Traditionally used to ward off melancholy, borage is a beautiful and useful herb to grow in the garden. The herb originates in the Mediterranean and central Europe. It is a sturdy annual plant, covered with stiff, prickly white hairs. It grows to around 30cm tall and produces large, dark green leaves with pointed tips.
The hairy leaves have a refreshing, mild cucumber flavour and can be eaten in salads and soups and they make a good substitute for spinach. They can be brewed to make a refreshing tea, and can even be cut up and eaten with cream cheese. The deep blue star-shaped flowers can be added to ice cubes to make attractive additions to drinks. They also make pretty (and edible) additions to salads.
Borage is a fantastic source of nectar for bees and other insects. It makes a good companion plant to have in the vegetable garden as the insects it attracts make good pollinators for crops such as tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes. It 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.
Varieties of Borage
There are three varieties of borage to grow in your garden:
- Borago officinalis – the most common variety, the leaves are blue.
- Borago officinalis ‘Alba’ – the flowers of this borage are white.
- Borago officinalis ‘Variegata’ – the leaves of this one are yellowy and mottled and the flowers are blue.
How to Grow Borage
Borage is incredibly easy to grow. It does well in herb gardens or containers, but has a tendency to spread quite rapidly. Choose a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained soil chock-full of organic matter, such as well-rotted animal manure or home-grown compost. It can be easily grown from seed after all risk of frost has passed, simply rake over the site to ensure it’s level and scatter seeds over the surface. Rake the soil back over the seeds and water well. Thin young plants to 30cm apart and water in dry weather.
To avoid borage self-seeding all over your garden, harvest the seeds yourself to sow the following year. The seeds are easy to pick and are ready when the flowers begin to fade. Once the flowers have turned brown the seeds should be ready. Simply pick them off the plant and leave in a dry place such as a brown paper bag. Then scatter over a prepared site the following spring.
However you use borage – as a culinary treat, to liven up ice cubes or simply as a beautiful plant in your garden – it will be a real treat for you and the wildlife that depend on its flowers. It is incredibly easy to grow and looks fantastic in a container or window box. Just be careful not to let it spread as it can easily take over your garden in just a few seasons.