Borage is one of the most photographed and often represented culinary herbs in tapestries, needle point work and ceramic painting. These countless renditions are inspired by borage’s quintessential ‘herby’ look. Borage has traditionally been associated with good spirits and well-being. Pliny has been quoted as saying, ‘A Borage brew would eliminate a person’s sadness and make the person glad to be alive’. Such was the belief in the spirit-rousing powers of Borage, it was given to crusaders before going on long journeys and to gladiators prior to blood-curdling skirmishes. In Wales Borage is known as llanwenlys, which means ‘herb of gladness’. Celtic warriors drank wine flavoured with borage to give them courage in battle, and it has always been considered it a very effective anti-depressant for the feeling of elation it induces. Wikans suggest to find courage you should tuck a borage blossom in your pocket before any stressful situation, or drink a tea or glass of wine flavoured with borage leaves. Drinking borage tea is also said to increase psychic powers.
What is Borage?
A gangly, airy plant, with thick, soft, hollow and succulent stems to 3 ft. (1 m) high covered with wrinkled, deep-green leaves up to 6 in. (15 cm) long and decorated with an abundance of starshaped, Wedgewood-blue flowers with distinguishing black anthers in their centers. The whole plant is covered with fine, bristly hairs, conjuring up a thistle-like ‘don’t touch me’ demeanor. There are quite often some softpink flowers amongst the traditional blue borage flowers that are full of nectar and attract bees (hence the colloquial name ‘bee bread’). There is also a rare whiteflowered variety. While borage attempts to hide its charms with fine bristles, the leaves when chopped have a refreshing cucumber-like flavor and delicate aroma. The flavour of the flowers is similarly ‘cool’ and makes them an ideal addition to salads, and they float perfectly on the surface of summer drinks.
Preparation and Storage
Borage leaves are generally used fresh, however as they wilt soon after picking, they can be quite tricky to dry effectively. The best method is to harvest the leaves in the early morning, place them in a single layer on paper or on a frame covered with gauze such as insect screen, in a dark, dry, well-aired position where the air can circulate freely and allow the moisture content to evaporate. When quite crisp, crumble and store in an airtight container away from extremes of heat, light and humidity. Borage flowers may also be dried using the same method. As Borage wilts so soon after picking, it will always be difficult to buy good quality fresh leaves. Borage flowers are more robust post harvesting, and for this reason will often be found in prepared salads along with other exotic leaves and flowers. To use the fresh flowers, first remove the thorny back side. Be careful when picking the flowers: bees (along with other beneficial insects) are attracted to the hanging blossoms and often are hidden from view when they are gathering nectar. Rinse the flowers gently and pat them dry. They hold up well when refrigerated between two pieces of damp toweling.
Cooking with Borage
Borage’s cucumber flavor makes it a logical addition to any green salad, but be sure to cut the leaves up small enough to negate the hairiness. Add the cut up leaves to cream and cottage cheese and put into herb sandwiches with a little salt and pepper. Borage flowers floated on refreshing drinks such as fruit punch or a Pimm’s look attractive and the flavor is complementary. A popular dessert and cake decoration is made by dipping Borage flowers into beaten egg whites, dusting with sugar and allowing to dry. Leaves are used raw, stems are steamed and sautéed, much as spinach is. Stems can be used as you would celery. The star shaped flowers of borage are great as a garnish or tossed in a salad. The leaves and stems enhance poultry, fish, cheese, most vegetables, salads, pickles and salad dressings. The candied flowers are used to decorate candies and cakes. Flavors blend well with dill, mint and garlic. Because the stems and leaves are fuzzy, many chefs use them for flavoring and remove them from the dish before serving. Chinese chefs have been known to use the leaves much as others use grape leaves: stuffed and rolled. Germans add the leaves to stews and court bullions. And in England, the gin based drink, Pimm’s No.1, has borage as one of its important ingredients. Borage’s wonderful blue color creates whimsical and eye-catching garnishes and is a fanciful way to add cucumber flavor in an unexpected way. They are a tantalizing garnish on canapes, (smoked salmon is particularly nice). They are also tasty on grilled onions sprinkled with balsamic vinegar; the color combination is dramatic. Try tossing them in a salad of baby greens and edible flowers. When using borage flowers in a salad, be sure to add them on top at the last minute to avoid wilting and discoloration. Another colorful and tasty combination is shrimp and avocado, with a lemon vinaigrette and borage flowers. Candied or crystallized blossoms are also used as garnishes for cakes and pastries.
To Candy Borage Flowers
Pick the borage flowers, each with a small stem, when they are quite dry. Paint each one with lightly beaten egg white, using a water colour paintbrush. Dust them lightly with castor sugar and set to dry on waxed paper in a warm place like an airing cupboard or in a very cool oven.
Borage with Salads and Vegetable Dishes
Borage flowers which made an attractive edible garnish may be added to any green or fruit salad to taste. Young finely chopped borage leaves may be added to any green salad, but do not add too much because of their hairy texture. Add to beans, green peas and spinach.
Borage leaves as a Vegetable
Wash young borage leaves and remove stalks. Chop finely and cook in a little butter in a covered saucepan over a very low heat. Season to taste. The dampness of the washed leaves should be enough to keep them from sticking to the bottom; they should soon be tender and their hairy texture disappears when cooking. Try to combine the borage leaves with cabbage or spinach using about one-third borage leaves to two-thirds cabbage or spinach and cooking in the same way.
Health Benefits of Borage
Borage has many medicinal qualities, the flowers or leaves are helpful for relieving the symptoms of bronchitis, and also act as an anti-diarrhoeal remedy. Externally, Borage leaves can also be ground into a paste and make a cooling and soothing remedy for fevers, sprains, swelling, and skin inflammations and irritations. In naturopathic healing it is said to have positive effects on the heart when taken as a tea in combination with hawthorne berries. It also reportedly balances the function of the adrenal gland, and is especially helpful following surgeries. Borage helps treat depression. It relieves fevers, bronchitis, and diarrhea. It’s an adrenal tonic, an anti-inflammatory, and stimulates milk flow in nursing mothers.
Borage is remarkably easy to grow. In fact, the hard part is keeping it under control in your garden; it self seeds very easily. To plant borage, just find a sunny spot in the garden and cluster the plants or seeds, since they tend to get leggy. The leaves are rather scruffy looking so I tend to plant the borage towards the back, with other plants camouflaging the lower parts, leaving the blossoms to take center stage. Borage is considered a hardy annual, sometimes surviving over the winter in the most temperate of regions. It thrives in bright sunlight, poor to moderate soil, and little water, thus making it a good choice for a drought resistant garden. Borage can also be grown in pots, as well as indoors. The key to a brilliant display of blossoms is plenty of heat and sunshine. Borage is a useful companion plant to strawberries, as they are believed to stimulate each other’s growth. As a companion plant to tomatoes, it is believed that borage deters tomato worm, and is thus a natural form of pest control.
bee bread, star flower, bugloss, Burrage
French: Bourrache officinale
German: Borretsch, Gurkenkraut
Borago officinalis Fam: Boraginaceae
Photo by Paasikivi / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)