, commonly known as borage or starflower, is one of a host of herbs with origins in the Mediterranean region.
Naturalized in the United States, it grows in a wild and weedy fashion, sporting its signature blue star blossoms, as well as fuzzy leaves, stems, and drooping buds.
In addition to the botanical species, there are cultivated varieties available in both blue and white.
In this article, I’ll cover how to cultivate borage, a versatile herb that may be grown as an ornamental, an ingredient for herbal and culinary use, or as a cover crop.
Note that its fuzzy texture may cause a topical reaction in sensitive people. If you are prone to allergies, wear gloves when you handle it.
Cultivation and History
According to experts at the Flower Essence Society, likely originated in Syria. Today it is naturalized throughout Europe and the United States.
There are two literary references from the 1500s to an herb believed to be borage: there is a forgetfulness-inducing herb in Homer’s , and a mood elevator in Dioscorides’ .
The leaves and flowers have long been used in the eastern Mediterranean region as potherbs and drink garnishes.
They also have a history of use in herbal remedies to address conditions ranging from respiratory issues to adrenal problems.
The leaves have an aroma reminiscent of cucumber, and a rather salty flavor. The flowers are sweet, like honey.
The seeds contain an oil prized for its high gamma linoleic acid (GLA) content.
This fatty acid is believed to be antigenotoxic and anti-inflammatory. Today it is sold as a health supplement.
However, please note: in addition to being a potential skin irritant, consumption of this herb may cause adverse reactions.
Borage contains low concentrations of unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are hepatotoxic, or potentially damaging to the liver.
If you have medical conditions, please consult a physician or other healthcare professional before consumption, to avoid drug interactions.
nectar and pollen source for honeybees.
To encourage optimal flower production, deadhead spent blooms frequently, or harvest them fresh for use as a garnish in salads or drinks.
An annual by definition, behaves like a perennial. It is a self-sower that ensures its future by dropping seeds at season’s end that germinate the following spring.
Ideal conditions for cultivation include a full sun to part shade location and average, well-draining soil.
Mature dimensions may reach three feet tall and up to 18 inches wide.
The best way to start growing is from seed. Seeds have a high germination rate, and sowing them couldn’t be easier.
Self-sowing at season’s end ensures that a one-time seed investment repays the grower for years to come.
start new plants from seed by direct sowing outdoors in spring after the last average frost date has passed.
Alternatively, you can start seeds indoors a month before the last frost date and transplant seedlings to the garden.
How to Grow
This is an herb that delivers dynamic growth when you offer ideal conditions.
Provide a location with full sun. Plants tolerate part shade, but may not produce as many flowers without an abundance of sunshine.
compact, clay-like soil, amend it with organically-rich material like leaf mulch or compost, as well as ordinary builder’s sand. The organic matter may slightly increase the soil acidity.
The ideal soil pH is between 4.8 and 8.3. This is a wide range, and it’s very likely that your soil is within bounds.
Work the soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches, until it is crumbly.
Sow seeds 1/4 to 1/2 an inch deep.
Maintain even moisture during germination and while plants are becoming established.
layer of mulch to aid in water retention and inhibit the growth of weeds.
Herbs also make great container plants. Select a pot that is at least 12 inches wide and deep to accommodate root spread and mature dimensions.
Be sure it has adequate drainage holes, and fill it with a well-draining potting medium.
A critical aspect of container gardening to remember is that pots dry out quicker than ground soil, so be vigilant.
- Plant in full sun for an abundance of blooms.
- Average soil is fine, provided it drains well.
- Amend the soil as needed with compost, leaf mulch, or even builder’s sand to loosen it and improve drainage.
Cultivars to Select
When shopping for seeds, you are likely to come across blue botanical species as well as cultivated varieties in both blue and white.
Blue species seeds are available from True Leaf Market in 2-gram, 1-ounce, 4-ounce, 1-pound, and 5-pound packages.
White cultivated ‘Alba’ seeds are available from Eden Brothers.
Managing Pests and Disease
is not prone to problems with insects or disease. It is valued in the garden because it attracts beneficial insects that feed on many pests, making it a great companion plant.
Keep in mind that the fuzzy texture of borage may cause skin irritation, and consumption may cause adverse reactions.
To pick flowers, grasp the brownish center and pull gently to release them from the green calyces below.
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Best Garden Uses
While I’m partial to native species, I feel this plant has much to offer.
Plant some borage between these plants to ward off common pests. Just remember you’re sowing a vigorous grower, and don’t let it take over!
cool-weather crop, you can sow as a cover crop to help prevent erosion, retain moisture, and inhibit weed growth.
Plow this cover crop under for fresh green manure prior to planting your veggies.
In addition to its culinary and medicinal uses, it makes a charming ornamental.
How about sowing it in a sunny meadow with room to self-sow and spread?
There’s nothing lovelier than a field of blue humming with happy bees, butterflies, and insects on the job.