Borage, aka Starflower, or to give it it’s Latin name, Borago Officinalis, is a plant with stunning blue and purple spiky, star-like flowers. The plant itself has large, thick, green-gray slightly furry leaves and stems, which are not dissimilar in appearance to mint leaves. The borage plant grows to around 2ft high and almost as wide, and originates from the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean regions.
Borage is known as a companion plant because it benefits other plants around it. It does this by attracting beneficial insects, such as bees and insects that prey on pests. Borage is an easy to grow herb for novice gardeners, and will happily grow in either containers or beds.
How to Grow Borage from Seed
Planting borage from seed is relatively straightforward. Sow borage seeds in a container or bed, by planting the small, black seeds around 1/2 inch under the soil, (in rows approximately 12 inches apart, if growing in a garden bed). You can expect the borage seeds to sprout after 1-2 weeks, and reach full maturity after around 8 weeks. When the borage plant has grown to around 4-6 inches, thin the plants out for maximum growth and foliage.
How to Grow in a Container
Fill a large, deep (at least 12 inches) container with soil and add large quantity of organic matter, such as a rich compost. Soil should be well drained, not too heavy and at a mid-level PH value. Scatter a few seeds a few inches under the topsoil and when the initial growth has come up, thin out, leaving the strongest plants to flourish, trying not to overcrowd them, as they have a large taproot.
Add water frequently when the topsoil feels dry, but be careful not to overwater, as they do not like soggy conditions. Be aware that borage does not transplant well, so be sure to have chosen a container with sufficient space for it to flourish. If you have grown your borage in a container, move indoors to a greenhouse or conservatory in early fall, before the first frosts.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Borage?
Grow borage from seed after the last frost of the year has passed, in early mid spring. By summer, your first crop should be yielding flowers and fully established after 8-10 weeks. By the following summer, you should expect a full plant with a greater harvest of leaves and flowers and multiple plants around your garden if you fail to completely clear all the seeds at the end of your harvest!
Tips for Caring for Borage
Borage is an annual, and will happily self-seed and spread throughout a corner of a garden. It flowers through June and July. It is a fabulous choice for attracting bees and butterflies and other wildlife into your kitchen herb garden. Borage is generally pest-resistant but do keep a look out for aphids. It prefers to be in partial or full sun and needs a place in the garden that is protected from the wind if you are growing borage from seed, to shelter the young, fragile shoots in those first weeks before it becomes fully established. It can normally cope with partial shade, but don’t put it anywhere too dark.
Uses for Borage
The leaves can be used, freshly picked drunk as a tea, and give a cucumber-like taste, or cooked and used in the same way as collard greens when they are fully mature. The fresh flowers can be used as an edible garnish in salads. Seeds are also harvested and used to create borage oil, or, as it’s more commonly know, starflower oil. Borage seed oil has medicinal uses, primarily to help soothe itchy, inflamed skin as an anti-inflammatory. Thanks to it’s high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), it is also used to treat metabolic syndrome, menopause and PMS symptoms and arthritis. In fact, it has the highest GLA levels of any seed oil.
Borage flowers can also be used to flavor honey. However, do not contemplate using them dried to flavor food, as they will give little of the taste and aroma they give when freshly picked. Borage’s blue flowers makes an excellent decoration. Why not freeze the borage flower in ice cubes for cold drinks in the summertime?
Borage also makes an excellent companion plant in your vegetable garden, as it is known to reduce caterpillar numbers, making ideal to place with your cabbages, cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries. However, growing borage in a container is advised, as its large root growth can otherwise disturb your delicate fruit and vegetable plants.