Borage (Borago officinalis) is an annual flowering herb. It has blue, star-shaped flowers, and blooms from late spring to early fall.
I enjoy growing borage. It's easy to care for, comes back year after year, and the bees love it. While I've grown it for years, it might not be a best fit for every garden. We'll share growing tips, uses, and reasons you may not want to plant it.
Native to the Mediterranean region, it is now widely cultivated in other parts of the world. Other common names include starflower, bee bush, and cool-tankard.
- Soil: Borage prefers well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. It can tolerate a range of soil types but prefers a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
- Prefers full sun in most areas, but may benefit from partial shade in warmer climates.
- Direct sow seeds in the garden after the last frost.
- Plant seeds ¼ to ½ inch (6.5 mm – 1.5 cm) deep.
- Size: Borage plants typically grow to a height of around 2-3 feet tall (60-100 cm)
- Zone: Borage grows in zones 3-10. It thrives in cool to moderate temperatures.
- Growth: Fast Growing Annual (zones 3-5, partial perennial zones 6-10)
- Self Seeding/Self Fertile: Borage readily self-seeds, so be sure to dead head to control spreading.
- Watering: Borage prefers evenly moist soil but can tolerate periods of drought. If rains fail, water deeply every one to two weeks.
Beneficial insects love borage, which makes it a great companion plant for the garden. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators feed on the abundant nectar. More pollinators = better fruit set.
Lacewings and other predator insects use it as a host plant for their larvae. Studies in Sweden found an average of over 100 beneficial insects per square yard of borage.
The plant is popular with beekeepers because it produces large amounts of nectar and pollen. Bees love the bright blue flowers and the plant can help to support healthy bee populations.
Edible Leaves and Flowers
Borage is safe for human consumption, but best used in small amounts. The leaves and stems contain small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic in high doses. In moderate doses, they can cause diarrhea, which I found out when I used a few too many in a green juice blend.
Small, stiff hairs cover the cucumber flavored leaves and stems, which give them a rough texture. The older the leaf, the rougher the hairs. (“Hairy cucumber” is another common name of borage.) Add a few small leaves to salads, or try them in soups or stews.
The flowers have a mild flavor. Most of them are blue, but there are some pink and white varieties. Try borage flower ice cubes in summer drinks and cocktails, or add the blooms to salads and desserts for a floral accent.
Use the blossoms immediately after picking, or hold them for a few days in the refrigerator if needed. Dry or freeze for longer storage.
I like to use the flowers as a treat for our baby chicks, too. I bring them a little something from the garden each day when they are too young to forage. When the chicks are small, the tender blossoms are easy for them to eat, and add a little variety to their diets.
Borage has been used medicinally since ancient times. Traditional medicine uses borage leaves, flowers, and seed oil.
Here are some known medical uses of borage plant:
- Anti-inflammatory: Borage seed oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is an omega-6 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. GLA has been studied for its potential to alleviate symptoms of various inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and atopic dermatitis.
- Respiratory health: Borage has been traditionally used to support respiratory health and relieve symptoms of respiratory infections and allergies. It has expectorant, demulcent, and anti-asthmatic properties.
- Hormonal balance: Borage has been used to support hormonal balance and alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause. Some studies suggest that GLA may help regulate hormonal processes and reduce the severity of hormonal symptoms.
- Skin health: Borage oil is often used topically to support skin health and alleviate skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Its high content of GLA may help improve skin barrier function and reduce inflammation.
To make a soothing borage tea:
Pour one cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of dried herb and infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain out the herbs and sweeten with honey, if desired. If using fresh herbs, steep around 2 tablespoons.
Collect leaves and flowers for drying in early summer. Pick them in late morning, after the dew clears. Dry individual leaves until crisp, and store in an airtight container. To learn more about dehydrating, see “Home Food Drying“.
The odds of being allergic are low but not zero. If you are considering using it in any way directly with your body be careful. Test small quantities against your skin first. Then if there is no reaction you can try more.
Natural Dye: Use borage flowers or roots to create a natural dye that produces shades of blue and purple.
Hair Rinse: Steep borage flowers in hot water to create a hair rinse for healthier hair, or treat dry hair with borage seed oil.
3 Reasons You Might Not Want to Grow Borage
Borage is a prolific self-seeder and can sometimes become invasive in certain areas. If left unchecked, it can quickly spread and take over large areas of the garden. I planted it once, and we've had it in our garden ever since.
The good news is that it's easy to remove. The small plants don't have very deep roots, so you can pull them or scuffle them with a hoe. To keep plants from spreading, dead head the blossoms so the seed don't mature.
Another potential issue is the scratchy leaves. Though some people recommend using them as natural toilet paper, that's a really bad idea. The hairs may cause mild contact dermatitis. When I'm thinning out the larger plants, I always wear gloves.
Finally, the plants can get BIG, and the flowers are relatively small. While the bees love them, my mom did not. She always kept a large strip of flowers at the edge of her vegetable garden that was near the road. For this area, she preferred large, bright, showy flowers – not the fuzzy foliage and small flowers of borage.
If you have a small garden, a single plant could take over. Our healthy borage plants spread 2-3 feet across. See “Edible Flowers – from Apple Blossoms to Zucchini” for other blossom options to grace your table.
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This article is written by Laurie Neverman. Laurie and her family have 35 acres in northeast Wisconsin where they grow dozens of varieties of fruiting trees, shrubs, brambles, and vines, along with an extensive annual garden. Along with her passion for growing nutrient dense food, she also enjoys ancient history, adorable ducks, and lifelong learning.