How to Grow Borage (and why you should)
What is Borage?
Borage is most often sold as a concentrated oil to treat arthritis (and also as a source of gamma linolenic acid). Since there can be side effects like liver damage from using too much of it, you'll see as many discouraging warnings about using borage oil as there are testimonials.
Adding large amounts of fresh borage to your diet may also cause problems as the plant contains some dangerous compounds that don't exist in the oil. This can make borage a complicated herbal remedy you should discuss carefully with your doctor and evaluate thoroughly relative to other medications you're taking. Borage can also cause premature labor, so it should be avoided by pregnant and nursing women.
I've grown borage for its flowers. As an edible decoration, borage flowers are generally considered safe, but there may be some slight potential to cause allergic reactions. Borage flowers are often included in published lists of popular edible flowers. They're small, bright blue, star shaped blossoms that can be sugared and added to cookies, cakes and other desserts. They're also very pretty when frozen into ice cubes.
It may sound silly, but if you've ever seen a drawing of a whimsical fairy and thought it looked delicately lovely, you'll appreciate the petite appeal of borage blossoms. Enhancing a dozen cupcakes for a birthday party, they're uniquely charming and worth the effort.
I've also used young borage leaves (and later the flowers) in salads. The leaves give salad a light cucumber flavor, and it doesn't take many to do the job. Stick with the young leaves, though. As borage matures, the leaves become hairy, prickly and unappealing.
How to Grow Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage is an easy to grow annual that thrives in poor soil. It likes good light and regular watering, although it can survive a dry spell if you mulch it well. Growing to a height of around two feet, borage is no beauty. It doesn't require staking, but the leaves do look floppy and hairy. It spreads out quite a bit too, so be sure to give it a three foot space in your herb patch. Its one saving grace in the garden is that it creates many clusters of startlingly blue flowers.
A prolific self-seeder, once planted, borage will come back year after year. You can propagate by division and from cuttings too.
Over the centuries, borage has been known by many wonderful names, including: Bugloss (don't confuse it with Anchusa officinalis), tailwort, bee bread, (or bee's bread) cool tankard, and starflower.
Bees love borage, and bee honey made from borage flowers tastes particularly sweet and flavorful. A few summer's ago, I kept borage and hyssop plants adjacent to one another, and that corner of the garden looked like a bee convention all summer. Honey bees need all the help they can get these days, so consider planting one or both of these bee loving plants for them if for no other reason.
"Drug and Natural Medicine Advisor". Time Life Books
Houdret, Jessica. "Practical Herb Garden". Anness Publishing Ltd. 2003.
A Frances Tenebaum Book. "Taylor's Guides - Encyclopedia of Garden Plants." Houghton Mifflin Company. 2003.
Top photo courtesy of Magnus Manske (Own work.) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Borago_officinalis_'Borage'_(Boraginaceae)_flower.JPG
Second photos courtesy of John Byer http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1053900