Never heard of borage? You’re not alone. Here are some terrific reasons to consider welcoming this easy to grow plant with lovely edible star-shaped flowers into your garden!
I love experimenting with multitasking plants. I mean, I’ve now eaten most of the weeds that thrive in my somewhat neglected (but highly productive) garden, and it turns out they’re not only edible and delicious, a lot of them are extremely nutritious and have some potent medicinal properties. (Here’s a beginners list of weeds you can eat if you haven’t yet discovered the joys of edible weeds.)
My first borage plants I grew intentionally, after reading about their benefits in the garden and their edible flowers. They’ve been planting themselves hither and yon ever since, and I’m very happy to have them multiply.
Borage plant is easy to grow, attracts pollinators like crazy, is tolerant of poor soils and neglect, and can be used as a vegetable and medicinal herb, while the flowers make a stunning edible garnish. Much to recommend!
The lovely purple-blue, star-shaped flowers make gorgeous cake decorations. Leaves make a delicious and refreshing flavoring for infused water or tea. Young leaves can be eaten as a raw or cooked, and fresh or dried leaves are used medicinally. (More on that below.)
Also called star flower for its 5-point blooms, borage is native to the Mediterranean, but somehow does quite well in my yard in Minnesota. It was used by the Romans to cure melancholy and foster courage, and they carried the seeds with them as far as England, where borage has a long history of culinary use.
Borage plant self-seeds vigorously, so be forewarned, once you plant it, it will pop up around your yard, and probably your neighbors’ as well. It’s pretty easy to pull, though, so you can keep the ones you want and toss the rest in the garden or compost, where they will add nutrients and organic matter.
I kind of like the element of surprise, never knowing where you might find another borage plant, and I enjoy the pop of color and texture borage adds to the yard in unanticipated places. Not everyone does, though, so steer clear of borage plant if you want a more predictable garden.
Borage is a funky-looking plant, with large fuzzy leaves, not considered a beauty by everyone. I love the elegant droop of the flowers, which are constantly abuzz with happy pollinators. At the end of the season, the plants can look a little worse for the wear, but they can just be pulled and used for mulch in the garden, where their rich mineral content will work its way into your soil and feed the plants that grow there. I’ve also read that chickens like borage quite a bit.
How to Use Borage Plant
Borage Uses in the Kitchen:
The edible flowers make beautiful garnishes. I’ve put them on many a summer birthday cake. They don’t taste like much, but their lovely color and star shape make them fun to add to food nonetheless. Here are borage flowers sprucing up a bowl of homemade yogurt just for fun.
To use borage flowers, pick the whole flower with its green back and stem just before you’re ready to use them. If you want to give them a rinse, do it with the stem still attached, as they make the delicate flower a little sturdier. Rinsing is probably a good idea unless it’s just rained, to get off whatever pollutants might be floating in the dust that lands on plants.
When you’re ready to use your flowers, pull off the green stem, which doesn’t feel great in your mouth, so you’re left with nothing but the blue star shape. These little flowers are very delicate, so handle with care and don’t expect them to last more than a few hours.
I love to put them on and around birthday cakes, but you can use them anywhere you like. They can be thrown in salads, frozen in ice cubes, even candied!
The leaves might be an even more useful part of the plant. I like to dunk a couple in a glass of water for a subtle but really delicious cucumber-melon flavor. Serve a pitcher to guests with flowers frozen in ice cubes and you’ll certainly impress!
You can also brew a tasty tea with a small handful of borage leaves per cup. Allow to steep 5-10 minutes.
The leaves are also used by some as a vegetable. They’re a popular green in Spain, where among other things they use them in a fritter-like dish called crespillos aragoneses.
We have enough produce to keep up with in summer that I haven’t tried using the leaves myself, plus since my yard has been taken over by wild violets and lemon balm, I don’t have the quantity called for in some of cooked greens or soup recipes. But borage leaves could easily be added with other greens in smaller quantities in your pesto, green smoothie, or soup.
If you want to use the leaves, choose the smaller ones. The fuzz will be less noticeable. You can chop them and use them in soups and other dishes for a subtle cucumber flavor.
Note: Don’t go overboard on borage! The plant contains compounds called pyrrolixidine alkaloids that can affect liver function. You’d have to consume a really large quantity for it to be an issue, but if you have liver issues, you should probably steer clear.
Borage Uses in the Garden
Borage is a bee magnet, which is great for your fruit and vegetable yields. Worldwide, pollinators are having a really tough time, what with the rampant use of pesticides and destruction of habitat. Everything we can do to make our yards welcoming for them is a good thing! (Here are some other important ways to make your yard more eco-friendly.)
Borage is known as a useful companion plant for strawberries, tomatoes and squash, increasing yields and reportedly improving flavor. The borage plant reportedly accumulates calcium and potassium, which can help make healthier fruit. (More on companion planting here. Also some great books on companion planting here and here.) As a “dynamic accumulator” (permaculture speak for gathering up nutrients from the soil for other plants to use) it’s also adding good stuff to your compost pile or plants that you mulch with it. Seen this way, all those extra little seedlings are also like free food for your other plants.
Related: How to Get Free Plants for Your Garden
Borage is also helpful for deterring garden pests, particularly cabbage moths and tomato hornworms. Brings in good bugs and keeps away bad ones, plus adds nutrients — not bad for one unassuming plant!
Planting borage in the garden is easy, and one little packet of seeds (buy here) will be more than enough for you and basically anyone you ever met who might be interested in planting borage. Plant a few seeds in spring, and you’ll have borage for the rest of your life if you want it. (And possibly if you don’t.) It’s cold-hardy in zones 6-9, and will self-seed easily in colder climates.
Borage handles full to partial sun and is pretty tolerant of a range of soils, poor to rich, dry to moist. Sow directly in the garden in early spring, or plant in fall and they will germinate when the soil warms again in spring. Borage plants don’t like to be moved, so sow seeds where you wantthe plant to stay. You can be pretty casual with your planting of this self-sufficient plant (perfect for the busy gardener!) but if you want to take more trouble, here are fussier planting instructions.
Medicinal Uses of Borage
Borage seed oil has gotten a lot of attention as a remedy for skin ailments and arthritis treatment, but you would have to grow an awful lot to get enough seeds for oil. Home gardeners will generally grow borage for leaves and flowers.
Here are uses and cautions from WebMD. Note that it’s recommended pregnant women avoid borage. Be sure to read the interactions and side effects carefully before consuming large amounts!
A tea made from the leaves can be used as a cooling spray for sunburn and bugbites. You can also make a poultice from the leaves to sooth insect bites and swelling.
Herbalists report that an infusion made from the leaves can be used to reduce fever, sooth coughs and sore throats, and as an adrenal tonic. It may also have sedative effects and be useful for relieving PMS or menopause symptoms.
Ever tried borage? Think you might try planting some next season?
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Photo credits: zimt2003, makamuki0, gefrorene_wand
Disclaimer: I’m a health enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.