I’d never heard of this plant until three years ago. To be honest the words “tastes like cucumber,” and “great in G&T,” and “good for bees” was enough to set off my ‘Buy Now’ trigger finger and purchase a tiny packet of seeds off eBay.
I unwittingly sowed them into some pots at the front of the house, and within a few months, these nettle-textured beasts emerged. I had half a mind to pull them up. They looked very similar to Herb robert Geranium robertianum which I had been ruthlessly rampaging and flinging into the bin (I now know better – check out Wild About Weeds).
But then these weird triffid-like pods suddenly popped open to reveal a pink and then blue star-shaped flower. At twilight, they seemed to glow. You know in fairy tales there’s always some mysterious flower that the hero has to go an search for in some mysterious bog or inaccessible mountain to restore a loved one back to health or life. Well, borage looks like this!
I couldn’t pick these fast enough. The flowers just kept coming.
It was my hubby’s birthday coming up – so I popped some of these starflowers into some icecubes to freeze for drinks. The party day arrived and I FORGOT THE BORAGE CUBES. I only discovered them a month later. A hundred cubes – two of us. That’s a lot of G&Ts.
What is Borage?
Borage, Borago officinalis – is also known as the bee bush or bee bread is made up of delicate blue, star-shaped flowers, and large rough and prickly leaves and stems.
It’s what’s known as ‘half-hardy’ – which means it can survive temperatures of between 1 to -5oC. That means you can plant out seeds in early spring, it will flower right to the end of autumn, but it is unlikely to overwinter. But don’t’ worry about that, because it’s a prolific self seeder. Don’t freak out, that’s a good thing….just keep reading.
Growing up to 4ft high it should be the star of any organic garden because of the MASSES of benefits it brings to the health of your soil, your plants, and your gardening well-being.
And yes, there are a myriad health benefits too. The Romans thought it could help with everything from depression to building courage!
“Those of our time do use the flowers in salads to exhilarate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the mind.”John Gerard (Herball 1597)
But I’m just focusing on the benefits for your garden, your soil and your plants. Oh…ok, there’s a tiny bit about using it in a gin and tonic, but that’s technically fuel for a gardener – so it’s still relevant for this post.
Great for pollinators
With lovely open petals, it is perfect for pollinators like bees. Having bluey, violet tones also make it great for attracting bees – who love a bit of the BLUE. Butterflies won’t be as fussed though.
The nectar in borage apparently refills with more nectar every two minutes! So your hovering guests won’t have to wait very long before they can fill their bellies. Do they have bellies? Insect stomachs….go Wikipedia that. I can hear my biologist father rolling his eyes all the way in England right now. (Belly laugh)
Borage is a great companion plant
Borage is said to help repel beasties like cabbage worms and caterpillars. But this herb grows into a bit of a thug, so you want to think twice before scattering the seed in amongst your other veg.
Borage performs amazingly well in any environment
From personal experience, I know my borage seems to like it pretty much anywhere and in any soil. What it doesn’t like is heavy rain and wind as it can grow to 3ft and is easily blown over. So I’d recommend planting it in between other support plants. Mine is doing well between some lupins/
Borage is can reach those hard to access minerals
With its long tap root, borage can access potassium and iron from the ground. Like comfrey and dandelions, borage is a ‘dynamic accumulator,’ accumulating minerals from deep in the soil to deposit on the surface. In fact, borage does belong to the comfrey family – Boriginaceae
Borage is an amazing addition to the compost heap or as a green mulch
With all those minerals tied up in the plant, when it starts to fade, just chop it up and add it to your compost heap to give it a boost. You could also add it directly to your soil as a green mulch around your annuals and grasses. (Check out Wayne Lewis & Jeff Lowenfels’ book Teaming with Microbes for why green mulch is better for your annuals than brown mulch).
Borage is great for making a potassium-rich fertilizer
I’m going to stop short of saying it’s free – because there is still the cost of the seeds and the time and labor required to make your fertilizer. But borage will make a lovely organic fertilizer that won’t harm your soil food web and be returning the organic nutrients back to the same earth they came from.
Borage is full of potassium (K) and loads of micronutrients. Potassium is one of those magical elements in the N-P-K trilogy that helps supports the flowers, seeds and fruits of plants. Just fill a bucket with the leaves and rainwater and let it rot down for a couple of weeks. Then drain off the stinking brew and dilute 1:10 parts of water to feed your plants. Your tomatoes, peppers, soft fruits and flowers will LOVE their borage brew.
Borage is a great self-seeder
Maybe too great! Before you know it, it’s all across your garden, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If you want to control it, make sure you deadhead them. Otherwise, capture the seeds when they are ripe and save for next spring when you can broadcast it out across your borders. You can also find white varieties
Great for adding to a Gin & Tonic
The flowers taste like ‘cucumber’! So makes a brilliant addition to a gin and tonic. Or try freezing them into ice cubes to show off to the in-laws when they drop by!
In the interests of science, I made a G&T to test it. To be honest, I could only taste the gin and the tonic, but munch on one of these blue stars was not unpleasant. Couldn’t taste the cucumber though, maybe too much gin!?
So what are you waiting for – get some borage, sprinkle those seeds and enjoy.
And if you freeze some into ice cubes, make sure you don’t forget about them.