Borage (Borago officinalis)
Bee Bush, Bee Bread, Bee Plant, Ox’s Tongue, Starflower, Burage, Bugloss, Bourrache, Cool Tankard, Langue de Boeuf, Tailwort
About This Plant
Borage can be a very important addition to the garden. It is a quickly growing, hardy, annual that will happily colonize a corner of the garden by self-seeding and reappear year after year. It is a medicinal herb and both the leaves and flowers are edible with a tasty and nutritious cucumber-like flavor. Its flowers produce copious amounts of nectar, attracting honey bees and other pollinators. It’s virtually pest free and is a beneficial companion plant to many of the common food plants you might have in the garden. Borage actually adds trace minerals to the soil it is planted in and is excellent for composting and mulching. It is said to increase the yield and improve the flavor of fruits and vegetables when planted side by side.
Borage is a member of the Comfrey/Boraginaceae family. It grows wild in the woodlands and pastures and can often be found growing on the rubbish heaps near dwellings. It is often rough and sprawling and is not fussy, happily growing in poor soil.
Borage’s flowers are brilliant blue and star-shaped, with five narrow, triangular-pointed petals, hanging in clusters, drooping atop its stems. It blooms from late Spring through Summer, though the blossoms will start to decline if they are not deadheaded and are left to go to seed. In milder climates, Borage blooms continuously for most of the year. Occasionally, Borage will grow as a biannual if it fails to blossom its first year.
As a relative to Comfrey, Borage has some similar, familial traits, such as a covering of fine, rough, silver or white hairs on its leaves and stems that appear to be almost woolly. Its stalks are prickly so you may need to wear garden gloves when working with this plant. Its round stems are branched, hollow, and succulent-like. Borage’s leaves are alternate and large, wrinkly, and a dull deep green in color. They are oval and pointed, three inches long or more and about 1 ½ inches wide. The lower leaves have stiff, one-celled hairs on the upper surfaces and on the veins below. The margins are entire but wavy. Leaves have the fragrance and taste of cucumber.
Borage can become fairly tall, reaching a size of 18 to 36 inches and up to two feet wide. Its shallow roots dislodge easily. Borage is considered a fantastic companion to tomatoes, berries, and squash. Borage deters hookworms and are virtually pest free, as nothing wants to get too close to its scratchy leaves.
In addition to its many culinary applications, Borage is also a prized medicinal. Borage has the most potent concentration of gamma linoleic acid (GLA), an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, found in nature. Borage’s seeds contain more than twice as much GLA as Evening Primrose. Seeds contain 26-38% borage seed oil, of which 17-28% is GLA. Studies suggest that Borage Seed Oil can reduce the inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis. GLA has also been studied extensively for its role in restricting blood vessel growth in malignant tumors, thereby preventing their spread. GLA is believed to be active against breast, brain, and prostate cancer. Borage’s blue star flower is the emblem for National Cancer Day, sponsored by the Cancer Research Campaign.
Pliny the Elder believed Borage to be an antidepressant, giving “courage and comfort” to the heart. There is an old wives tale about Borage stating that if a woman slipped a bit of borage into a promising man’s drink, it would give him the courage to propose. Borage was called the “herb of gladness” by the Welsh. Some say that the name Borage is a corruption of the word corago, from cor, meaning “heart” and ago, meaning “I bring”. The Celts called it borrach, meaning “courage”. Others believe the name comes from the French word borrache, meaning “hairy” or “rough”.
Borage is a plant that is a nitrate accumulator, which means you never want to ingest specimens of this plant that have been growing in chemically fertilized soil. Borage also contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can cause liver damage in large quantities for a prolonged amount of time. It should not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Borage does best if it is directly sown outdoors. It can be started indoors three to four weeks before the last frost but it should be transplanted outdoors before it becomes pot-bound. Seeds should be planted ¼ – ½ inch under the soil. Germination takes five to 21 days at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and it can be sown every 4 weeks to ensure a ready supply of flowers. Seeds may also be sown outdoors in the Autumn.
Transplant Borage before it becomes root bound when the plants are two to three inches tall. Space plants one foot apart. Don’t transplant Borage outdoors until the soil has warmed and the plants have been hardened off.
Borage prefers growing in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Growing Borage in full sun will give you the most flowers and the stockiest plant. It likes a rich, moist, well-draining soil. It is best to choose a site that is well-protected from the wind as the plants are easily blown over. Plants will easily grow to be three feet tall and two feet wide, so give them room to grow and allow them to provide partial shade to neighboring partial-shade-tolerant plants. Water Borage plants moderately.
Borage will reach maturity in 55-75 days. It will bloom many weeks if the older flowers are deadheaded. It can become rangy and floppy when it becomes top heavy with flowers. The young plants can be pinched back or pruned to encourage branching and to keep them shorter. Tattered plants can often be pushed to make a comeback if pruned back halfway in midsummer.
Healthy Borage plants shed numerous black seeds, so you can expect to see volunteers for two years after growing it. Self-sown Borage seedlings are easy to dig and move, or pull them out so they don’t become a nuisance.
Leaves may be picked at any time and used fresh. Borage is best used fresh as the dried leaves have little of the characteristic flavor.
It is very easy to collect and save Borage seed from flowers that are allowed to remain on the plant and turn brown.
- Compost and mulching
- Companion planting
- Pollinator Attractor
- Edible blue dye can be made from the flowers
Fresh Borage has a cucumber-like fragrance and a faint cucumber flavour. Leaves can be steeped in water to create a refreshing drink. Young leaves are tasty in salads. Larger leaves have long been used in soups or cooked like Collard Greens. Other possible uses are for Borage-Lemonade, Strawberry-Borage Cocktails, Preserves, Borage Jelly, various sauces, or used in desserts in the form of fresh or candied flowers. The flowers have a sweet, honey-like taste and are often used to decorate desserts and cocktails. Flowers can also be frozen into ice cubes for adding a decorative touch to drinks.
In Poland and Russia, Borage is used to flavor baby Gherkins. In Liguria in Italy, it is commonly used as a filling in traditional pasta ravioli. Borage is one of the key botanicals in Gilpin’s Westmorland Extra Dry Gin. There is also a famous green sauce made in Frankfurt, Germany that uses Borage. Borage is a source of Omega-6 fatty acid, B vitamins, beta-carotene, fiber, choline, and trace minerals.
Borage flowers can be used to create an edible blue dye for use in a frosting, for example. Flowers can be preserved and candied. They are also used to color vinegar, though the acid turns the color pink on contact.
A tea can be made out of Borage’s leaves and flowers, simply by pouring boiling water over them and allowing them to steep for five minutes before straining. The tea, mixed with honey, is said to help with colds. It relieves fevers and promotes sweating. It is used in the treatment of dry coughs, throat irritation, chest colds and bronchitis. It has diuretic, demulcent, and emollient properties. Externally, Borage can be used as a poultice for inflammatory swellings.
Borage can be used to stimulate breast milk production and as an adrenal gland tonic. It is used to relieve stress. Borage has long been attributed to helping comfort the heart. It is said to drive away sorrow and increase the joy of the mind.
Borage is also used to reduce the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. It is a cooling, cleansing, and refreshing herb.
Borage seed oil has the highest levels of GLA found in nature. Borage, and its oil, does possess PAs which can have toxic effects on the liver and its chronic use should be avoided. Borage is also a nitrate-accumulator, so never ingest Borage that isn’t organic, as it can cause birth defects, premature labor or a blood disorder in infants known as blue baby. It is generally recommended that Borage be avoided by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Borage is native to Syria, but is naturalized throughout the Mediterranean region, as well as Asia Minor, Europe, North Africa and South America.