Monday, November 29, 2010

Borage, Borago officinalis

Borago officinalis

At the community garden, the herb Borage has self-seeded and appears on many of the members plots. The pendulous star shaped azure blue flowers are always attended by many bees making it an important plant to include in the garden to ensure good pollination of vegetable plants. What I like about Borage however is the aura it evokes of classical antiquity. Most references to it quote the Latin phrase Ego borago gaudia semper ago : I borage ,bring always courage; so one can almost imagine a Roman soldier with his spirits braced by a cool tankard of borage brew....refreshed, invigorated, encouraged and ready to go into battle with the chemicals in the herb possibly acting on his adrenal gland. Sparks would fly if any remaining leaves were thrown into a fire as they are rich in potassium nitrite and create fireworks when burning. Borage is thought to be indigenous to Aleppo in northern Syria, a region once a Roman province and now a city in ruins since the Syrian conflict. References are also made of its use in the Middle Ages by the Arabs of Andalusia in southern Spain where it was referred to as abu-raj or 'father of sweet'.
The famous Herbal of John Gerard from the 16th century is often quoted for its positive spin for he says: The leaves and flowers put into wine make men and women glad and merry and drive away all sadness, dullness and melancholy'

The name borage is thought to be derived from the Latin burra meaning woolly or hairy referring to the shape and style of the leaves. This drawing captures this aspect perfectly as does the French common name for the plant of langue de bouef.........!
The leaves are indeed quite bristly and care should be taken when removing old plants from the garden and it is advisable to wear gloves and long sleeves if you don't want a slight skin rash for your efforts.
The blue flowers of Borage have always been a popular embroidery subject and the image has been recorded as being used as a decorative motif on handkerchiefs given to men departing on a crusade as well as on domestic historical works dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
These days borage has a more subdued and genteel reputation with the cucumber flavoured flowers and leaves being used to decorate cakes or being added to a nice glass of Pimms on a hot day.
Finally, there are no special requirements for growing borage. In warm climates it does best during the cooler months with the best flowers in spring and autumn. Once you have one plant you will get a repeat performance for years to come, such is the nature and quantity of seed produced. A white flowered form is an occasional sport and will come true to seed but you really can't beat that true blue flower with its black cone of stamens like a central beauty spot.


  1. Hi, nice and interesting pictures.. a relly interesting plant..

  2. What a wonderfully detailed post. You have sold me on some borage in the veggie patch. Love the langue de bouef...and the Pimms No 1 (Now that brings back memories!

  3. A very interesting post. Thank you.