Borage – Borago officinalis
Loved by bees this plant is both a weed and one we want. If you don’t have it, direct sowing of the seeds in spring and summer is best in its final position, as it doesn’t like having its long tap root disturbed. Or sow the seeds in individual pots and
transplant them as soon as large enough and hardened off. It self sows once established and growing wild has adapted to life all over New Zealand originating from central and southern Europe.
Borage is distinguished by large oval or egg-shaped rough, thick, hairy leaves with sap smelling and tasting like cucumber. The leaves are up to 30cm long by 20cm wide on the plant which stands 30-80cm tall. The stems are hairy and bristly too. The plant can topple over so may need staking. Borage likes full sun in well drained soil and is a good companion plant to bring the pollinating bees.
I love the blue flowers growing in clusters (there’s also a white variety) that droop being 20-25cm in diameter. In the centre of the flower is a cone that sticks out with dark purple/black stamens. It
flowers from Sept-May and is annual or biennial.
Borage is in the Boraginaceae family along with comfrey and forget-me-nots (which I’m delighted to recently learn that you can eat forget-me-nots leaves and flowers). Its botanical name Borago (Lat.) means hairy garment referring to the leaves; officinalis (Lat.) means medicinal.
Traditionally borage was used to relieve anxiety and stress and for lifting the spirits – you just have to look at the flowers for that! It is also used to reduce high fevers taken hot because of its diaphoretic or sweat inducing properties, making it a good remedy for colds, flu and infected lungs. The leaves and flowers are rich in potassium and calcium making it a good tonic and blood purifier.
Here’s something quirky if you burn the whole plant the nitrate of potash the plant contains will emit sparks and little explosive firework sounds. Because of its rich mineral salts it is handy for use in a salt free diet.
The Greeks and Romans believed this plant both comforted and made you courageous. So be brave
and try eating a piece of leaf, a little hairy yes, but chewing it between your two top teeth and tip of the tongue you’ll first notice the salty taste and then it will quickly dissolve tasting like cool cucumber. It’s nice chopped finely in salad, added to coconut (photo right) or dairy yoghurt, an egg and mayonnaise sandwich or include a couple of leaves in your green smoothie. Also in the photo I’ve frozen borage flowers in ice cubes along with lemon slices for a decorative addition to cool water.
Refreshing Borage Tea
3 tsp fresh borage leaves, 250ml boiling water,1 tsp honey, 1 slice lemon
Pour boiling water over the leaves, cover with a saucer and infuse 5 minutes, add the honey, slice of lemon and enjoy!
Topping off the great benefits, this plant contains GLA (gamma linoleic acid), more valuable than evening primrose oil, a good reason to include flowers and leaves in your diet. What a great all round plant to value in our gardens!