12 February 2012

Pretty blue Borage, The Herb of Gladness (Borago officinalis), is in the Boraginaceae or Forget-Me-Not plant family

Borage is one of those rare plants that has it all. Although it has a history of being used in herbal remedies, today the pink and blue flowers are used to decorate everything from truffles to creamed soups and the leaves are widely used as a salad ingredient.

Its medicinal properties extend to the garden as well. Planting Borage with strawberries is supposed to improve the crop and planting Borage in any bed is said to strengthen the disease resistance of all the plants nearby.

Reference books about garden flowers do not usually include Borage, Borago officinalis, because it is considered an herb. It is one of 2,000 plants in the Boraginaceae or Forget-Me-Not plant family. Its relatives include Bugloss, Fiddleneck, Comfrey, Heliotrope and Lungwort.

Butterflies and bees are drawn to the flowers and Painted Lady butterfly caterpillars eat the leaves and nest in them before making a chrysalis. Painted Lady caterpillars also eat the leaves of thistles, mallows, peas, plantains, hollyhocks, and sunflowers.

There are many common names for Borage, including Bee Bread, Bee Plant, Burage, Cool Tankard, Langue de Boeuf, Ox-tongue, Star Flower, Gurkenkraut and Tailwort. It was probably originally from the area now known as Syria but it has naturalized around the world.

The 2-foot tall branching plant stems are hollow and soft rather than stocky so it can become rangy in appearance. Borage looks best in between plants with sturdy stalks, toward the middle of a flower bed or in a bed full of similar plants and herbs grown for the kitchen and for pollinators.

Organic gardeners often plant Borage between tomato plants because it is supposed to keep away the moths that are responsible for tomato horn worm caterpillars.

Container companions for Borage could be burgundy/purple basils, calendula, and chamomile – all easily started from seed. Any bed in an edible landscape would benefit from planting a pack of Borage seeds.

The entire plant is covered with tiny hairs, giving the 3-inch long bright green leaves a silver cast. The name Borage was given to it by Linnaeus when he established the plant genus Borago, which is Latin for hairy garment. Gardeners with sensitive skin should wear gloves when working around any Borage plant family members.

Borage flowers are often pink in the bud stage and right after opening. Then they turn bright blue with a black anther in the center adding to its dramatic appearance. The furry leaves make Borage unappealing to deer.

Though Borage tolerates poor soil it needs to be watered during weeks with no rain. It will bloom most in full sun but will tolerate afternoon shade.

Borage seeds need dark to come up so cover them with ¼ inch of soil when planting. They take 5 to 15 days to germinate at 70-degrees F. Keep the seeds moist but not wet and thin out the seedlings to at least one-foot apart. Fertilize once a month.

Since Borage does not like to be moved from a pot to the ground it is best to sow the seeds directly into prepared soil in a bed or in large growing containers. Sow a few seeds every month to ensure a steady supply of the edible flowers and leaves.

For a long time, Borage was called the herb of gladness because the leaves were used to make an herbal medicine to treat depression. In our gardens, it is more likely that the beauty of the cheerful flowers and the cucumber flavor of its leaves will make us glad we grew it.

Swallowtail Garden Seeds (www.swallowtailgardenseeds.com and 877-489-7333) has both white and blue flowering Borage seeds available.

2 comments:

Vanessa Thompson said...

Thank you for the imformation on borage plants. One came up in my flower garden and even though I have 17 yrs gardening I did not know what this was.

Martha Stoodley said...

I plant it from seed every year and the ones I planted outside as winter sown 6 weeks ago came up and got frost bite!
So, last night I put them in the garden shed for what I hope will be the last freezing night of the winter.