I first started growing borage because I wanted it for my bees. I'm glad I did, because they love it, and I've spent many hours watching them leave their hive and fly straight to the borage patch. That's not the only reason I love this pretty little herb.
Borage imparts a floral character to my honey, but it's much more than that. It tastes delicious, with a delicate cucumber flavor. You can add the lovely little blue flowers to salads, or frozen in ice cubes for a colorful addition to fruit punch. Both the flowers and leaves contain high levels of calcium, potassium, and mineral salts vital to a healthy body. It's also high in omega 6.
Borage has medical properties, and it's a natural way to keep pests like hornworms out of the garden. Then there's the fact that it adds an ornamental touch to your veggie garden.
Borage has a storied past. Allegedly, it was given to the Crusaders and Knights Templar to encourage bravery as they departed to foreign lands. In ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder used it as an anti-depressant.
In other words, borage is an all-purpose wonder plant.
There are several varieties of borage to choose some. They all have a similar flavor.
- Common Borage (Borago officinalis) – This is the most common type of borage. The intensely blue flowers earned it the nickname starflower.
- Variegata (Borago officinalis ‘Variegata’) – Similar to common borage, this type has white mottling on the green leaves. Flowers are blue, though not as intense as common borage.
- Alba (Borago officinalis ‘Alba’) – This variety is also called white borage. It blooms later in the season that blue types, with lovely white flowers. Alba is a bit sturdier than common borage.
- Creeping Borage (Borago pygmaea) – As the name suggests, this variety sprawls. It has lovely pale blue flowers that emerge in late spring and stick around to late fall. While most borage is an annual, creeping borage is a perennial with a short life.
How to Grow Borage
You can grow borage in most areas as an annual. Creeping borage grows in zone 5 and above.
Sun and Soil Requirement
Plant borage in full sun with partial shade. To get the most blooms and sturdy stalks, provide more sun than shade.
The ideal soil pH is 6.5, but borage will grow in soil with a pH from 4.5-8.5.
When to Plant Borage
Plant in early spring after the last frost. In cold climates, plant in a greenhouse or indoors four weeks before the last frost and transplant when temps increase.
Borage is reasonably cold tolerant, preferring soil temperatures of at least 50°F. Any cooler and you may want to provide a cloche or similar protection.
Where to Plant Borage
A word of warning – borage is a voracious self-seeder, and you'll find it growing in random places your garden. It's easy to pull out, and deadheading often takes care of the problem.
That said, if you want to keep it under control, consider growing borage in pots. Plants prefer dry, clean terracotta pots with light soil. The beauty of having it in containers is you can move them around the garden to attract bees to where you want them to go.
Dig in well-rotted organic matter into the soil before planting. Soil should be firm but not compacted. Plant seeds 1/4 inch into the ground and keep moist. By around ten days you'll see the plants pushing through. Thin out to one plant every 15 inches once they are 2 inches tall.
Individual plants and rows should be 15 inches apart. Borage can suffer from mildew if too close.
Caring for Borage
Plant borage in soil that has plenty of well-rotted organic matter. Feed in spring with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer.
Borage doesn't need pruning except in summer to keep it tidy. Deadhead if you want to keep the blooms coming and prevent self-seeding.
Like many herbs, borage needs a reasonable amount of water. Keep the soil moist and be aware that borage can't survive drought conditions. Avoid overwatering.
Common Problems and Solutions for Growing Borage
Borage is relatively problem-free, but there are a few things you might want to watch out for.
Wooly Bear Caterpillar
Wooly bear caterpillars are not fussy and eat most low lying foliage. If they're on your borage, they're probably on other plants as well. Use neem oil regularly to make plants undesirable.
Painted Lady Butterfly
The larva of this pest causes more issues than the butterfly. That said, they don't generally do tons of damage. I've also found they stick to specific areas of the plant rather than damaging the whole thing. Use a natural insecticide or sticky traps to control them.
There are numerous types of flea beetles, but they all eat the leaves of borage, leaving little pits or holes. This can be a serious problem if there's an infestation, but I don't worry unless the numbers grow. Remove all fallen debris in the fall to try and interfere with over-wintering.
You could use a pesticide that contains sulphur or in the case of a bad infestation use Carbaryl. For me, that's the last resort solution.
Mildew can affect your borage. The best way to avoid it is to plant with decent spacing between them to allow airflow. Try to water towards the base of the plant rather than on top of the foliage.
Companion Plants for Borage
Borage grows well with:
Borage attracts small wasps and bees, which are the natural predators for tomato worms and cabbage worms. If you want to try a natural solution for pest control, plant borage with those crops or move the potted borage into those gardens while the crop is growing.
Borage contains calcium and potassium, so plant with tomatoes to help prevent blossom end rot.
How to Harvest and Use Borage
Borage leaves are tasty in salads, or you can cook them as you would kale or spinach. Pick only the young, tender leaves as the older ones get hairy.
Harvest in the morning when the dew has dried, but the sun hasn't got too hot. This helps retain the distinctive taste of the oils.
Dry the leaves in the oven or air dry them by hanging plants in a warm, airy room. Use the dried leaves as seasoning. You can also use the dry leaves as a salt alternative when cooking.
You can also eat borage blossoms. Pick the flowers in the morning before they wilt too much in the sun.
Candy them and use on cakes or as a sweet treat. They can be added to salads for flavor and color, or top sandwiches, dips, and soups.
If you have too many blossoms to use them all up, freeze them with water in an ice cube tray. You can use the cubes to add color to fruit punches.
As with all edible flowers eat in moderation until you're sure your system can process them.
Both the leaves and the flowers can be used medicinally. You can also make an oil out of the seeds, which can ease eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and itchy skin.
The leaves can be used to help with menstrual symptoms, and pain and swelling. The flowers are useful for fever, cough, and depression.
Borage is good at self-seeding (although nowhere near as prolific as mint). You can either let the seeds fall to self -seed for next season, or collect the seeds and replant.
Wait for the flowers to die off and pick the seeds before they fall to the ground. I find when they start turning brown is the best time to pick them. Ensure they are dry before sealing in a paper envelope for next year.
We hope you give borage a go. It's a pretty plant that is far more useful than a lot of people realize. If you have bees, then I highly recommend borage because it will make your honey taste incredible. Your bees will thank you for it, as well.
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