Borage is a plant I like to have in my gardens. Not just because it can be eaten, (which it can) or used for medicinal purposes (which it also can), but because it works wonderfully at attracting beneficial insects and at adding nutrients back into the garden.
Borage (Borago officinalis) is an annual that can either be directly sown outdoors in late spring or started earlier indoors and then transplanted. If you wish to have borage in a certain location in your garden, it is best to start it indoors and then transplant. The plant has a long taproot and is best sown in a fiber pot, which can then be placed directly into the ground as the seedling matures. Borage likes full sun to part shade and has no special soil needs. It is a resilient plant and can withstand either extended wet or dry periods. A mature plant is rather bushy, so take into account its mature height (3 ft) and spread (2ft) when planning its future location. It’s growth habit also makes it susceptible to being blown over by the wind.
Although an annual, borage will readily reseed itself. Each year I have a handful of volunteer seedlings that pop up throughout my gardens. I tend to leave only one or two to grow where they wish so long as they are not in an inconvenient location. The others I pull up and add to the compost pile. Because it proficiently reseeds itself, you may find you need to only introduce borage to your garden once.
Borage for Beneficial Insects
The blossoms of borage protrude above its large leaves and are easy for pollinators to spot. The blue, star-shaped flowers continue blooming throughout the summer, providing a continuous source of nectar for pollinators. Bees in particular visit borage often because they find the blue hue particularly attractive. Borage has the nickname of bee plant and is placed in pollinator gardens. It works well as a companion plant to strawberries, tomatoes, and squashes. It can grow up to 3 feet in height and its tempting blue blossoms dangle above its companions, luring pollinators to itself and its neighboring plants.
Predatory insects are also drawn to borage. The large, oval-shaped leaves have a fuzzy coating and are excellent locations for these insects to hide. Lacewings will choose it as a host for their eggs. In contrast, the insects we consider pests in our gardens tend to be repelled by borage. Deer don’t like borage either - too fuzzy.
The leaves and flowers both have a light cucumber flavour. The flowers are delicious eaten raw in salads, frozen into ice cubes, candied as decorations for cakes, and used anywhere a cucumber flavour is desired. The fresh leaves also make a refreshing tea when combined with honey and lemon. Blossoms can be harvested throughout the summer. The leaves are best eaten young, prior to developing their fuzziness and can also be eaten raw in salads.
Borage Makes Wonderful Compost
Borage is a member of the Boraginaceae family and is related to comfrey. Like comfrey it has a deep taproot that can mine nutrients too deep for other plants to reach. It pulls these nutrients into its leaves, where they continue to accumulate until the plant dies, and through decomposition, the nutrients are once made available to other plants. It’s relative, comfrey, is a popular plant for enhancing compost and for making compost teas. Borage too, produces a lot of aboveground biomass that accumulate nutrients, and is also a valuable compost ingredient and itself makes a potent compost tea. An alternative is to skip the compost pile and treat borage as a green manure. Allowing it to grow, which will aerate the soil, and then tilling it into the soil to slowly releases its nutrients and increases tilth.
Borage as Herbal Medicine
Fresh borage leaves and blossoms are ingredients in herbal medicine and the oil extracted from the seeds has herbal properties as well. Traditionally, herbalists looked to borage tea as a multipurpose tonic that could reportedly speed healing, reduce stress, relieve fevers, promote lactation, soothe digestive issues, and ease throat and chest infections. Furthermore, chopped up fresh leaves could be made into a poultice for skin irritations or used as an infusion and gargled for sore throats.
If you don’t already have borage, why not consider adding it to your garden? If you already have it growing, why not discover the myriad uses of this beautiful and multifaceted plant?
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.