In fields around the world, often dotted along the edge of forests there is a large, brilliantly blue flower: the borage flower. This spectacular plant has amazed people from around the world for centuries. Its color and many uses make it an ideal crop. Today, let’s take a dive in to understand: what is a borage flower?
First, let’s understand the biological classification of borage flowers. Like many diverse groups of flora and fauna, “borage” can refer to a variety of different levels of taxonomy. Sometimes, “borage” can refer to the family Boraginaceae. This family contains about 2,000 different species.
More commonly, “borage” refers to the genus Borago. It contains 5 species, each of which is native to the Mediterranean. The most common of these species, Borago officinalis, is cultivated worldwide and is often referred to as the “star flower.” The family Borago has earned the nickname “forget-me-nots.”
While many species within Boraginaceae have similar characteristics, we’ll focus on the biology of B. officinalis. Borage flowers grow well in USDA Hardiness zones 3-10. This means it can withstand mean annual extreme low temperatures of -35 to +35° Fahrenheit. In the US, borage flowers will typically grow well in most areas except the south and southwest.
The plant itself is very distinct due to its color and size. Borage flowers typically grow 2.5-3 feet tall and bloom brilliant blue flowers. These flowers resemble a star shape, hence the nickname “star flower.” Due to mutations, the flower now exists in other colors, including pink and white. Still, the blue color is dominant to these mutations, however.
Since its discovery some millennia ago around the Mediterranean, borage has been utilized for many different applications. Various peoples discovered its edible, potable, medicinal, and other qualities that are still enjoyed today.
Generally speaking, the entirely of the borage plant is edible, outside of its roots. The leaves are often said to have a taste that is similar to cucumbers. For this reason, the leaves are used in salads and as a garnish for a variety of dishes.
The Mediterranean is the most common place to find borage used in food products. In Germany, borage is present in soups and dishes such as Grüne Soße. This traditional sauce originates in Frankfurt and is often paired with boiled potatoes and eggs. In Italy, the plant appears in the traditional filling for ravioli, while in Poland and Russia it is used to flavor pickled dishes.
Borage is often included in herb gardens because of the flavor it adds to many dishes.
The distinct flavor of borage makes it a staple for several different alcoholic drink recipes, like the Pimms Cup cocktail. In original recipes from the 19th century, borage is the main ingredient. However, lemon, lime, and cucumber are now more common to find in cocktail recipes. Borage is a botanical present in a variety of spirits, most notably gin, owing to its distinct flavor.
Borage flowers have a long history of reported medicinal uses. The literature on borage and its uses stretches at least back to 1710. William Salmon writes in his book, The Earthwise Herbal, about the many uses of the star plant. Borage “effectually purifies the blood, and is of excellent use in all putrid, malign, spotted and pestilential fevers.” He continues, “to defend the heart from their poison and malignity, and to expell [sic] the same, as also the poison of other creatures.”
In the same book, another author, Maude Grieve, also writes about borage. “By virtue of its saline constituents, it promotes the activity of the kidneys.” During this time frame, it was commonly believed that borage (possibly owing to its color and size) could cure ailments of many kinds. Various texts mention the herb on and off. They often use it as a means to cure “melancholy,” “sterility,” and “grief.”
In modern medicine, borage shows high levels of gamma-linolenic acid. This compound is a notable anti-inflammatory molecule. There is also literature suggesting that the star flower could be somewhat effective in alleviating asthma and dermatitis.
Today, borage exists as a companion plant. Companion planting is the process of planting multiple crops next to each other in the same field. This tactic has many uses. For borage, the main purpose is typically pollination. The vibrant borage flowers are extremely attractive to pollinators like bees and wasps. As such, the insects will usually pollinate other flowers in the area like squash, strawberries, or tomatoes.
Have you ever come across borage, as an herb, or borage flowers? What’s your favorite way to use borage? Let us know in the comments.