Borage may be the prettiest herb you’ve never seen. It’s a mystery why this carefree edible isn’t more common in gardens, as it offers beauty and practicality all season long. Clusters of bright blue five-petaled flowers, nodding on dramatic reddish stems, appear in early summer and last into fall. Bristles that cover the stems and leaves give the whole plant a silvery sheen. Leaves and flowers are edible. Bees love borage too; so much so that one of its nicknames is “bee’s bread.” Borage is an annual, but it reseeds prolifically—plant it once, and you’ll most likely see it every year. It can grow 3 feet tall and wide, so be sure to give it plenty of space.
Common name: Borage, cool tankard, talewort, tailwort, starflower
Botanical name: Borago officinalis
Plant type: Annual
Zones: Annual in all zones
Height: 1 to 3 feet
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Soil: Average, well drained
Moisture: Average to dry
Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
Pruning: None needed.
Fertilizer: None needed.
Pests and diseases:
Vulnerable to powdery mildew and crown rot.
May attract blackfly and flea beetles.
Borago officinalis ‘Alba’ has white flowers and a slightly earlier bloom time.
Deadhead spent blooms for a lush display of flowers, but don’t compost the flower heads.
They may survive the composting process, and you’ll wind up with borage all over your yard.
As a companion plant, borage is said to give tomatoes a better flavor and to control tomato worms. Gardeners also use it near strawberries—it attracts bees, which improve the pollination rate and thus the harvest.
The fresh leaves add a cucumber flavor to salads, yogurt, and summer drinks. Be sure to chop them, as they’re unpleasantly hairy when whole. Also use leaves in soups, sauces, and teas. Use flowers as a garnish in salads, or to add color to potpourri. Leaves don’t dry or freeze well.
People have used borage for centuries as an herbal remedy and an edible herb. Be aware, though, that it does contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, so it is toxic in very large quantities.
All in the family:
Borage most likely originated in Syria. It was first cultivated almost 1,000 years ago and has since naturalized across the Mediterranean, Europe, Iran, and north Africa.
Other members of the Boraginaceae family commonly found in gardens include forget-me-not, heliotrope, and lungwort.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Borago officinalis courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)