Thursday, May 2, 2013

Specimen Spotlight: Borage

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Borage - Source
Borage is often best known for its pretty blue flowers, and for good reason, too. However, as is common with most plants, borage can fill more roles than just visual appeal.
  • It is included in the group of dry weather friendly plants, meaning that, once well established, it can hold its own against hot, dry days with little or no water. On top of that, unlike many desert plants that can take the heat but not the wet, borage happily continues on its merry way through long periods of precipitation.
  • It has the benefit of being a nutrient accumulator. It will send down roots deep into the soil to find minerals and nutrients that are beyond the reach of other plants. Those minerals and nutrients are pulled up into the leaves. Later, when the leaves die and decompose at the ground's surface, those nutrients and minerals are made available to other plants. Borage is especially good at retrieving potassium and silicon, both of which are important to many plants.
  • People are not the only ones who enjoy the blooms that borage produces. Insects, most especially bees, find the flowers to be a very attractive source of pollen and nectar.
  • Interplanted with comfrey you receive a synergistic effect in providing mulch making and weed suppressing benefits. This comes, in part, from borage's indeterminate growth habit, meaning it does not have a standard height at which it stops growing. It is more likely to flop over parallel to the ground, just like indeterminate varieties of tomatoes, and start growing vertical branches. This technique, so to speak, accomplishes three things. First, this immediately shades more of the ground, inhibiting the ability of weeds to germinate and grow. Second, more of the plant is now in contact with the ground which hastens decomposition and improves mulch making when the plant dies. And third, this allows borage to spread seeds over a wider area - it is supposed to readily self-reseed. The following year many borage seedlings will sprout and grow, shading out weeds.

    Borage also does well as a mulch maker due to its large, green, soft leaves, like comfrey, that shade the ground and provide quality mulch in a hurry.
  • In Jessi Bloom's book, Free-Range Chicken Gardens indicates that chickens typically prefer to leave borage alone. This is most likely due to the thick "fuzz" on the leaves.
  • On that note, people typically do not care for the leaf fuzz, either. So, since the leaf is perfectly edible, the suggested way to eat them is to add them finely chopped into a salad. The leaves are said to have a flavor similar to cucumber. However, they are best eaten fresh, as they lose their flavor and color when dried.
  • Peel, chop, and use the stems like celery.
  • Some foods that mesh well with the texture and flavor of borage are green salads, most vegetables, salad dressings, pickles, cheese, fish, poultry, and iced beverages.
  • Additionally, the flowers are reputed to be one of the few truly blue natural edible substances. They have a sweet taste, sometimes also having a bit of the cucumber flavor that the leaves have. As is typical with edible flowers, they are often used as a garnish or with desserts. And they can also be used to create an edible blue dye, which apparently turns pink when mixed with an acid.
  • Borage has traditionally been grown not just to eat, but also as a medicinal herb. Jethro Kloss, in Back To Eden, explains how borage can be used in the healing of a myriad of maladies. You can look at and Plants for a Future to learn more.
  • Sometimes borage pretends to be a biennial and will not flower the first year. Be patient and encourage new seedlings by keeping the ground moist, especially through the use of mulch around the seedlings once they have begun to poke up.
  • Garden Wisdom and Know-How has the following bit of trivia:
    "Borage has a reputation for invoking courage. In fact, ancient Celtic warriors preparing for battle drank wine flavored with borage to give them courage. They believed their fears would vanish and they would feel elated. (The effect was probably due to the wine, not the borage)" (pg. 258).
    In days gone by, ladies would embroider borage flowers on handkerchiefs as 'favours' for knights in the joust, or to drop for soldiers to collect as they march off to war.
  • There are many plants that enjoy a friendly relationship with borage. Some of these include cucumber, tomato, squash, strawberry, and members of the cabbage family in general. It has been reported that most garden plants grow better and have better tasting produce when borage is grown as a companion plant with them.
  • Besides promoting plant health, growth, and production, borage is also used to repel some pests. One common use is having borage and tomatoes together, which apparently deters moths whose larvae are the tomato hornworm.


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