Everything You Need To Know About Growing & Using Borage

blue borage starflower
Borage, herb of gladness, self seeds prolifically in our garden, popping up each year in Autumn. The starry blue flowers are loved by bees, who make very light golden coloured honey with a delicate flavour from the nectar. 

What Is The Borage Plant?

Borage (Borago officinalis) is from the Boraginaceae family along with comfrey, lungwort and heliotrope, to name a few. It is sometimes known as starflower due to the shape of the flowers.

Borage grows to a height of 60-100 cm. The stems are branched, hollow and covered in white hairs. The leaves are alternate, large and wrinkled and also covered in hairs. The star like flowers have five narrow triangular pointed petals, are usually blue, with black anthers in the centre. They contain four brown-black seeds.

There is also a white flowering borage.

white borage plant

The Origins And History Of Borage

Originating in Syria, but has naturalised throughout the Mediterranean region, as well as Asia Minor, Europe, North Africa, and South America.

It is suggested the name borage is derived from the Celtic word borrach meaning ‘a man of courage’, the Celts drank their wine with borage before entering battle.

Some people say that the name might be derived from the Latin borra, it’s meaning rough hair, describing the hairy covering on the stems and leaves.

The Greeks and Romans believed that Borage was a source of courage and comfort, and there are references to the flowers being embroidered into medieval tapestries and the colours of jousting knights.

An old Latin verse goes:

Ego Borago Gaudia semper ago. “I, borage, bring always courage.”

Borage has long been associated with health and good cheer and Parkinson (1620-1640) commends it ‘to expel pensiveness and melanchollie.’

Culpepper(1660) finds the plant useful in putrid and pestilential fever, the venom of serpents, jaundice, consumption, sore throat, and rheumatism.’

John Evelyn, writing at the close of the seventeenth century tells us: ‘Sprigs of Borage are of known virtue to revive the hypochrondriac and cheer the hard student.’

Growing Borage

Borage is an easy-to-grow plant that can withstand various climates in Australia.
It is best to plant borage in small clusters to support each other. The beautiful blue star flowers appear during the summer and the plant will die down with the arrival of winter.

In warm climates, borage grows during the cool months and flowers from spring to early summer. It can thrive in sunny to partially shaded spots and should be protected from heavy winds that could cause the plants to topple over. Cultivated soil is optimal, but not required. The blue hue of the flowers is more intense when grown in poorer soil.

If you'd like to start with fresh plants each season, you can easily do so by seeding in the months of October to December - just make sure to cover the seeds lightly with soil and water. After the first season, borage will self-seed and reappear year after year. Select a spot with loose, friable, and moist soil, although borage can also tolerate clay soils if they're not too damp. If you'd like to restrict its growth, consider planting in pots.

adult borage plant

Medicinal And Culinary Uses For Borage

Traditionally Borage was used as syrup for fevers, jaundice, itch and ringworm. Culpepper states it was used for ulcers in the mouth and throat and for inflammations of the eye.

Borage is rich in minerals, especially potassium, calcium and mineral salts. It also contains beneficial saline mucilage, this forms a soothing film over a mucus membrane, relieving minor pain and inflammation. It makes an excellent facial steam for improving very dry, sensitive skin.

In recent times Borage has been cultivated commercially for the seed oil, which is the highest known plant-based source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Borage oil is often marketed as starflower oil. Borage seed oil is used for regulation of metabolism and balancing hormones, being a remedy for PMS and hot flushes of menopause.

Externally, a poultice of the leaves can be used on swellings and inflammation.
Tea made from the dried flowers is a traditional calming drink in Iran. It has a rich purple colour that turns bright pink by adding a few drops of lemon juice.

Borage has a light cucumber fragrance, the young leaves can be torn into salads, mashed into cream cheese, made into sauces or puréed soups. It is popular as a culinary herb in Germany, a green sauce made in Frankfurt (called grie soß) is made from seven herbs, as well as borage they add parsley, chervil, chives, cress, sorrel and salad burnet. This sauce is served with boiled or braised meat, boiled young potatoes, fish and vegetables.

The leaves and flowers were originally used in Pimms before it was replaced by mint.

Add flowers to herbal vinegar as a dye and for a slight cucumber flavour.

The flowers and young leaves can be used to garnish salads, dips,
and cucumber soups.

Borage can be propagated by seed all year in the sub-tropics, or after frost in colder areas. In milder climates, borage will bloom continuously for most of the year. It will grow in most soil types but it prefers light, free-draining soil.
In the garden, borage is a useful companion plant to strawberries they are believed to stimulate each other’s growth. Their broad leaves protect the soil and the roots draw up nutrients.

Borage Ice Cubes

borage ice cubes

Half fill ice block trays with cold water and freeze. Remove from freezer and tip out the half blocks. Put a borage flower into each division, replace the half blocks and top them up with water. When the tray is returned to the freezer the borage flower will be set in the middle of the ice block.

Candied 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.

Candied borage flowers make attractive cake decorations

Borage-Flavoured Lemonade

  • ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 3-4 medium-sized borage leaves
  • 2 cups water

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend for approximately 30 seconds. Strain into a tall glass, and garnish with borage flowers.