Flowering Herb: Borage

A-Favorite-Herb-With-Purple-Flowers-l-Borage-is-bee-friendly-good-for-food-and-even-herbal-l-Homestead-Lady-.comHerbs with purple flowers have always had a fascination for me. Borage is a great example, despite its less than romantic name. Turns out that it has many uses in the garden and on the homestead.  

Herbs with Purple Flowers

I have several favorite herbs with purple flowers. Lavender,  hyssop, purple bee balm and violets.

For a little recipe with violets, click here.

One of my all time favorites, though, has got to be borage.  Weird sounding name, wonderful plant.  

Borage is actually a highly useful and beautiful addition to the herb garden.  The only annuals I bother with for the most part are those that will reseed  AND successfully overwinter that seed in my climate.  Borage certainly fits that bill, even to excess!

FYI, an annual plant is one you have to re-plant every season because it completes its life cycle in one year.  Perennials re-sprout, flower and fruit year after year.  Borage acts like a perennial in most climates because of how easily is will re-seed itself in the garden.

Borage, the Herb with Purple Flowers

This herb is a re-seeding annual, so it will grow, flower, set seed and die all within one year.  You can really grow it in any zone, but prepared for winter’s frost to kill it.  Borago officinalis is its botanical name.  It will reach about 2 ft in full sun, but will tolerate light shade.  It re-seeds with vigor and the seeds are easy to collect, if you’d like to share with friends.

If you don’t want borage everywhere, make sure you cut off the flowering stalks by the time the flowers turn pink.  That will be signal that the flower is spent and the seeds are ready to fall.  To control spread, you want to remove the plant before that happens.

Saving Borage Seed

If you’d like to save some seed to plant next year or to give to a friend, it’s very easy to do with borage.  Even a novice see saver can do this in a few easy steps:

  1. Cut whole stalks once the flowers have faded.
  2. Cover the seed/spent flower end with a paper bag or piece of muslin secured with a rubber band.
  3. Hang upside down for several weeks until the stalk has dried.
  4. Gently massage the seed head inside the bag or muslin to loosen the seeds inside.
  5. Carefully unwrap the material or bag and empty contents onto a plate.  If you have an herb screen, use that.
  6. Borage seeds are small and brown with a course casing.  They look like small bugs.  You may gently blow away any chaff (extra dried material like leaves and seed casings), but be careful not to loose all your seeds!  
  7. Another option to blowing is to place your seed material in a fine mesh sieve and gently sift it back and forth.  As long as the openings of the sieve are large enough for the seed to pass through, but no the material this should clean your seed up a bit.  If you have dehydrator trays, that might work to sift.
  8. Honestly, as long as that chaff is super dry, it won’t hurt your seed to store some of it, too.  
  9. Store borage seed in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.  A glass jar or envelope works.  Just keep the seed as dry as possible.

Purple Flowers that Turn Pink?

And, yes, I said the flowers turn pink.  Borage is one of those rare, true-blue flowers.  As the blossom ages over a succession of days, it turns from blue to purple to pink.  Anyone remember that scene from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty?  You know, in the end, when the fairies are changing Aurora’s gown from blue to pink?  That’s kind of what it’s like with borage.

(Did anyone else wish that Fauna had tried for green?  Green would have been lovely.  Wow, I remember that film way better than I thought….)

The flowers are so lovely that they inspire The Nerdy Farm Wife to make soap with them!  To learn how she does it, click here.  Or, better yet, get her soap making resources below:

Benefits of Borage

Bee Forage

Bees LOVE the blossoms of this flowering herb!  The plant produces blossoms so profusely that there’s enough for other pollinators, too.  An added bee bonus is that the plant will bloom all summer, finally succumbing to the first frosts.

The pollen is easily accessible and plentiful.  I let borage grow in my vegetable garden to keep bees coming to my vegetables.  The poppies and bachelor buttons do the same thing, so my walkways are messy but useful for integrated pest management!

Borage is a great plant to let reseed near your hives, if you keep bees.  To learn how to get started in bee keeping, click here

As a bonus, using a variety of flowering plants and native grasses will also attract other beneficial bugs to your garden.  Even those awesome predators, spiders!  You do actually want them around – click here to read why from Amy at Tenth Acre Farm.

Green Manure

Borage produces A LOT of nitrogen rich leaves throughout the season.  For this reason, it’s a great permaculture plant being both an nutrient accumulator and a nitrogen mulch producer.  

For more information, visit their fine article here.  

In short, if you’d like to make manure tea to further benefit your garden, keep this herb in mind.  Or, just let the leaves fall to create a great mulch.

Leaves and Flowers for Food

Being entirely edible, you can put borage flowers in salads and ice cubes for a dash of color.

The leaves are useful, too, having a mild cucumber flavor.  Each leaf is covered in small bristles, so harvest leaves young in order to avoid the stronger prickles of older leaves.  You can add the leaves to salads like the blossoms or steam them like spinach.

My livestock love the whole borage plants from flowers, leaves and stems.  I pull copious amounts of the plants for the goats especially over the growing season.  I’ve let my borage plants reseed freely for this purpose.

Borage Wellness Actions

Medicinally speaking borage is useful as well, being reported to be diuretic and sedative.  It also contains fatty acids like Omega-6 and so is used in degenerative conditions like arthritis.

Topically, the herb is a skin emollient and a tonic, good for eczema and pimples.  (Although, both conditions probably have a root cause in yeast – read here for more info.) 

There’s some thought that long term use can cause harm to the liver, so don’t stay on borage for too long.  To learn more about borage, visit this post from The Herbal Academy.

To learn more about herbal medicine in general, please check out The Herbal Academy for some fabulous online courses.  There are some for beginners and on up to professional herbalists. 

Herbal Academy Online Courses

The Best Thing About Borage

Probably my favorite thing about borage is that it grows!

Hey, after living in Utah, North Carolina and now Missouri my gardening standards have changed.

Will the plant live?  Then, I’m pleased to have it in my garden and borage is welcome anytime.

 


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Grateful attribution for the cover photo goes to this Wikipedia Commons user.

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7 thoughts on “Flowering Herb: Borage

  1. I planted borage for the first time this year, mostly to please the bees. I love it and it looks so vigorous. I might attempt to make homemade remedies for skin (I do have pimples!) and such, if I find recipes.
    Thanks for the inspiration (I came over from Wildcrafting Wednesday)

    1. The bees absolutely love it which is why I have so many viable seeds every year! It would be a fine addition to skin salves. Did you read the articles on yeast? Acne is quite often directly linked to yeast overgrowth and is, therefore, pretty simple to get rid of with rigorous yeast cleansing. There are three articles and they’re in the Herbs and Health section. Cheers!

  2. Great article. Where I come from (Zaragoza, in Spain) borage (borraja in Spanish) is a typical local dish. You eat the stems, before they flower! Just cut them in pieces and boil them. No need to get rid of the stings, when it boils borage is soft, low fat and delicious. We eat it with boiled potatos and a bit of olive oil. MMmmhh
    I also have it in the garden, it reseeds. Attracts a lot of bees and animals, puts some blue color in the garden and we eat the flowers in salads.
    A great plant

    1. Thanks, Enkarna, for that info – I’ll try that next spring! I love the name of your hometown – does it mean something?

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