Borago officinalis, aka (star flower)
What is Borage?
Borage is an easy growing hardy annual herb with striking blue flowers and leaves with a flavor similar to a cucumber.
Borage is often grown in vegetable gardens where it attracts pollinating bees and brings color to the garden landscape.
Borage is a good companion plant for many vegetables, including squash, tomatoes and strawberries. It can deter many garden pests including tomato horn worms, Japanese beetles, cabbage worms and moths. It can also improve the flavor of tomatoes growing nearby and stimulate the growth of strawberries.
While a borage is lesser known herb, it has many uses in the culinary herb garden.
Growing Borage in the Home Garden
Varieties of Borage
Borago officinalis is by far the most common type sold. It is one of the taller herbs, growing up to three feet tall and two feet wide. Covered in a coarse, hairy fuzz, the borage plant can cause skin irritation, so wear gloves during harvest time.
Often called the starflower, borage has five dark blue petals with a white ring in the center and dark black stamens. Borage will produce hundreds of flowers for three to four months in the summer.
Ideal Location for Growing Borage
Borage prefers a sunny location with rich well-drained soil. It will benefit from a well-dug planting location with added compost. It will grow in almost any type of soil, but the added compost will promote a healthy floral display.
Grow borage in the back or along the sides of the veggie or herb garden to avoid getting pricked while you are harvesting other plants. Some type of staking or support system is occasionally needed when the plants are in full bloom.
Cultivation and Planting
It is best to direct sow borage where it will live in the garden since borage has a long taproot that can be damaged during transplanting. However, it can be sown indoors approximately 3-4 weeks before the last frost.
Transplant seedlings when they are 3 inches tall and before they become ‘pot bound’. Barely cover seeds and don’t let the soil fully dry out. When seedlings are 2-3 inches tall, thin to between 12 and 18 inches apart.
Keep the soil evenly moist when plants are young and fertilize in the spring. Borage will self-seed, so if you grow it once, the following year, you may find new seedlings growing in the garden. If you find they are growing in unwanted areas, simply pluck them out when they are young and transplant them to another location. You can also give the new volunteers to friends who may want to try this versatile herb in their gardens.
Borage Plant Care
Plants in poor soil will benefit from periodic feeding with an organic fertilizer rich in phosphorus. This will help keep them in flower. Plants can be pinched or pruned, to encourage branching and to keep them shorter.
Once established, borage plants need very little ongoing care. They will continue to grow and bloom in the summer and fall garden for several months.
Borage is generally problem free.
Where to Buy Borage Seeds
Borage seeds can occasionally be found for sale in specialty garden centers. You can also find seeds for sale through online retailers. Burpee Gardening, Urban Farmer and CooksGarden.com all sell borage seeds in the early spring. Prices range from $2 to $4.00 for a packet of seeds. Some stores sell out of popular seeds by early summer, so it’s a good idea to purchase early when you are planning your garden.
Harvesting Borage in the Home Garden
Harvest leaves and flowers as needed. The best time to harvest the leaves is when the plant is young, before the buds have started to flower. Older leaves will get prickly, making harvesting anything on the plant a bit unpleasant.
Borage is open pollinated, and it is very easy to collect the seed from flowers if they are allowed to remain on the plant and turn brown. Borage self-seeds readily, if allowed to go to seed naturally.
Drying Borage Leaves
Spread the leaves in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and then dry in a cool oven or a well-ventilated airy location. Wait until the leaves are dry to the touch, but retain their green color. They should be ready in about two weeks.
If you want to dry the leaves quicker, you can heat the oven to a low temperature, about 180 degrees. They should be ready in a few hours. Check them every half hour to avoid over-cooking the leaves.
Store them in a sealed airtight container for up to a year.
Cooking with Borage
Both the leaves and flowers of the borage plant are edible, making it a very versatile herb. Both have a delicate cucumber flavor, so they combine nicely with many dishes.
Borage Leaves in Cooking
Saute or steam borage leaves and eat them like spinach. The stems can also be peeled and eaten raw or cooked similar to celery. The taste is milder than spinach and celery, so can be added to many salads.
Culinary Uses of Borage Flowers
The borage flower adds a bit of flavor and a great deal of color to salads, soups, dips & spreads. They can also be used as a pretty garnish to open face sandwiches or as a cake topping. As with all edible flowers, use sparingly until you know how they affect you. Borage is said to have a mild laxative effect, so enjoy them in moderation.
Making Borage Tea
The flowers can also brew into a tea by themselves or with other herbs. To make borage tea:
- Gently mash about ¼ cup borage leaves (per serving) with a mortar and pestle.
- Place in a liquid measuring cup and pour 1 cup boiling water over the leaves. Allow to steep for 5 minutes
- Strain the leaves with a sieve or cheesecloth and pour into a teacup.
Tip: Add freshly picked mint leaves for a cooling minty borage tea.
Freezing Borage Flowers
Freezing borage flowers in ice cubes make a pretty statement in lemonade or raspberry iced tea.
- Simply fill ice cube trays ¾ full.
- Add a single flower to each cube.
- Allow to freeze, then store in plastic bags.
Candied Borage Flowers
Candid borage flowers are pretty when used as a topping in cake decorations, cookies, and other baked sweets. You can store theses flowers in an airtight container until they are needed.
- Gently rinse the flowers, then allow them to dry.
- Remove the dark sepals from the flowers
- Combine 1 egg white with a few drops of water, beating lightly
- Paint the flower petals with the egg white mix using a small paintbrush.
- Holding the flowers by their stems, sprinkle them with a superfine sugar
- Arrange on cookie sheets lined with wax paper and allow to dry completely about 12-36 hours
Tip: When harvesting borage flowers for candy making, it’s easiest to leave a bit of stem, so they are easier to handle. You can remove the excess stem before serving.
Borage Uses in Herbal Medicine and Health Benefits
One of the common uses of borage is as a diuretic. Borage contains the diuretics malic acid and potassium nitrate. Diuretics work by helping your body get rid of sodium and water. This in turn reduces the amount of water flowing through your blood vessels and can reduce pressure on the artery walls. Diuretics are commonly used to treat high blood pressure, kidney disorders and edema.
The high mucilage content in borage has many medicinal applications. Mucilage is a gel-like substance secreted by many plants, the most well-known is the aloe plant. It can help to soothe a sore throat. A soothing tea can be prepared to help treat the pain associated with ailments such as bronchitis.
The leaves of the borage plant can be used as a poultice to treat bruises, swelling, and inflammation. They are also used in facial steams when treating dry skin.
The Benefits of Borage Seed Oil
Borage seed is a rich source of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. According to an article in Whole Health Chicago, borage oil is quite often used in place of evening primrose oil, however, borage oil has more than twice as the GLA and therefore the healing benefits.
Borage seed oil has many medicinal uses. Here are just a few:
- Reduce aches and pains of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Relieve the symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- Reducing stress and protect against high blood pressure
- A treatment for gout
- Treatment of sore throats, coughs and upper respiratory infections
Borage seed oil is available in many holistic or health food stores. When using the borage oil as a supplement, be sure to follow the manufacturers recommended doses.
As you can see, the borage plant is a delight to have in the herb garden. Whether you choose to grow borage as a companion plant, for its healing powers, culinary uses, or just for its beauty alone, every herb gardener should make a little room to grow borage.