones. In our garden, borage will bloom from mid-spring to early fall.

Now if I’ve done my job, by this time you should be thinking, “This is amazing! How in the world do I grow this miracle plant for myself?” It’s quite simple actually. Seeds are best sown in full or partial sun under ½ inch (1 cm) of soil so it’s easy to sprinkle a patch with seeds and then cover it with a few handfuls of soil or compost. The plants can easily grow to be 3 feet (91 cm) tall and 2 feet (61 cm) wide, so give them room to grow, and let them shade your partial sun plants. Treat this easy-to-keep herb well and it will reward you with scores of beautiful flowers, lush foliage, and fertile soils.

Happy planting!


Exhibit ‘C’, from down in Melbourne, on the other side of the world
This photo © Craig Mackintosh

20 Responses to “All About Borage”

  1. Christine Baker

    We were growing some borage last year, but didn’t know what it was and carefully ate some leaves with our salad (since it grew in our salad bed). Ours never flowered before it froze, it was growing in the north bed and was probably planted very late in the season.

    I already started seedlings in the greenhouse from the leftover seeds. They’re just getting their first true leaves and are the best looking seedlings among the many salads we started – hope they don’t freeze, such a cold winter this year. I’m really looking forward to the flowers!

    I do appreciate the warning link posted by Thomas, won’t be eating it by the pound.

    Great article!

    Reply
  2. Belinda

    Thanks for the great article Kelly! I’m off to get me some Borage. Oh, and I believe the issues with comfrey are debatable, I have it in a smoothie every morning.

    Reply
  3. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    I agree Nick. I want more of this kind of information. In fact, so much so, that we pay for articles (see ‘write for us’ advert on our sidebar). In fact, we paid Kelly for this article.

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Reid

    My FAVORITE Salad
    Soak a hand full of raisin in orange juice ? (or half an hour)
    while you grate a Large carrot
    Mix all together place in a glass bowl ?????
    and sprinkle a dozen or so BORAGE Flower’s on top

    Reply
    • Susan

      mmm…your recipe sounds wonderful and, since this is our 3rd year of growing borage and we have many plants in different life stages, I plan to make this soon.

      Reply
  5. Michelle

    Fabulous article thank you Kelly. And thank you to Jennifer for the salad recipe :)
    I first grew Borage from the Diggers club seeds a few years ago….they now self seed readily all through my garden and are happily shared with the chooks and the pigs!

    Reply
  6. Øyvind Holmstad

    Here is more information about gamma-linolenic acid: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/gamma-linolenic-000305.htm

    From the article:

    “A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.”

    In Norwegian Borage is called Agurkurt. Here is a really good site in Scandinavian language about Agurkurt (and other herbs): http://rolv.no/urtemedisin/medisinplanter/bora_off.htm

    Reply
  7. James Flocchini

    Great article Kelly! It appears very well researched and I like your sense of humor. Great photo’s too.
    My experience with the larger fresh leaves is that they are a bit too hairy to eat raw. We use the dry leaves in tea mixes. The dry hairs irritate my skin topically as well so I make sure I don’t let them brush my arms while processing them.
    My personal opinion regarding the PA’s would be to research more….There are varying opinions about the PA’s in Comfrey (leaf vs. root; plants that go dormant vs. those that do not, etc.) and just b/c it’s in the same family does not necessarily mean it also contains them. I have not heard of it doing so, but have not researched it either.
    I look forward to more of your articles.

    Reply
  8. Sally

    Just found this site.
    Regarding Thomas’s comments about comfrey. If you do a bit more research, comfrey is quite badly maligned. You can eat it every day & quite a bit of it I might add, without any side effects. In fact, if you read the book ‘Comfrey, Nature’s Healing Herb & Health Food’ by Andrew Hughes, you will see that he & his family ate a lot of leaves every day. Plus he fed it to all his animals & healed them & tripled the milk production from an old cow he got within a few week (2 weeks if I’m not msitaken) from feeding her mountains of comfrey. I also read somewhere else where the animals that were fed a lot of comfrey actually had very healthy livers.
    Please do more research before passing on this mis-information about Comfrey to people. Otherwise they miss out on the huge benefits of using this wonderful healing herbs/food.

    Reply
  9. Janet Catesby

    Yes what a wonderful plant. I have it growing all over my back yard. Hundreds of bees. We have just acquired some chooks, and there is even some in their run. I am assuming that it is certainly good for them as well? I can’t seem to find any contraindication for poultry.

    Reply
  10. john

    ifr Borage is the same family of comfry can i make borage tea / compost juice as i would comfry ?

    Reply
    • James

      From the perspective of herbalist and gardener, I would venture to say, no, just b/c they are in the same family does not mean they share the same attributes. Medicinally speaking, some familial plants (different genus same family) do in fact share similar attributes and can be substituted for one another (Mint Family for example). Comfrey has a traditional and historical use as one of the most nutrient-loaded plants, Borage does not….But, having said that, why not give it a try and see what happens? Won’t hurt; you may stumble on something valuable!

      Reply
  11. john

    Thanks ill give it a go , just at this time we have lots of flowers on the Borage , ill wait a little until the bees have had their fill and take the borage and put it into a container and take some photos if it works , great site

    Reply
  12. VR

    Interesting that Pliny the Elder thought this was an anti-depressant. There is some more modern research showing that some people suffering from depression and alcoholism (especially folks with Scotch-Irish ancestry) greatly benefit from taking borage oil or evening primrose oil to supply a GLA deficiency.

    Reply

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