Borage put on a thrilling performance in my garden last year. It’s bright blue, upside-down flowers danced majestically in the wind, attracting a load of bees looking for a swinging adventure! They had a good time partying in my garden, gathering and transmitting pollen. The borage grew prolifically as did the tomatoes, peppers and zinnias planted nearby. It was one of those garden “winning combinations” that I’ll gladly repeat this year.
If you’ve never grown borage you might want to try it, but read on before deciding. It often gets mixed reviews. Herb growers either rave about it or hate on it. Once planted, it’s self-seeding properties make it tough to get rid of. You’ll need to develop a sense of humor (or maybe acceptance) about little borage sprouts popping up throughout your garden.
Starting Borage From Seed
Borage or Borago officinalis is a full-sun annual best grown directly from seed sown 1-2 weeks before the last frost, but it can also be started anytime in milder climates. Last year I didn’t plant mine until a few weeks after the last frost, and it still grew profusely. So, if you’ve missed the date, don’t be thwarted. Give it a try. You never know….
The seeds germinate very quickly, sometimes in only five days! The seeds like cooler germination temps so it helps to keep them around 55 °F. Seeds are fairly easy to find. I usually purchase mine from my local garden center. You may also find small borage plants and be tempted to buy them, but I ‘d suggest planting your own from seed. Borage tends to sulk when transplanted. It’s fussy that way. IF you do purchase a plant, be careful of it’s root ball when it’s time to replant.
You can also sow your seeds directly into a container. Since borage has a long tap root you’ll want to select a container with a minimum soil depth of 8 inches. Depending on how closely you’ll be watching your borage (see below), you’ll want a container that’s at least 7″ in diameter. Of course, select a larger container if you intend to plant other herbs with it. You may want to throw in a few nasturtiums seeds (soak them first), various colored lettuce leaves or some Swiss chard that can be harvested throughout the season. I love those pretty, edible containers set on my patio!
Borage is native to the Mediterranean so it’s a garden gem for areas with poor soil that drain well. If you plant it in a container, any basic potting soil without a lot of enhanced fertilizer will do. Whether you choose to direct sow it into your garden or a container, once it’s established don’t stress about watering it either. A little water goes a long way with borage.
Borage, like the bees it attracts, is a busy herb that tends to go everywhere once planted. Herbal lore says that it brings courage. That could be true because even though it’s an annual, it’s undaunted when it comes to self-sowing! Be prepared to have seedlings return the next year. Also, if left unattended during the season (see mine above) borage can grow up to 3 feet. Then it will flop over unattractively… lesson learned the hard way. It also develops large, prickly leaves that are uncomfortable to touch…another lesson learned the hard way. Some gardeners dislike borage for these reasons. BUT, if you visit your borage regularly like the bees do, you can help your borage behave and increase your enjoyment of this unusual plant.
When visiting your borage take a minute and harvest some of the new tender leaves, you may then want to toss them into a salad. They have a refreshingly light cucumber taste and are known for their high vitamin and mineral content.** You may also want to chop up the small leaves and add them to yogurt or cream cheese to create a cucumber flavored spread. The flowers may be picked and frozen in ice trays for decorative cubes. Borage likes to be used fresh. It’s the herb-of-the-moment and doesn’t dry or preserve well. I’ve also heard that borage flowers are great in Pimm’s Cup and candied, thus lending themselves to special occasions. But, I spent more of my time photographing the bees on my borage last year than I did using the flowers/leaves. I haven’t had a chance to try either of these festive uses.
One more good thing to know about borage is that in addition to attracting pollinators such as bees, it’s also deer resistant.
If you grow borage or plan to do so, please leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear how you’re using it or plan ousing it!
**PLEASE NOTE* Medicinal use of borage — If digested in large undiluted forms such as straight borage oil (sometimes called starflower oil), the plant alkaloids (PA) in borage are known to cause liver damage. Some manufacturers state that borage oil never contains PAs due to its processing. But, it’s a good idea to look for borage oil that is certified for being free of unsaturated PAs. Pregnant women should avoid borage oil. Culinary — Normal use of borage as a culinary herb should not be a problem since massive amounts would need to be eaten to be problematic. However, use borage as a culinary herb at your own risk.
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