All About Borage

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