Starflower ~ Borage Plant Care Guide
By Bonnie L. Grant
The borage herb is an old fashioned plant that can get up to 2 feet or more. It is native to the Middle East and has an ancient history in war as an enhancement for bravery and courage. Growing borage provides the gardener with cucumber flavored leaves for tea and other beverages as well as bright starry blue flowers for decorating salads. All parts of the plant except the roots are flavorful and have culinary or medicinal uses.
The Borage Plant
While not as common as thyme or basil, borage herb is a unique plant for the culinary garden. It grows quickly as an annual but will colonize a corner of the garden by self seeding and reappearing year after year.
June and July are heralded by the presence of the borage flower, an appealing small brilliant blue bloom with attracting qualities. Indeed, the plant should be include in the butterfly garden and brings pollinators to your veggies. The oval leaves are hairy and rough with the lower foliage pushing 6 inches in length. The borage plant may grow 12 or more inches wide in a tall bushy habit.
Herb cultivation just takes a little gardening know how. Grow borage in an herb or flower garden. Prepare a garden bed that is well tilled with average organic matter. Ensure that the soil is well drained and in a medium pH range. Sow seeds directly into the garden after the last date of frost. Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch under the soil in rows 12 inches apart. Thin the borage herb to at least 1 foot when the plants measure 4 to 6 inches tall.
Planting borage with strawberries attracts bees and increases the yield of fruit. It has limited culinary use in today’s foods but the borage flower is often used as a garnish. Traditionally the borage plant was used to treat many ailments from jaundice to kidney problems. It medicinal use today is limited but the seeds are a source of linolenic acid. Borage flowers are also used in potpourris or candied for use in confections.
Borage can be perpetuated by allowing the flowers to go to seed and self sow. Pinching the terminal growth will force a bushier plant but may sacrifice some of the flowers. Borage herb is not a fussy plant and has been known to grow in refuse piles and highway ditches. Be assured you want the plant annually or remove the flowers before it seeds. Growing borage requires a dedicated space in the home garden for the large and prolific herb.
Borage Herb Harvest
Sowing the seeds every 4 weeks will ensure a ready supply of borage flowers. The leaves may be picked at any time and used fresh. Dried leaves have little of the characteristic flavor so the plant is best consumed right away. Leave the flowers alone if you are hosting a honeybee colony. The blooms produce an excellent flavored honey.
Borage (Borago officinalis), also known as a starflower, is an annual herb. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has naturalized in many other locales. It grows satisfactorily in gardens in the UK climate, remaining in the garden from year to year by self-seeding. The leaves are edible and the plant is grown in gardens for that purpose in some parts of Europe. The plant is also commercially cultivated for borage seed oil extracted from its seeds.
Borage (Borago officinalis): Most authorities consider that the Latin name Borago (from which Borage is taken) is a corruption of corago; from cor (the heart) and ago (I bring). Historically, herbalists have considered Borage to be an herb of courage; making a man merry and joyful.
Plant your Borage in a sunny spot in your garden and cluster the plants, since they tend to get ‘leggy’. I always end up supporting them with a stick, or tying then to the garden fence post to keep them from falling down after heavy rains. It will thrive in poor to moderate soil and little water. So basically it needs very little attention, except for supporting it to keep it from falling over.
Borage grows up to 2 ½ feet high and about 2 feet wide. The leaves are wrinkled, long ovals, covered with prickly little hairs. The flower clusters sit atop long, hollow, prickly stems, which come out of the leaf base. The clusters of vibrant, blue star shaped flowers droop, as if in need of water and attract lots of honey bees.
All parts of the plant have a refreshing cucumber smell and flavor, but because of the thistly hairs, the stem and leaves are rarely used as food. However, the flowers are a special treat when added to a summer salad or on top of a scoop of yogurt or cottage cheese. If you’re looking for a way to impress your afternoon guests, try serving them a glass of iced tea with Borage flower ice cubes. If you forget to make the ice cubes, just add the flowers to any summer drink. The Romans were the first to use Borage in this way; sprinkling them into a goblet of wine. It was believed to drive away sadness. We now know that the flowers contain large amounts of essential fatty acids (GLA).
Without adequate amounts of GLA (gamma-linoleic acid) the body goes into a state of chronic inflammation which promotes onset of heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, atopic dermatitis, premenstrual syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, high blood pressure and more. GLA also benefits circulatory health by reducing cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein- the bad cholesterol) levels as it increases the beneficial HDL (High-density lipoprotein). An excellent way to get the benefits of Borage’s GLA is by ingesting Flaxseed /Borage oil which is available at your favorite health food store.
From earliest times Borage was credited with inducing calm and fortitude. Today we are fortunate to have modern scientific research to document its medicinal qualities. It contains a compound (phytochemical), which when taken internally, not only helps to relieve inflammatory conditions, but also balances the function of the adrenal glands.
Use it as a tonic for the adrenals- over a long period of time in the form of a tea: Pour a cup of boiling water onto 2 or 3 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb (leaves) and infuse for 10 – 15 minutes. Drink 2 or 3 times a day with a little honey to taste. When applied externally, it aids in the relief of eczema.
When your Borage plants are in full bloom (June, July and August), pick a few long stems. (If you’re planning on saving some seeds for next year, leave a few stems and flowers. As the flowers finish blooming, watch for and collect the large, black seeds) Tie them together at the cut end and hang them upside down in a warm, airy room away from sunlight. When the leaves are completely dry, (a few weeks to be sure) skin them off and put into a brown paper bag for storage (at least a few more weeks). When you’re sure they’re completely dry, you can transfer the leaves to a jar. Complete drying is essential to prevent mold from forming. I suggest using the completely dried herb for tea or tinctures.