Are you looking for a cultivar that brings beauty and health to your home and garden? Few plants serve as many uses as borage, with its nodding blue or white flowers, soft fuzzy leaves, and prolific growth. Borage is native to Mediterranean and Middle East regions, but the hardy annual thrives most anywhere during the growing season.
Borage reseeds and naturalizes easily, but even mature plants require little effort to pull from the ground. The dark, oblong seeds are easy to harvest, even by small children, and dead-heading flowers encourages fresh blooms throughout the season.
The name "borago" likely derives from its native Mediterranean dialects, in which borra (Italian) bourra (French) and burra (Latin) refers to wool or hair. Soft, white fuzz—trichomes, in botanical speak—cover borage's stems and leaves.
In The Garden
The numerous dime-sized, five-pointed flowers of borage are an excellent attractant for pollinators, and European honey bees produce delicious honey from borage's nectar. The most common borage plants bear blue flowers, but interspersed with the snow-white blooms on borago officianalis 'Bianca', these plants add stunning visual texture to any sunny garden.
As a companion plant, borage is known to improve the flavor of tomatoes, improve yield from strawberry plants and possibly aid other plants in resisting pests and disease. As the plants are somewhat tender and can quickly grow to about 20 inches in full sun and moderately fertile soil, they can shade out or topple onto other plants and may require staking or other means of support.
As a Cover Crop
Borage's deep tap root brings nutrients to the surface, especially as the plant itself quickly deteriorates and adds valuable nitrogen when tilled back into the soil. Direct-sow borage and rake into the soil early March or late summer for spring and fall green manure.
Borage Fertilizer Tea
Cover borage leaves in a small amount of water in a sealed container for two weeks for a concentrated fertilizer tea. Use the strained solution with water in a 1:10 ratio every couple of weeks on your garden, applied either as a foliar feed or at soil level.
Borage gives comfrey a run for its money as a compost kick starter. The rapid growth, tender stems and leaves and high moisture content provide abundant green matter to balance tougher, dryer clippings. Since borage tends to reseed easily, surplus plants are always available for the compost pile, or as treats for backyard poultry and other small livestock.
In the Kitchen
For centuries, both the flowers and the leaves have been used in teas and to sweeten wine with its refreshing, mild cucumber flavor.
Saute the leaves, or add them raw to salads when they're still small and tender. Candy the flowers, or use them fresh from the garden for desserts or garnish for borage tea.
As a Medicinal Herb
According to Penn State University Extention, the Roman scholar Pliny described borage as an antidepressant. To this day it's considered a tonic for anxiety, stress and hyperactivity disorders.
Borage seed oil contains anti-inflammatory gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and is used topically for rheumatoid arthritis.
Herbalists and commercial skin care product manufacturers tout the benefits of borage seed oil for dry and flaky skin, including dermatitis and eczema, and all parts of the plant can be used in teas and poultices for stress, premenstrual syndrome and swelling.
Tea made from borage leaves aids fevers and pulmonary issues, and syrups made from boiling the leaves has a history of curing jaundice and ringworm.
Borago Officinalis is a wonderful herb for gardeners who are experimenting with herbal remedies, salad greens, seed saving and organic cultivation. Serving multiple purposes, borage is on the short list for gardeners with limited space and time, and high expectations from their gardens.