Borage, long known for its medicinal uses and culinary capabilities, is an herb rich in history and tradition. Long used as a medicinal herb, it is also a must for the well stocked kitchen. It has a slight cucumber taste, and is considered by many to be very refreshing. Tops are used in various concoctions, as a medicinal remedy. An old wife's tale says that if borage is snuck into a prospective husbands drink, it will give him the courage to propose. Sometimes called Bugloss by the old herbalists, it is also referred to as burrage. The leaves and flowers are the parts used. Here, we will discuss borage - its history, medicinal and culinary uses, how it is grown, and how it is harvested and stored.
History of Borage
Borage was first used during Roman times, with naturalists reporting it could be used to "dispel melancholy and induce euphoria." Pliny the Elder, in his works Historia Naturalis, said that borage worked well as an antidepressant, and said it had the ability to "maketh a man merry and joyfull". Borage oil was used in the Middle Ages in the south of Spain by Arabs. Europeans trading with the Arabs brought borage and its oil to Europe, and it arrived in Denmark by the 13th century.
The name borage is said to derive from Arabic, called abou rach, and meaning "father of sweat." In Latin, it was called will burra, or "fabric with long hairs." Today, the official name is Borago officinalis.
The specific designation 'officinalis' indicates borage's inclusion in official listings of medicinal plants. Borage has been shown to contain gamma linoleic acid (GLA), an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid. This acid is active against various cancers, such as breast, brain and prostate. It has a very high concentration of this fatty acid, with even twice the amount found in evening primrose, which is used to treat PMS. Borage has been used for many years as an antidepressant, mainly in the form of teas. It is used to treat fevers, diarrhea and bronchitis. Poultices made of the leaves are said to be soothing and cooling, and a relief for such things as sunburn and insect bites. It is often mixed with oatmeal for consistency.
Borage is noted for its cooling cucumber taste. It is used in cookery as a flavoring. Leaves are used raw, stems are steamed and sautéed, much as spinach is. Stems can be used as you would celery. The star shaped flowers of borage are great as a garnish or tossed in a salad. The leaves and stems enhance poultry, fish, cheese, most vegetables, salads, pickles and salad dressings. The candied flowers are used to decorate candies and cakes. Flavors blend well with dill, mint and garlic. Because the stems and leaves are fuzzy, many chefs use them for flavoring and remove them from the dish before serving.
How To Grow Borage
Borage does well in just about any herb garden soil. It does best in a fairly rich soil with a pH value of 6.6. Manure compost is the best fertilizer to use. Plant borage in full sun.
Borage is very easy to grow from seed. Seed is sown after all danger of frost. When the new plants emerge, thin them to about 2 feet. They need a lot of room, and are sprawling in nature. Keep the soil moist for optimum growth. Insure that the soil is loose and well aerated. Mulch works well for borage. Borage attracts bees through their blue, star shaped flowers.
Harvesting and Storage
Borage does not dry or freeze well. Used fresh from the herb garden, it is best preserved by using it in flavored vinegar.
Where to Buy Borage
Seeds can be had at many online stores, such as Agriseek.com. Many local natural remedy stores will carry the seed. Be aware that borage grows wild in most parts of Europe and Africa. It has been naturalized in Great Britain, and is cultivated widely in North America. Many times you will find borage growing wild.
A Recipe Using Borage
Because it has a taste reminiscent of cucumber, it naturally goes well with cucumber. Here is a simple recipe using borage.
Cucumbers With Borage
- 3 large cucumbers, thinly sliced
- 1/2 pint sour cream
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh, finely chopped young borage leaves
Lightly salt the cucumbers and set aside for 30 minutes.
Pat dry with paper towel.
Mix the remaining ingredients,
Add the cucumbers and toss lightly.
Garnish with borage blossoms.
Chill for one hour before serving.
Borage is an old herb, and has seen many uses over the years. It is a very colorful plant for a wildflower garden. Give it a try.