All About Borage
Beautiful. Traditional. Functional. Therapeutic. What am I talking about you say? Why borage of course!
Borage is a wonderful plant to have around the garden. Borage (Borago officinalis), also known as starflower, bee bush, bee bread, and bugloss, is a medicinal herb with edible leaves and flowers. In my garden, borage and sunflowers share the honor of being bee hot-spots.
It’s not only a favorite plant of the honey bees, but also bumble bees and small, native bees. It has served many purposes from the time of ancient Rome to the present. Pliny the Elder believed it to be an anti-depressant, and it has long been thought to give courage and comfort to the heart. One old wives’ tale states that if a woman slipped a bit of borage into a promising man’s drink, it would give him the courage to propose. At one time it was grown by beekeepers to boost honey production. It can be, and has been grown as an ornamental plant, but is also edible and medicinal. You could say that borage is a sort of super plant.
from down in Melbourne, on the other side of the world
This photo © Craig Mackintosh
With a taste comparable to that of cucumber, borage has various culinary applications. The leaves can of course be used as a salad green and the flowers as edible decorations, but to stop there would be an insult to the wide variety of uses for borage. This herb can be used in soups, salads, borage-lemonade, strawberry-borage cocktails, preserves, borage jelly, various sauces, cooked as a stand-alone vegetable, or used in desserts in the form of fresh or candied flowers, to name a few.
Borage ice cubes; the perfect way to chill your borage lemonade
This herb is also the highest known plant source of gamma-linolenic acid (an Omega 6 fatty acid, also known as GLA) and the seed oil is often marketed as a GLA supplement. It is also a source of B vitamins, beta-carotene, fiber, choline, and, again, trace minerals. In alternative medicine it is used for stimulating breast milk production and as an adrenal gland tonic; thus it can be used to relieve stress.
In the garden, the uses of borage include repelling pests such as hornworms, attracting pollinators, and aiding any plants it is interplanted with by increasing resistance to pests and disease. It is also helpful to, and compatible with, most plants — notably tomatoes, strawberries and squash. Borage adds trace minerals to the soil it is planted in, and is good for composting and mulching. It is an annual, but readily self-seeds and thrives in full sun. It is so proficient in self-seeding, in fact, that once a borage plant has established itself in your garden, you will likely never have to reseed again. The bloom period is different for various climates and growing zones. In our garden, borage will bloom from mid-spring to early fall.
Now if I’ve done my job, by this time you should be thinking, “This is amazing! How in the world do I grow this miracle plant for myself?” It’s quite simple actually. Seeds are best sown in full or partial sun under ½ inch (1 cm) of soil so it’s easy to sprinkle a patch with seeds and then cover it with a few handfuls of soil or compost. The plants can easily grow to be 3 feet (91 cm) tall and 2 feet (61 cm) wide, so give them room to grow, and let them shade your partial sun plants. Treat this easy-to-keep herb well and it will reward you with scores of beautiful flowers, lush foliage, and fertile soils.
from down in Melbourne, on the other side of the world
This photo © Craig Mackintosh
I made a wonderful borage ale this year, just borage and brown sugar. It tastes like peaches!
Iv been making wine for a few years now and I’m very interested in making ale.i have some borage growing and would be thankful if you could send me instructions on your borage and brown sugar ale to my email.it sounds good
Ohhh wow! That sounds divine!
Milton, could you please share the technique for borage ale?
Would you mind sharing the recipe??
Borage Ale Receipe please
I actually would be somewhat careful with consuming larger amounts of borage. It’s a relative of comfrey (both in the family of the Boraginaceae), and for both, their pyrrolizidine alkaloid content may become an issue when consumed in quantity.
See e.g.: https://www.springerlink.com/content/ag1r362101x20824/
Even if it contains toxic alkaloids, it contains GLI and other components which protects you against them. I investigated a couple of hours:
Ohh thanks! I will remember that.
Great work Kelly. Keep it coming. This is the sort of infomation this site needs on a much regular basis.
We were growing some borage last year, but didn’t know what it was and carefully ate some leaves with our salad (since it grew in our salad bed). Ours never flowered before it froze, it was growing in the north bed and was probably planted very late in the season.
I already started seedlings in the greenhouse from the leftover seeds. They’re just getting their first true leaves and are the best looking seedlings among the many salads we started – hope they don’t freeze, such a cold winter this year. I’m really looking forward to the flowers!
I do appreciate the warning link posted by Thomas, won’t be eating it by the pound.
Thanks for the great article Kelly! I’m off to get me some Borage. Oh, and I believe the issues with comfrey are debatable, I have it in a smoothie every morning.
I agree Nick. I want more of this kind of information. In fact, so much so, that we pay for articles (see ‘write for us’ advert on our sidebar). In fact, we paid Kelly for this article.
where can i get those seeds and can i grow them in the tropics a.k.a Colombia?
I live in North Carolina and want borage plants for my garden. Where may I get seeds or plants?
I’m in North Carolina and it grows really good here in the mountains. I got my seed from http://www.sowtrueseed.com they are out of Asheville.
Seeds are available on MI gardener. I believe they are also available at Baker Creek.
I have seen it advertised as suitable for temperate and sub-tropical climates. Seeds are not hard to find.
My FAVORITE Salad
Soak a hand full of raisin in orange juice ? (or half an hour)
while you grate a Large carrot
Mix all together place in a glass bowl ?????
and sprinkle a dozen or so BORAGE Flower’s on top
mmm…your recipe sounds wonderful and, since this is our 3rd year of growing borage and we have many plants in different life stages, I plan to make this soon.
Wow! This salad sounds wonderful! I grew many carrots this year and this sounds like a great way to use them. I will try this at lunch today. Thanks!
Fabulous article thank you Kelly. And thank you to Jennifer for the salad recipe :)
I first grew Borage from the Diggers club seeds a few years ago….they now self seed readily all through my garden and are happily shared with the chooks and the pigs!
Here is more information about gamma-linolenic acid: https://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/gamma-linolenic-000305.htm
From the article:
“A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.”
In Norwegian Borage is called Agurkurt. Here is a really good site in Scandinavian language about Agurkurt (and other herbs): https://rolv.no/urtemedisin/medisinplanter/bora_off.htm
Great article Kelly! It appears very well researched and I like your sense of humor. Great photo’s too.
My experience with the larger fresh leaves is that they are a bit too hairy to eat raw. We use the dry leaves in tea mixes. The dry hairs irritate my skin topically as well so I make sure I don’t let them brush my arms while processing them.
My personal opinion regarding the PA’s would be to research more….There are varying opinions about the PA’s in Comfrey (leaf vs. root; plants that go dormant vs. those that do not, etc.) and just b/c it’s in the same family does not necessarily mean it also contains them. I have not heard of it doing so, but have not researched it either.
I look forward to more of your articles.
Just found this site.
Regarding Thomas’s comments about comfrey. If you do a bit more research, comfrey is quite badly maligned. You can eat it every day & quite a bit of it I might add, without any side effects. In fact, if you read the book ‘Comfrey, Nature’s Healing Herb & Health Food’ by Andrew Hughes, you will see that he & his family ate a lot of leaves every day. Plus he fed it to all his animals & healed them & tripled the milk production from an old cow he got within a few week (2 weeks if I’m not msitaken) from feeding her mountains of comfrey. I also read somewhere else where the animals that were fed a lot of comfrey actually had very healthy livers.
Please do more research before passing on this mis-information about Comfrey to people. Otherwise they miss out on the huge benefits of using this wonderful healing herbs/food.
Thanks Sally You’ve just answered a question I was going to ask. I read somewhere that Borage grown in Pasteur is beneficial for Livestock. So I threw some seed into my Paddocks and they have come up nicely and look pretty as well.
A friend of mine’s father died just short of 100, having lived a healthy life. He drank comfrey tea daily throughout his adult life.
Shoot looks like a hundred years of comfrey use finally caught up with him.
Yes what a wonderful plant. I have it growing all over my back yard. Hundreds of bees. We have just acquired some chooks, and there is even some in their run. I am assuming that it is certainly good for them as well? I can’t seem to find any contraindication for poultry.
Comfrey is growing in my chook yard and my chooks eat it to the ground. They love it and they lay well. I don’t believe birds or animals eat anything that is not good for them. They seemed to know what’s good.
ifr Borage is the same family of comfry can i make borage tea / compost juice as i would comfry ?
From the perspective of herbalist and gardener, I would venture to say, no, just b/c they are in the same family does not mean they share the same attributes. Medicinally speaking, some familial plants (different genus same family) do in fact share similar attributes and can be substituted for one another (Mint Family for example). Comfrey has a traditional and historical use as one of the most nutrient-loaded plants, Borage does not….But, having said that, why not give it a try and see what happens? Won’t hurt; you may stumble on something valuable!
Thanks ill give it a go , just at this time we have lots of flowers on the Borage , ill wait a little until the bees have had their fill and take the borage and put it into a container and take some photos if it works , great site
Interesting that Pliny the Elder thought this was an anti-depressant. There is some more modern research showing that some people suffering from depression and alcoholism (especially folks with Scotch-Irish ancestry) greatly benefit from taking borage oil or evening primrose oil to supply a GLA deficiency.
Really inspiring artical Kelly. I am from the Maldives & have never seen a real Borage plant. Really want to cultivate them here. Any way I can get some seeds ? I am trying to start Permaculture farm on an Island.
i have been a huge borage fan for many years. i’d just like to add one tidbit of info. we have a huge problem here in British Columbia Canada with invasive non-native plants. Although the Borage has many wonderful properties, it has spread profusely and i worry about it invading neighbouring lands. Having said that, I love the fact that it pops up in the strangest places (my woodpile) and i can leave it or pull it out easily. Comfrey, on the other hand, is not so easily eradicated here, but makes the most wonderful “tea” for feeding plants. Thanks for all the info everyone!
I cut my borage and left it in a plastic box and after a month or so had a small amount of brown liquid but that was it , thought this is how to make borage fertilizers ?
Can the roots be injected? Do they have the same benefits as their above ground counterparts? Julie – Indianapolis
In my zone 4 area, Borage thrives. I planted some seeds a few years ago (four) for the bees, and it’s come back every year. The bumble bee population loves it.
Thanks for the article, it is hard to find detailed information on growing borage.
I am a beginner gardener and just planting in containers due to space and poor soil quality. What size container (diameter and depth) should i use for borage and how many seeds per container? Most info is about growing in the ground that i can find.
I was thinking of planting a herb garden container with borage, rosemary, sage and thyme. Would this combination grow well together in a 30cm round urn? It would have direct sun until 1pm and it would be exposed to winds as I live high on a mountain.
“just planting in containers due to space and poor soil quality”
Borage is a soil improver; it is basically a wild plant, and one of the reasons it thrives is it’s very long root. For that reason, I would recommend not growing it in a container (although as luck would have it, one is in fact growing in one of my containers through self-seeding. Overall, I would suggest trying it in any out-of-the-way corner you can find, even in gravel, etc. You could also consider introducing it to some waste land in your neighborhood. Regarding the fears on non-native plants, this plant is not really invasive. It forms local populations that die out after a few years, and its easily cut down – it doesnt spread by runners, etc. It will, however, support local bee populations, so overall, I’d call it an ecological plus.
Re: the chemicals – yes, borage has these, yes, they are liver-toxic. But then pretty much all aromatics/herbs are toxic in some way – The main point is that its not TOXIC toxic. Like mandrake, for example. So just add some now and then to your diet and dont go berserk in juicing half a pound a day. Just throw a few leaves into your juicer now and then. Other days, you can throw in other greens. Think of it as a tonic, not a staple, and you will be fine.
Borage is one of my favourites, I’ve been growing and enjoying it for many years. Even if you don’t eat the leaves or flowers, it is just a beautiful plant to have in the garden, or in pots on your balcony.
Borage is a great addition to a garden. Honestly, Borage is one of my new favorite plants! You should really try it out!
Just wondering how you eat the leaves because they have prickles?? I’ve successfully grown and regrown this plant hoping to use it as salad?
Don’t miss out on eating the stalks!!!!!! Try steaming them with early potatoes. The hairs come off by soaking and rinsing first, and even if some stay on they soften with cooking. Then lightly toast a couple garlic cloves and a handful of almonds. Smash them in a mortar, add the liquor from the steamed potatoes and borage to make a thin sauce. Serve together with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. One of my favorite traditional Spanish dishes!!!!
Thank you Tara. Borage is specially eaten in Aragon, I don’t cook it exactly like that but it is amazing and I might try your recipe. I got a little bit mad reading some of the comments that claimed borage is toxic or that it doesn’t have any benefits.
Blended a plant about 10″ high with some prickles on in a super blender and it was fine. First made the smoothie with just milk and a banana and it was excellent. Added mango and protein and it was not as good. It’s truly best when it’s the star. I pick those baby plants and eat them raw. They are excellent! And with them in the garden, I have near 100% pollination.
Fascinating article – thank you.
We have borage flowering now, we are growing it for our bees and they love it :)
It’s been fun reading all the comments (especially recipes) related to this wonderful article about borage. I got 2 free plants in early July from a local nursery, and have loved admiring my babies grow up and attract bumblebees! Once they have established and spread more, I will harvest too :)
Do you think planting seeds in the fall or spring is a better idea? I want to establish more colonies around my neighborhood!
Recently we purchased an acre of overgrown field for our homesite. After having a farmer mow, so that we could excavate a road, we gained a large patch of field mustard and borage where the soil was disturbed. My plan is to convert some of the field to a wildflower prairie, but I think I’ll let the patch of mustard and borage overwinter for pollinators and free edibles.
I had a borage plant that was doing well, but suddenlymit turned brown and sondry that it llooked like it had been burned. We’re in the inland empire which is a deserty climate, but our natives and other Mediterranean plants like sage are doing quite well.
We water them weekly now with Hunter rotators. About 1/2 inch two consecutive days each week after I verify need using a hydrometer.
We planted all of our plants in vole bags. A gopher did try to attack the forage and the oregano next door but we think the hole bags stopped them. I didn’t notice any problem with the forage until a month or more after I deterred the gopher with a trap.
I’m wondering now though if it did get the tap root.
Could something else have dried it up? It’s actually brittle and the stems with the dead flowers break of as I’m trying to trim them back.
The highest known source of GLA is Astelia. Please get your facts right if you want to be credible.
Borage oil is the richest source of GLA, containing 18 to 26 percent gamma-linolenic acid, per the University of Rochester Medical Center. Borage oil is most often sold as a supplement rather than a food.