by Eline Lybarger, Contributing Writer
Borago officinalis is an herb native to the Mediterranean area. It has grey-green, four to six-inch-long leaves with fuzz covering both the leaves and stems. The flowers are bright blue, starshaped; pink and white flowers are rare. Besides looking good it tastes good. The flowers, which are loved by bees and bloom most of the summer, have a light honey flavor; perfect for salads and a traditional decoration for gin-based cocktails. You can freeze the blossoms in ice cubes so they are ready all the time. The flowers can also be dried or candied (dipped in slightly beaten egg white, then fine sugar and left to dry.) They make quick and attractive decorations on pastries and frosted cakes.
The leaves have a refreshing cucumber flavor and when chopped, they make a nice addition to salads, dips, anything with cucumber and as a garnish to soups and stews. They go well with cabbage: cook two parts cabbage to one-part borage. It is also used, in Germany, as the main ingredient in Grune Sauce (Green Sauce). Interestingly, both the leaves and flowers were used in the original recipe for Pimm’s but has been replaced by mint.
Borage has the benefit of being rich in minerals, especially potassium. The leaves do not dry well, but the dried flowers make a nice tea, which can be quite dramatic: adding a few drops of lemon turns it from purple to bright pink. In Europe it is grown for its seed oil that contains gamma linolenic acid and is often marketed as “starflower” or “borage” oil.
The plant can be grown as a ground cover or soil binder. In the spring sow the seeds about ½ inch deep in well-drained soil in an area protected from wind. Borage will tolerate poor soil, but must be well drained, so if you have clay soil, add mulch or use a raised bed. Keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout, then thin them until the plants are two feet apart, as they form rounded clumps 2 ft. wide and 2 ft. tall. In the fall be sure to let a few flowers mature to produce seeds for next year. The seeds can be collected and planted or allowed to “volunteer.”
A word of caution: Borage produces pyrrolizidine alkaloids (hepatotoxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic are the most common alkaloids). These protect it from plant-eating insects. The same alkaloids can be found in honey which is one of the reasons it is not recommended for children under one year of age.