A Paler Shade of Borage
Seldom seen, white or snowy borage is a delicately beautiful addition to the herb or ornamental garden.
I love having borage in the garden. Any plant that thrives on neglect, seeds itself and adds greenery and touches of colour to the garden gets my vote. That it is almost irresistible to bees adds to the attraction for me. While most of us can picture the pretty, sky-blue flowers of borage, not many have seen or even know about a rarer form: Borago officinalis var. ‘Alba’, with delicate white flowers. Commonly known as white borage or snowy borage, it is a very beautiful plant that shares all the other characteristics and uses with the blue version.
Borage is full of minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium so is beneficial to one’s health. It has traditionally also been used as a poultice to treat everything from bruises to itchy skin. Borage tea, made using ½ cup of leaves in 2 cups of boiling water, is said to aid in the relief of cold and flu symptoms. It can also be good for anxiety or depression. Limit intake to 1 cup a day. The oil of the seeds contains GLA, a powerful acid that is used in cosmetics and tonic creams.
Borage is valuable in the garden as an attractor of pollinators, especially the different bee species, as well as a fertiliser. The leaves can be used as a mulch, added to the compost heap, or used to make a green fertiliser tea. The dried leaves can also be added to planting holes or pot plants as a mineral supplement. Borage also adds nutrients to the soil as it grows, and you barely need to feed it. In the veggie garden, borage is a useful companion plant especially for tomatoes, as it wards off tomato worms.
Borages, both white and blue, have a delicate cucumber flavour to the flowers and leaves. That said, you do need to be wary of the hairs around the base of the flower and on mature leaves. To eat the flowers, gently pluck the flower from the base, leaving behind the hairy bit. Eat the flowers while you’re wandering though your herb garden or use them in cocktails (did you say G&T?) or in salads. Likewise, avoid the hairy mature leaves and eat only the younger, more tender, less hairy ones. These can be chopped up and added to salads or even used in pasta dishes such as a ravioli with herbs, walnuts and goats cheese.
Growing White Borage
“Once you have borage, you always have borage”. That’s what my mom says. This hardy, tough herb self-seeds relentlessly, so make sure you want it in your garden or you’ll be pulling it out every spring while muttering to yourself about those fools at Grow to Eat who told you to plant one…
The seed of the blue variety is readily available, while the white version is harder to come by. Living Seeds does stock it though. Sow the seeds every 30cm or so, and sow them about 5mm deep. You can sow them any time in spring to summer, and expect flowers from late spring. Germination should take just a week to 10 days. Borage is frost hardy, prefers moist, fertile soil, and can be grown in full sun to light shade. It is a large herb, growing up to 90cm high and covering about 45cm.