Sheryl Normandeau is a writer and master gardener from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, near the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. She blogs at Flowery Prose (www.floweryprose.com).
(Photo – “The blue star-shaped flowers of borage are a standout in the garden – and they are highly attractive to bees!”)
Are you looking for a low-maintenance, easy-to-grow, edible herb for your garden? Borage fits the bill perfectly – and its beautiful star-shaped flowers are a delight for gardeners and bees alike! This is one of my very favorite plants to sow into my raised vegetable beds as well as my flower beds – and it does well in containers, too.
Borago officinalis is a member of the Boraginaceae family, which also includes plants such as forget-me-not, comfrey, lungwort, bugloss, and heliotrope. Borage is an annual herb but will reseed freely, which I don’t mind at all. Once you find out how amazing these plants are, you will definitely want more! You can prevent copious volunteers by deadheading the spent flowers.
Sow borage directly into the ground when all danger of frost has passed. You will not need to start the seeds indoors – borage germinates in two weeks or less and grows extremely quickly. As well, transplanting borage is difficult due to its thick, deep taproot; it is best to plant them right where you want them. Borage is adaptable to most soil types, but will not tolerate boggy conditions. A side-dressing of compost at the start of the season and again midway, is beneficial. Borage prefers full sun. In partial shade, the plants will not bloom as prolifically. I find borage tends to go slightly dormant when summer temperatures become very hot for an extended period of time: the stems will yellow a bit and the plants will look a bit bedraggled. During this time, it is best to ensure the finished blooms are removed, which will prolong flower production. Supplemental irrigation is a good idea if there is not enough rainfall.
When siting borage, bear in mind that the plants will grow quite large – 18 to 36 inches (45 to 90 cm) tall and 9 to 24” (22 to 60 cm) wide. The stems are thick and branch heavily. Like the stems, the soft gray-green leaves are covered in prickly hairs. (Wear gloves and long sleeves when handling or working around mature borage plants – some people suffer contact dermatitis from the plants). The flowers are star-shaped and a striking sky blue color, with black anthers.
I have never noticed any problems with pests or diseases with borage in the many years I have been growing it – even the slugs avoid it (probably because of the prickly stems). One summer, I had a particularly bad infestation of aphids on some chervil plants nearby and some of the aphids sampled the borage, but the borage was barely affected and did not require treatment.
Both the leaves and the flowers of borage are edible – and delicious! You can pick the flowers at any time while they are blooming, and use them in salads or desserts, or add them to summer spritzers and fruit drinks. The leaves must be picked when they are young and small. At that point, the prickly hairs are soft and you can eat the leaves raw without discomfort. If you wait too long, the leaves should be steamed or cooked, as they actually become quite nettle-like. Both the leaves and the flowers taste like cucumbers. Why not try borage in your garden this year?