Borage (Borago officinalis) is a pretty, edible, annual plant that has enormous benefits for your garden, your kitchen, and your health. This plant, also known as starflower, is fast-growing and doesn’t require too much fuss. It is really easy to grow and is a prolific self-seeder, meaning that you could quite possibly have borage popping up voluntarily year after year. It can be grown simply as an ornamental plant or enjoyed for its many other benefits.
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Borage for the Pollinators
Bees are famously attracted to blue and purple flowers, making borage one of their favorites. Though borage self pollinates, honey bees, bumblebees, and other native species find borage irresistible. Attracting pollinators to your garden can transform the health and vitality of many of your flowers and vegetables.
Borage also attracts many other beneficial insects such as braconid wasps, nabid bugs, and hoverflies, which eat unwelcome garden pests. Lacewings also lay their eggs on borage plants, and the smell is said to repel the devasting tomato hornworm.
Borage for Your Plants
Borage is a great companion plant for tomatoes, strawberries, squash, and cabbages. This is not only to do with borage’s ability to attract and repel different insects, as mentioned above but could also have something to do with its ability to mine deep underground for trace minerals. Borage pulls minerals that would otherwise be unavailable to other plants to the surface. This could be why borage is said to improve the health, vigor, and flavor of tomatoes and strawberries.
As well, due to this rich nutrient content, borage leaves make wonderful green manure. You can pick older leaves from your borage plants, tear them up, and put them around the base of plants that need a bit of a mineral boost. You can also add old borage leaves to your compost bin for a little bulk and activation.
Borage for Your Body
Both the leaves and flowers of the borage plant can be eaten or used as tea. The leaves can be used as salad greens or can be cooked down much the same way as spinach. They are widely reported as having a distinctive and pleasant cucumber flavor. The flowers look stunning in salads and have a slight pepperiness to them.
The plant is quite prickly, fuzzy, and a little coarse. This means that if you are going to use the leaves in a dish, it is best to pick younger ones that haven’t developed their fuzz yet.
The leaves and flowers can be brewed into a tasty tea that is said to have a mild sedative effect. Borage is also said to be beneficial to your skin health due to its anti-inflammatory properties and significant levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). This is a fatty acid that is essential for the healthy structure and function of the skin.
Note that borage should not be eaten during pregnancy and should be avoided by everyone in high quantities.
How Do I Grow Borage?
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Borage is a very rewarding plant to grow. It is easily sown by seed and is quite hardy. Borage is hardy in zones 2-11, so before you set off, make sure that this plant grows in your USDA hardiness zone.
Borage plants will grow up to 3 feet tall and have sprawling limbs so leave about 18 inches between plants. Pick a sunny spot for your plants or seeds, and consider planting them around your veggie garden (see above) as a companion plant.
You can direct seed in early spring or after the last frost, or you can start the seeds indoors for a head start—they transplant well. Sow the seeds about a 1/4 inch deep and keep the soil well-watered but not waterlogged. Once established, borage can tolerate dry conditions and doesn’t require extra fertilization. However, keep the soil moist and add some compost for a nutrient boost for optimal results.
Borage will mature about eight weeks after planting, and at this point, you can start to harvest leaves and flowers. Deadheading the spent flowers will help to promote further growth and flowering. Any dead flowers left behind will produce seeds that will scatter, and you will find yourself will more and more volunteer plants year after year.
Wonderfully, borage makes a great container garden plant. If you are short on space or just want the plant to adorn your patio or porch, choose a pot about 12 inches deep and sow your seed directly in a good potting mix. Note that you will need to be a little more attentive to the water needs of the container plant.
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