Many herbs have their own, typical and distinctive taste. This makes the distinction easy, but there is a herb that you would think blindfolded for a vegetable: borage. Characteristic is the distinctive taste of fresh green cucumbers, which make excellent in salads or as a spread. In medicine, the seeds of the plant or the borage oil obtained from it are used especially for skin complaints.
Profile of Borage:
Scientific name: Borago officinalis
Plant family: borage family, heliotropes
Other names: starflower, bee bread
Sowing time / Planting time: April – June
Flowering period: May-September
Harvest time: May – October
Location: sunny, sheltered from the wind
Soil quality: moist and nutrient-rich soils
Use as a medicinal herb: possibly cough (not recommended by containing alkaloids)
Use as aromatic herb: in salads, cucumber dishes, egg dishes, sweet pastries, curd dishes, herb butter
Plant characteristics and classification of Borage
Origin and distribution of borage
The herb is native to the Mediterranean. There it was already well known to the ancient Romans and Greeks, who were already actively using at that time. In the late Middle Ages, the borage was deliberately introduced to Europe and cultivated in many cottage gardens, partly in monastery gardens. Today, it sometimes can be found wild on some nutrient-rich meadows.
Plant order of borage
The Latin name of borage (Borago officinalis) is roughly translated to rough fabric – an allusion to the appearance of the leaves of this plant. The herb belongs to the borage family (heliotropes) (Boraginacaea), which are characterized primarily by hairy, rough leaves. Further known representatives of this family are viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare), lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) or the famous comfrey. In the closer relationship, the genus Borage (Borago) totals only five species. The other species outside of the borage described here, however, have little significance as a crop.
Characteristics of borage
Borage is an annual herbaceous plant, which can reach on average growth heights between 50 and 90 cm (20 to 35 inches). In the course of its short lifetime, it forms long and sometimes heavily branched roots with mostly light to medium brown color.
The alternate leaves of the borage are hairy to rough, at larger adult leaves, they can even spike slightly. The plant also forms rich green, fleshy and rather oval leaves, which emit a slight smell of cucumbers due to the containing essential oils. Therefore the name commonly used in the market, cucumber herb.
Borage produces bright blue to purple flowers from May to September. The aesthetics of the blossoms and their star shape have given it the not so familiar name starflower. The special about borage is that the blossoms change in their development like a chameleon. The young blossoms are usually colored pink, whereas the adult blossoms is usually bright blue. The reason for this is due to the changing pH-value during flower development. The blossom itself consists of five greenish sepals, five purple stamens and five blue petals.
If the flowers are pollinated, they develop the clumps typical of the plant family. Each fruit contains several partial fruits (mericarp fruit) which contains the black seeds up to 6 mm.
Borage – cultivation and care
Borage is a relatively easy to grow herb.
The plant loves sunny and more sheltered locations with moist, loose and calcareous soils. Although the soil requirements are quite low, overfertilized or too nutrient-rich soils should be avoided. Dense, clayey and poorly drained soils should be loosened slightly with aggregates such as quartz sand, perlites or pumice.
The borage can usually be planted year-round. However, sowing between April and June is recommended. The approximately 5 – 6 mm (0.2 to 0.24 inches) large dark brown to black seeds can be applied directly to the garden soil. It should be noted that the seeds must be pressed at least 1 – 3 cm (0.4 to 1.2 inches) into the ground, because the borage germinates in the dark. Too much light would stop germination. The germination time can be up to 14 days.
When planting a certain distance should be observed. It is recommended to keep a row spacing of 30 to 50 cm (11 to 20 inches), otherwise there is a risk that the plants will compete for nutrients. The number of seeds should not exceed 30 per meter (30 per 40 inches).
If borage is to be planted on the balcony, rather deep and larger planters or pots are recommended. The herb forms over time fairly long taproots with distinct branches. The seeds can be germinated in a miniature greenhouse or in small bowls on the windowsill. The small plantlets should only be separated when no night frosts are to be expected. The plant is not frost tolerant and thus not hardy.
If the borage is in bloom and the nut fruits are formed, seeds can be taken for subsequent cultivation. It produces lots of seeds. However, care should be taken that the borage does not spread too much. With longer cultivation it tends to overgrow.
For soils of good quality, it is sufficient to fertilize once in the spring before cultivating. With potted cultures, it may be necessary to administer small doses of fertilizer several times a year due to the limited volume. Strong mineral fertilizers should be avoided if possible. Well suited are usual herbal fertilizers on an organo-mineral basis.
Borage has a slightly increased water requirement and may be sensitive to periods of dryness. Especially with pot cultures, the soil should never completely dry out. On successive hot summer days it may be necessary to water several times.
Diseases and pests
Common pests of the plant are green and black aphids, which attack the plant partly in large masses. To keep aphids as far as possible, you should pay attention to a reasonable planting distance. Occasionally, mildew occurs as a result of over-care.
Borage and its use
Borage as a fresh herb is a pleasure. However, some of the ingredients are becoming increasingly popular in skin care products. In herbal medicine, it is today used almost exclusively externally.
Borage in the kitchen
Borage has long been used as a kitchen herb. It tastes of fresh cucumbers with a slightly sour note. The fragrance and the aroma of these herbs can already be perceived when you rub a leaf between your fingers.
In the kitchen, only fresh leaves should be used, as the plant loses its aroma quite quickly when drying. Finely chopped borage leaves can be a real treat in freshly made herb quarks, salads or in combination with tomatoes. Even a simple sandwich with cucumber and a light pinch of salt and pepper is an ideal summer meal.
Borage is very often used as an addition to cucumber salad. It gives the salad a pleasant freshness and a more intense cucumber taste. Frequently, borage is done in conjunction with dill, which is an ideal supplement. Fresh leaves can also be used for cottage cheese or cream cheese preparations. Cooked, however, the herb does not bring much, as it loses all aroma and active ingredients. For the refinement of sauces, the borage leaves should be used only when the sauce is no longer simmer and a little cooled.
Not only the leaves are used, the flowers are also suitable for various applications. For example, the flowers can be candied and desserts such as cake muffins, semolina pudding, jams can be garnished. The flowers sometimes occur as decoration in wild herbs or wild herb soups.
If you want to preserve the taste of borage, you can put it in oil or vinegar. Borage, unlike many other herbs, is not suitable for drying. Oregano, marjoram, sage or thyme become more intense when dried in the aroma, while borage simply does not taste as good as dry herb. Likewise, the active ingredients are lost.
It is known that the plant may contain higher levels of pyrrolizidine. These alkaloids may have liver damaging effects in long-term or high and frequent use. It is therefore recommended by public authorities (including National Institute of Food and Agriculture or the Federal Office for Risk Assessment) to consume only a small amount of borage. Nevertheless, there is still a more acute need for research with regard to the bioavailability of pyrrolizidine. It is also not yet possible to conclude which individual substances from the group of pyrrolizidine actually represent a hazard. The occasional consumption of some leaves is therefore usually not a problem.
Borage as a medicinal herb
In the past, borage was a well known medicinal herb. Almost all plant parts have been used in the treatment of internal and external complaints and diseases.
In herbal books the borage flowers are recommended, for example, for high fever. The flowers were crushed together with sugar in a mortar and eaten pure. Seeds, roots and leaves of the plant served with a medicinal wine to prevent toxins from spreading throughout the body. The leaves themselves served pure or cooked for liver cleansing. However, many of the applications at the time are scientifically untenable and are no longer recommended today.
It also has been used in conjunction with honey as a kind of mouthwash to protect the teeth, neck and gums. Borage water itself was recommended against red eyes.
In today’s natural healing borage plays quite an important role. The active substance spectrum contains especially immune-enhancing antipruritic and anti-inflammatory properties. Borage and its oil are therefore used for the following diseases and complaints:
- itchy skin
- dry and scaly skin
- strong, productive cough
- acute and chronic bronchitis
Inwardly, the borage is hardly used today. In traditional folk medicine, it is rarely offered as an expectorant cough medicine. Due to the containing pyrrolizidine, however, the herb should not be used for healing purposes. Pyrrolizidine are classified as liver damage. Insofar as borage is to be taken over a longer period of time, it is advisable to consult a doctor or pharmacist.
More often, it is used today in the treatment of skin complaints. The herb or rather the seeds are therefore often used as an ingredient in creams. Due to the specific oleic acid composition, e.g. Borage oil is a proven remedy for skin diseases and problems such as atopic dermatitis, dry skin or dandruff. The seed oil contains plenty of omega-6 fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid. It is anti-inflammatory, antipruritic and immunostimulating and is therefore worth a try, especially for the alternative therapy of neurodermatitis. Good borage oil no longer contains any pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Pure borage seed oil, however, is not always easy to obtain.
Side effects and instructions for use
During pregnancy and during breast-feeding, no borage oil or large amounts of borage should be taken! People with bleeding disorder or frequent seizures should generally avoid the oil or discuss the use with a doctor.
Buy Borage – What to pay attention to?
Borage is offered commercially in the form of seeds and young plants. With good luck, you can also find it in the herb corner of well-stocked supermarkets. Frequently, borage herbs and whole plants are found at weekly markets or at special plant markets. Also regional markets with dealers or producers from the region may offer plants.
When buying care should be taken to ensure that the herbs are free of aphids. Sometimes borage plants are true magnets for aphids. The plants should also have strong sprouts and lush green leaves. Borage plants that have small brown spots on the leaves should be avoided. This could be a pest infestation with moths or certain rust fungi. Also, the leaves should smell intensively after cucumber after a short rubbing.
When buying plants should also be noted on the botanical name. The true cucumber herb (Borago officinalis) looks very similar to the perennial borage (Borago laxiflora). The leaves also have aroma, but are usually not as intense as the real cucumber herb.
The seeds of borage are found in almost all well-known seed manufacturers. The seeds are usually cheap. Packs of 50 seeds are usually available for less than 1 EUR/1 $. Those who want to buy borage seed oil will usually have to dig a little deeper into their pockets. Here, the prices vary between 12 and 25 EUR per 250 ml (12 and 30 $ per 8 oz). The oils are sometimes found in online shops and on some online marketplaces.