Something really strange happened when the world became obsessed with manicured lawns and monoculture gardens: We started to lose touch with some great plants — weeds — that are insanely useful to have around. In permaculture, as well as other similarly sustainable gardening systems, there has been a resurgence in appreciation for diversity and the intrinsic value found in so many plants we have, for years, been quick to pull and discard.
Borage, though not the most recognizable of useful (and edible) weeds, is an absolutely fantastic plant to include in the garden. It works especially well in permaculture systems because, once gardens are in place, nature is allowed to flourish as its own ecosystem, rather than something especially weeded and pruned. Borage, in precise gardens, however, is known to be invasive and difficult to control.
On the other hand, if people only knew a bit more about borage, they might be more likely to welcome its arrival.
It’s Very Delicious
Borage is edible, big time. Not only can we eat the flowers, but the leaves are also delicious. It is best to pick them young, before they get prickly, and they can be eaten raw in salads. Regardless, the leaves are a bit fuzzy and have a flavor reminiscent of cucumbers. The leaves can also be used to make tea. The flowers, too, are delicious, not to mention absolutely stunning. They can be collected as décor for cakes and desserts, or they can be tossed into salads for an attractive visual addition.
It’s a Great Companion
Permaculture is all about grouping plants together so that they can benefit each other. Borage is a great companion plant for many of our favorite crops, including strawberries, tomatoes, and squash. Essentially, borage is known as an accumulator plant, pulling up trace minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil and depositing them onto the ground’s surface, where plants with shallow roots can get them. This is reputed to improve the flavor of crops, and it definitely helps them grow. So, not only can borage be eaten, but it helps to produce other food. Plus, it deters many pest insects and attracts good insects.
It’s Good in Compost
“Dynamic accumulators,” plants that pull lots of nutrients up from the soil and deposit them on the surface, are also great for compost. In permaculture, comfrey (another accumulator) has a bigger reputation, but borage can also be added to compost to provide a huge boost in nutrients and to activate decomposition process. Plants like this can be used in place of animal manure and provide the boost in fertility we hope to get from our compost. We can even use comfrey or borage to make nutrient-rich teas to water plants with.
It’s a Bee Magnet
Some plants just do better in the birds and bees categories, and borage — with its icy blue flowers and soft, supple leaves — just has the bees crawling all over it. Not only is this a good thing for the garden, helping with pollinating the other plants that are around, but it’s a good thing for the planet, which has a bee population that is decreasing rapidly. The more plants we can provide that keeps bees happily buzzing about, the better for us all. They are responsible for pollinating much of the fruit and veg we eat.
It’s Not Bad to Look At
It seems strange, but in all that effort to grow specific garden plants, we as a society decided certain flowers weren’t good enough. Dandelions, a wildly useful plant, gets pulled and tossed aside as if an old rag. Borage is much the same. In reality, though, it has beautiful blue flowers, lots of them, that have a unique star shape. Additional, it has distinctive leaves covered in soft fuzziness. The plants are large and fill the space in a very pleasant way, ultimately yielding themselves over into an easily pulled addition to the compost or low-maintenance garden mulch.
One of the great things about permaculture (and other agriculture methods that are focused on diverse productivity) is that we get to revisit plants that have somewhat been disrespected and often tossed to the side as nuisances, when they are the very ones we should be celebrating. Borage is one of those special plants, and it’s a good addition to a healthy, diverse garden.
Lead image source: matteo sani/Shutterstock