Borage originated in the Middle East, although it has naturalized in Europe and the U.S., and was associated with bravery or courage. An ancient saying, Ego Borage gaudia simper ago, meaning “I, borage, always bring courage,” perpetuated the idea that young girls should serve borage tea to uncommitted and unwitting young men in hopes of securing marriage proposals! It has also been favored by botanical illustrators over the centuries as well as being a favorite subject in needlework. In addition, the beauty of its flowers included borage in the garden at Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV.
From the Latin borra, meaning “hair of the beast” which refers to its bristly leaves, borage is best known for its decorative, slightly drooping, sky blue star-shaped edible flowers, but actually the entire plant is edible. You can even extract an edible blue dye from the leaves. The flowers bloom from spring through mid-summer and are recently also available in white. The dull green leaves up to 6” long give off a cucumber scent in addition to being hairy but succulent. Grown easily from seed sowed in the spring, borage is a hardy annual that likes full sun and dry soil. The taproot makes it difficult to transplant but it self seeds readily, so harvest the flowers as well as the tender leaves for the most desirable culinary use as well as to keep it where you want it. Borage looks more like a ragged roadside flower than a garden herb, but should be planted near a vegetable garden and fruit trees to encourage bee pollination. Its lesser known common name, beebread, is suggestive of its great affinity for attracting bees making it a favorite of beekeepers as well as yielding excellent honey.
Both the flowers and young leaves have a cucumbery flavor and cooling aftertaste for culinary use, but should be used promptly or stored in the refrigerator between wet paper towels as they wilt quickly. Also do not tear or cut the leaves until you are ready to use them. To prepare the flowers gently pull each blossom by its black center to release it from its hairy calyx then gently rinse and pat dry. Young leaves can be eaten raw, steamed or sautéed like spinach or make fritters with leaves dipped in batter and fried. The flowers are a sturdy garnish for dips, salads, cold soups, and beverages like punch and iced tea. They are also perfect to candy as condiments for cakes and pastries or try freezing in ice cubes. Borage is also an important ingredient in a popular English alcoholic beverage known as Pimm’s No.1. High in vitamin C and rich in calcium, potassium and mineral salts, an infusion is a tonic for stress and to restore strength during convalescence, however, frequent use should be avoided due to borage also containing a toxic compound that can cause liver damage. A poultice from the leaves may be used to cool and soothe inflammations, relieve insect bites and stings, reduce swelling and bruising plus help clear up boils and rashes.
Borage, a good companion plant,
is an excellent source of minerals
and strengthens insect and disease resistance
in nearby plants as well as improving flavor and yield of
especially tomatoes, squash and strawberries
RED, WHITE & BLUE SALAD
3/4 c sour cream
1/4tsp course black pepper
1tsp white sugar
1Tbs rice wine vinegar
1tsp fresh chopped dill
1/8tsp fresh grated lemon peel
1/4tsp finely grated red onion
1 English cucumber, peeled & chopped
3 garden fresh red tomatoes
10 borage flowers
Combine all the ingredients except for the tomatoes and flowers. Slice tomatoes and arrange them, overlapping, around the edge of a platter. Mound the cucumber mixture in the center, just covering the inner edge of the tomatoes. Chill well, and place the borage flowers decoratively on the salad just before serving.
1-8oz cream cheese
1/2c finely chopped cucumber
1Tbs fresh chopped dill
Mix cream cheese with cucumber and dill until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture on bread rounds. Place one prepared borage bloom on each - great for summer tea parties!
CHILLED CUCUMBER SOUP
Sauté 5 peeled & seeded cucumbers, 1 chopped onion, 1c young borage leaves and 2 cloves chopped garlic in 2Tbs oil for 5 minutes until onions are transparent. Stir in 4c chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, then cover and simmer 15-20 minutes until cucumber is soft. Transfer vegetables to food processor and process until smooth. Stir in 1/2c chopped fresh dill and season. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Stir in 1c half & half before serving and garnish with prepared borage flowers.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."