Its name is derived from the Celtic term for courage, and as early as the life of Roman naturalist and natural philosopher Pliny (AD 23–79) there was a Latin saying, “I, borage, bring alwaies courage”.
In mediaeval times the flowers of Borago officinalis were added to salads to ‘exhilarate and make the mind glad’, while the leaves were infused in wine as a tonic to banish melancholy. Today we know that borage leaves are rich in calcium, potassium and mineral salts, making them one of nature’s best tonics for stress and stress-related problems.
Borage is also prized as a lovely garden plant, with small, star-shaped, sky-blue flowers that lift the spirits with their beauty – and attract bees. The plant itself is rather rambling, growing to a height of 60cm, with hollow hairy stems and downy, grey-green leaves. It is water-wise, easily growing in poor soil in a sunny spot. If grown in richer soil and watered regularly its growth will be more lush and healthier, less disposed to mildew. Although an annual it seeds itself, coming up year after year.
Plant borage next to strawberries as they flourish together. Borage is also a good companion for pak choi in the cold months as each boosts the other’s growth. If planted next to tomatoes, borage helps to control tomato worm infestations.
Besides its anti-depressant qualities, borage has properties that also help relieve chest colds, coughs, bronchitis and fevers. A poultice of crushed borage leaves will relieve insect bites and stings and reduce swelling and bruising.
To make an infusion pour 1 cup of boiling water over ¼ cup of bruised fresh leaves, steep for five minutes and drain. The infusion can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and for tired eyes.
The decorative flowers can be added to salads, punches and desserts. The leaves have a light cucumber taste and can be prepared in the same way as spinach. They can also be added to spinach dishes, bean and pea soups and used with fish. Make borage fritters by dipping the leaves in batter and frying them until crisp. Add shredded leaves to salad or mix with cream cheese and gherkins for a dip or sandwich filling.
Add Borage flowers for culinary flair
The blue-purple flowers please the eye and work well as complementary colours in a spring salad. All you need is some greens like this sliced avocado and rocket, a few baby tomatoes and some good quality mozzarella like bocconcini. Top it all with loads of black and pink crushed pepper and some pretty borage flowers.