How to Grow and Care for Borage Plants

How to Grow and Care for Borage Plants

, commonly known as borage or starflower, is one of a host of herbs with origins in the Mediterranean region.

A vertical close up picture of a bright blue borage flower with characteristic reddish-brown sepals pictured on a green soft focus background. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white text.heliotrope.

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.

A close up of a bee landing on a bright blue, star-shaped borage flower, with unopened buds below, pictured on a soft focus background.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.

A close up of a blue, star-shaped Borago officinalis flower with two buds in soft focus in the background.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.

Propagation

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.

A vertical picture of a small Borago officinalis plant with star-shaped blue flowers growing in the sunshine in the summer garden.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.

A patch of borage with bright blue flowers and reddish-brown stems growing in the summer garden.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.

To know for sure, you may contact your local agricultural extension office to conduct a soil test.

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.

A vertical close up picture of a small blue Borago officinalis flower with furry, unopened buds in soft focus on a green background.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.

Growing Tips

  • 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.

A close up of a blue Borago officinalis flower growing in the garden. To the bottom right of the frame is a black circular logo with text.

Blue species seeds are available from True Leaf Market in 2-gram, 1-ounce, 4-ounce, 1-pound, and 5-pound packages.

A close up of a white Borago officinalis flower growing in the garden. ‘Alba’

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.

A close up of a bright blue, star-shaped borage flower growing in the garden, pictured in bright sunshine on a soft focus background.Harvesting

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.

A close up of a wooden surface with Borago officinalis seeds, flowers, leaves, and a small glass jar with essential oil.on our sister site, Foodal.

Best Garden Uses

While I’m partial to native species, I feel this plant has much to offer.

Do you have a strawberry patch, squash mound, or row of tomato cages?

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!

A close up of a Borago officinalis plant growing in front of a wooden fence in the summer garden, with blue star-shaped flower and unopened buds.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.

With its ability to attract a host of beneficial pollinators, there’s no reason to confine borage to the veggie or herb garden.

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.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type: Self-seeding annual herb Flower / Foliage Color: Blue, white/gray-green
Native To: Syria, eastern Mediterranean Tolerance: Deer, drought, rabbits
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 2-11 Soil Type: Average
Bloom Time / Season: Summer Soil pH: 4.8-8.3
Exposure: Full sun to part shade Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Spacing: 9-18 inches Attracts: Beneficial insects and pollinators
Planting Depth: 1/4-1/2 inches Companion Planting: Strawberries, squash, tomatoes
Height: 1-3 feet Order: Boraginales
Spread: 9-18 inches Family: Boraginaceae
Water Needs: Low to moderate Genus: Borago
Maintenance: Low Species: officinalis
Pests & Diseases: No pests; leaf spot, powdery mildew, root rot, stem rot

A Versatile Companion

Borage is ready and willing to take up residence in your yard. Will you make room for it this year?

A close up of bright blue borage flowers growing in the garden. In the foreground are small unopened buds in soft focus.growing herbs in your garden, check out these guides next:


Don’t forget to Pin It!

Borage is a hardy annual long prized by chefs and herbalists. Make room in the garden for blue star-shaped blossoms loved by beneficial bees. Let the plants self-sow in a sunny meadow for an attractive and maintenance-free zone. Learn all about this interesting plant, right here on Gardener’s Path.Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

“How to Grow and Care for Borage Plants” was first posted here

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