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Borage: Bounty for bees, butterflies and brews

By DEBORAH HAGGETT - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Dec 2, 2021

A borage plant in bloom. PHOTO PROVIDED

Late fall is the perfect time to plant the seeds of a lovely summer annual that will nourish bees, butterflies and you. Popular in the 1400s, borage, also known as Borago officinalis, is making its return to the herb garden. It is an edible, ornamental growing two feet tall with tiny hairs on its stems and grayish-green, oblong leaves. The summer blossoms delight the grower with beautiful, showy bright blue, star-shaped flowers hanging softly from a red stalk. These blooms attract honey bees, beneficial wasps and host the painted lady butterfly.

This relationship with pollinators makes borage an excellent companion plant. The numerous bees it attracts may also visit companion strawberry plants increasing fruit production. Borage also lures many beneficial, predator insects. As such, it assists as a biological control for tomato and cabbage worms.

In addition, its fallen leaves, high in nutrients, create a natural “chop and drop” mulch supplementing your soil.

Although categorized as an annual, borage is self-seeding and will return each year. It prefers average to dry moisture in well-drained soil, but will tolerate poor soil and drought conditions. It grows best in full sun to light shade in a protected area as it is not wind tolerant.

Borage has both a fragrance and taste similar to cucumbers. Its young, tender leaves are best eaten raw or cooked like spinach and the edible flowers make a beautiful garnish.

According to Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist, the “deep blue flowers are gorgeous in drinks or frozen into ice cubes” (2013). She suggests adding borage leaves and flowers to garnish the traditional Pimm’s Cup cocktail, a cool, refreshing British favorite made with gin, lemonade, cucumbers, fruit and mint. (Kindle edition, p. 254).

If you are feeling adventurous, you can try your hand at making candied borage blossoms. There are many recipes available on the web to help you master the process.

Chef Christine Moss (2015) gives detailed instructions on how to candy flower blossoms using a vegan process with simple sugar and powdered sugar. Her candied flower creations add a lovely, sweet treat to any dessert.

On a cautionary note, borage is an herb traditionally touted as a remedy for many ills. However, long-term or overuse may be problematic. Consult your physician before taking this herb for medicinal or culinary purposes as borage is not recommended for anyone with liver, blood or seizure disorders and should not be used if pregnant or breastfeeding.

That said, borage can be a strikingly beautiful addition to your landscape and help create an inviting sanctuary from which to admire butterflies and bees while sipping a relaxing beverage.

Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com .


Boness, K. (2020, November 22). Companion planting with borage – Plants that grow well with borage. Gardeningknowhow.Com. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2021, from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/borage/companion-planting-with-borage.htm

Grant, B. L. (2021, June 12). Borage herb: How to grow borage. Https://Www.Gardeningknowhow.Com/Edible/Herbs/Borage/Borage-Herb.Htm. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2021, from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/borage/borage-herb.htm

Herb gardening: Borage. (2021). Https://Web.Extension.Illinois.Edu/Herbs/Borage.Cfm. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2021, from https://web.extension.illinois.edu/herbs/borage.cfm

Moss, C. (2015, May 1). Edible art: Vegan candied edible flowers. Thegardencafewoodstock.Com. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2021, from https://www.thegardencafewoodstock.com/blog/candied-flowers

What to know about borage. (2021, April 8). WebMD.Com. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/what-to-know-about-borage