Blue flowers are always welcome in the garden and Borage is one of the most reliable sources, often flowering lavishly about eight weeks after sowing and continuing until the first serious frosts. It grows best in full sun where it tends to have a more compact habit, but it easily tolerates a partial sun exposure. Although the flowering period is typically June to September, many plants extend that period.
The plants will happily grow in just about any soil type as long as it drains well and likes to be kept somewhat moist throughout the growing season.
Borage is a very important flower for both bees and beekeepers. The flowers which grow around the stem appear from early spring right through to autumn, provide both pollen and nectar in prodigious amounts throughout the season.
Garden visitors can be converted to herbal advocates simply by offering a taste of its white flower. They are pleasantly surprised to find it has a definite but subtle cucumber aftertaste. The edible, star shaped flowers add an unusual touch to summer salads and cakes, or can be used to decorate summer drinks like Pimms and cordials.
Sowing: Sow early/ late spring indoors or direct in mid to late spring.
Borage can be sown early indoors or directly outdoors once the soil has warmed. It is not suitable for container growing as it has a very long tap root.
Sowing Indoors. Sow in January to February…normally 4 to 8 weeks before planting outside.
Sow at 1.5mm (1/16in) deep in pots or trays in a good seed compost. Make sure the compost is moist but not wet and seal inside a polythene bag until germination which usually takes 5 to 21 days at 21°C (70°F).
Transplant the indoor seedlings when large enough to handle into boxes, spacing them 5cm (2in) apart. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out after all risk of frost 15cm (6in) apart in full sun and ordinary well-drained soil.
The young borage must be handled carefully; especially when it is being transplanted from one place to another as it has a very long tap root that is easily damaged.
Sowing Direct. Sow in March to April.
Prepare the area well, marking the area to be sown with sand, Sow to a depth of 3mm (1/8in). Space 10-15cm (6in) apart. Water in well. Once seeds have germinated, check and thin out if necessary, any seedlings may be transplanted. The plants will grow quite fast and are quite recognisable from weeds, continue to water throughout periods without rain.
External contact with fresh borage leaves may cause skin rashes in some sensitive persons. The prickly hairs can be irritating so you may wish to use gloves when handling the plant.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flowers Borders and Beds or Wildlife Plants. Beekeeping, Companion Plant, Culinary Herb
Borage is good companion plant to have in the vegetable garden as the insects it attracts make good pollinators for crops. It is a very useful companion plant to strawberries, as they are believed to stimulate each other's growth.
As a companion plant to tomatoes, it is believed that borage deters tomato worm, and is thus a natural form of pest control. Borage is attractive to blackfly, this can be used to advantage by planting it as a decoy close to one's fruits and vegetables to prevent them being blighted - an excellent companion plant for beans and peas.
Borage is also good as a green manure. Its long taproot brings up nutrients from the subsoil that remain in the leaves. Before the plant flowers the plants can be dug back into the ground to release the nutrients back into the topsoil.
The flower, which contains the non-toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid thesinine, has a sweet honey-like taste and as one of the few truly blue-coloured edible things, is often used to decorate desserts.
Vegetable use of borage is common in Germany, in the Spanish regions of Aragón and Navarra, in the Greek island of Crete and in the Italian northern region Liguria. Although often used in soups, one of the better known German borage recipes is the Green Sauce (Grüne Soße) made in Frankfurt. In Italian Liguria, borage is commonly used as filling of the traditional pasta ravioli and pansoti. It is used to flavour pickled gherkins in Poland.
The leaves and flowers were originally used in the manufacture of Pimms before it was replaced by mint. It is traditionally used as a garnish in the Pimms Cup cocktail, but is often replaced by cucumber if not available.
In folk tradition, borage has long been believed to dispel melancholy and ease grief and sadness.
According to Dioscorides, borage can 'cheer the heart and lift the depressed spirits', while Gerard wrote that its flowers were used in salads 'to exhilarate and make the minde glad' while cooks used them 'for the comfort of the heart, to drive away sorrow, and increase the joy of the minde'.
The Greeks and Romans believed that the herb was a source of courage and comfort, and there are references to the flowers being embroidered into medieval tapestries and the colours of jousting knights. The blooms were even floated in drinks consumed by Crusaders before battle. The American settlers carried borage seed with them on their long journeys across the Atlantic Ocean.
European herbalists use borage for both internal and external uses. It is used in homeopathic remedies and as a flower essence. It is a cooling, cleansing and refreshing herb with adaptogenic, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The starflower has been chosen as the emblem for National Cancer Day by the Cancer Research Campaign. The flower will adorn buttonholes on May 23 has been used in the worldwide treatment and research of cancer for 700 years, according to the charity. In recent years, borage has been shown to contain gamma linoleic acid (GLA), an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, which is active against various cancers, including breast, brain and prostate. It prevents the spread of malignant tumours by restricting blood vessel growth.
Borage has the most potent concentration of gamma linoleic acid found in nature, containing twice as much as is found in the evening primrose, and which is used to treat pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). It is now possible to buy capsules of borage seed oil from health food shops for this purpose.
A poultice of crushed Borage leaves is soothing and healing to skin inflammations. It will relieve insect bites and stings, reduce swelling and bruising and is also helpful for clearing up boils and rashes.
Borage tea can be made by taking a small bunch of leaves and flowers and simmering in boiling water. Steep for five minutes and strain. If mixed with honey, this can help if one is suffering from a cold. Borage tea will relieve fevers, and promote sweating. It is a beneficial treatment for dry cough, throat irritation, chest colds and bronchitis.
Borage tea is also a good remedy for such digestive disturbances as gastritis and irritable bowel syndrome. It is also said to help cure a hangover.
Borage originated in Syria, but is naturalised throughout the Mediterranean region, as well as Asia Minor, Europe, North Africa, and South America. The flowers are usually a vivid sky blue, although an occasional pink bloom does appear, there is also a rare species with white flowers.
The origin of the name is unclear, but the Celts referred to it as borrach, meaning 'courage'. Others, however, believe that its name is derived from the French word borrache, which means 'hairy' or 'rough', and which could be a reference to its bristly stems and leaves. Borage was called the "herb of gladness" by the Welsh.
When Linnaeus invented the binomial system of nomenclature, he gave the specific name 'officinalis' to plants (and sometimes animals) with an established medicinal, culinary, or other use. The word officinalis is derived from the Latin officina meaning a storeroom (of a monastery) for medicines and necessaries. It literally means 'of or belonging in an officina', and that it was officially recognised as a medicinal herb. It conjures up images of a storeroom where apothecaries and herbalists stored their herbs.
Borage is commonly known as - Burrage, Burage, Bugloss, Bourrache, Bee Plant, Cool Tankard, Langue de Boeuf, Ox-tongue or Tailwort.
The oil expressed from the seeds is often called 'starflower oil'.
Borage honey is very distinctive, it one of the clearest honeys you can find and has a subtle, aromatic aroma. In the UK Borage honey is a speciality of East Yorkshire where much of the borage is grown.
For the last ten years borage has been grown by a considerable number of farmers. It is grown for its small black seeds which are harvested and crushed to make borage oil, or starflower oil, which has similar properties to evening primrose oil. The oil is very valuable and farmers and beekeepers have a mutually beneficial relationship. Beekeepers get lots of honey and farmers get increased yields as their flowers are pollinated by the bees.
Thousands of acres of borage are grown. Farmers like one hive for every acre so that there are sufficient bees to pollinate all the flowers. Beekeepers travel with their bees from far afield in late June. Borage flowering coincides with the maximum population of the hives which can reach 50,000 to 60,000 bees in each. In large fields there can be millions of bees from dozens of hives. If the summer is particularly hot hives can collect 80 to 100lb of honey each from a borage field. With its distinctive colour and subtle taste, borage honey has rapidly become a favourite in the area.
There are up to 20,000 beekeepers in Britain. If you would like to join them, contact your local association via the British Bee Keepers Association (www.bbka.org.uk), at the National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire CB8 2LZ (02476 696679).
- Additional Information
Common Name Starflower, Bee Bread, Blue Borage Other Common Names Burrage, Burage, Bugloss, Bourrache, Bee Plant
Cool Tankard, Langue de Boeuf, Ox-tongue, Tailwort
The oil expressed from the seeds is often called "starflower oil"
Other Language Names IR. Borráiste gorm Family Boraginaceae Genus Borago Species officinalis Synonym Bee Plant Hardiness Half Hardy Annual Flowers June to October Height 60 to 75cm (24 to 30in) Spread 45cm (18in) Position Full Sun Soil Moist but well drained Time to Sow Sow early/ late spring indoors or direct in mid to late spring. Germination 5 to 21 days at 21°C (70°F).