The Cooling Borage Herb

The borage herb can be decorative and functional, and it’s said to have a cooling effect in drinks as well as anti-inflammatory properties.

| March/April 1980

Lately, more and more people have begun to understand just how limited — in both variety and nutritional value — our “modern” diets have become. This realization has sparked a new and widespread interest in the culinary and therapeutic uses of herbs, those plants which — although not well-known today — were, just one short generation ago, honored “guests” on the dinner tables and in the medicine chests of our grandparents’ homes. In this regular feature, MOTHER EARTH NEWS examines the availability, cultivation and benefits of our “forgotten” vegetable foods and remedies and — we hope — helps prevent the loss of still another bit of ancestral lore. 

The Borage Herb

Beautiful borage (Borago officinalis) is a native of Allepo, Syria. By the time the Roman Empire was at its height, however, the herb had been widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean region. The plant is believed to be the same one that Homer called “nepenthe,” and Pliny praised the herb for its ability to drive away melancholy and bring pleasant forgetfulness.

Big and Beautiful

The pretty plant belongs as much in a flower garden as in an herb bed and is well worth the large amount of space it requires. Germinating quickly from seed, borage grows from 1 to 3 feet tall with coarse, 4- to 6-inch gray-green leaves.

Both the stems and foliage are covered with bristly hairs, and mature specimens produce clusters of five-pointed, star-like flowers that are almost an inch across.

Borage, though highly adaptable, prefers slightly poor soil with some sun and only a moderate amount of water. Young seedlings (which are difficult to transplant) should be thinned to at least 18 inches apart. (Each plant can take up as much as 2 square feet of space and produce literally hundreds of deep blue blossoms.)

When planted in fall, borage generally blooms in May, while seeds sown in the spring will produce June and July blossoms. If you want a succession of flowers, seed at three-week intervals throughout the summer or simply cut off the blooms to encourage flowering.

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