Background and Uses
Borage is an annual flowering herb native to many Mediterranean regions. The name “Borage” is said to have been derived from the Celtic word “barrach” meaning “man of courage.” Some have suggested that its Latin name, Borago, is a corruption of another Latin word, corago, taken from the words “cor,” (heart) and “ago,” (I bring). This alludes to the thought in ancient times that the plant somehow brought courage to the person who used it.
Borage has many uses as a culinary and a medicinal plant. The leaves and flowers are the parts of the plant typically used. Borage has been used for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis and rheumatism, and also to induce sweating and increase lactation in women who are breastfeeding. More modern use of borage involves the seed oil, which has a high content of the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA has anti-inflammatory properties that might relieve symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and eczema. Borage may also be useful in the treatment of osteoporosis. While some of the medical benefits of borage have yet to be formally tested and verified, there is no question that it has had beneficial effects on various diseases.
Besides having medicinal benefits, borage also has many culinary uses. Borage leaves have a distinct cucumber-like aroma and taste, and can be mixed with lemon juice, sugar and wine (or water) to make a refreshing drink. The flowers can be candied (in fact, this was very popular in the nineteenth century). Borage can also be used in salads as a visually pleasing and aromatic garnish.
Borage grows to about 18-36’’. The small, star-shaped flowers are purple when they first bloom and turn into a deep, vivid blue as they mature. Deadheading the flowers will keep the plant blooming longer. The leaves, as mentioned before, have a cucumber-like taste and are covered with a prickly fuzz when they mature (which is why leaves should always be used while they are still young). Besides being visually pleasing, borage is also a great addition to gardens because of its ability to attract pollinators (bees, butterflies, etc.).
Borage is a very hardy plant and will thrive in almost any soil. If the soil is very poor, add a little fertilizer. Borage benefits best from direct seeding, and a sunny location is preferable. When the seedlings are about 2-3’’ tall, thin to about 12’’ apart. Borage self-seeds fairly easily, but if desired the seeds can be harvested from the flowers that are allowed to remain on the plant and turn brown.
Harvesting and Processing Borage
As mentioned before, fresh leaves and flowers can be used in salads, confectionary, and drinks. They can also be used fresh for medicinal purposes. The leaves can be dried and used to make teas or tinctures. It is best to harvest borage early, while the dew is still on the plant. This helps preserve as much of the natural oils that give borage its flavor as possible. To dry borage leaves, spread them out on a tray and either dry them in the sun or in a 180-degree oven. They will keep for up to a year after they are dried, after which their flavor will deteriorate rapidly.
One or two plants should suffice for an entire household.