How to grow Borage: Article first published in Grow Your Own Magazine September 2015 growfruitandveg.co.uk
My vegetable garden is a beautiful rambling polyculture where edible and beneficial plants happily co-exist. Bee friendly plants, edible flowers and aromatic companions happily nestle alongside my perennial and annual vegetables. This way of growing helps deter pests, maximizes your growing space and leaves less bare earth for the weeds – occupied by useful plants instead.
I first started growing the medicinal herb Borage, Borago Officinalis for its amazing vivid sky blue clusters of star shaped edible flowers to add to my salads.
The vibrant flowers have a faint taste of cucumber and can be used all summer long and well into the autumn. Growing up to about 3ft tall and 2ft wide, bristly light green stems and crinkled oval leaves up to 6 inches in length extend into furry stalks and buds with little constellations of flowers. It is a great companion plant, attracting pollinators, ideal next to your squash and strawberries and thought to enhance the flavour of your tomatoes.
Borage is a hardy annual originating in Syria and the Mediterranean and loves rich, well-drained soil and a sheltered, sunny position. You can start Borage off indoors in pots as early as February and transplant out when the risk of frost has passed but it much prefers to be sown directly with two or three seeds sown together with a light covering of soil.
After a direct sowing in April, you will soon see the first distinctive and welcoming pairs of leaves emerge and within 10 weeks you will be able to harvest your first crop of Borage flowers. It is a great idea to sow a few times over the summer to ensure a successional harvest and a late summer sowing will give you flowers right through to late Autumn. Dead-heading extends the flowering period, but once the plants have matured they start to get a bit unwieldy and this is the time to lift them.
Being a relative of Comfrey, Borage not only gives you beautiful edible flowers but is a great mineral accumulator too. Loaded with Potash and Nitrogen, the lifted plants make a great addition to the compost heap. I also make a liquid feed from my spent Borage plants by chopping them up, placing them in an old onion net bag and suspending in a large covered dustbin of water. Although the smell is unholy, diluted in a watering can this is a free super food for your other plants, especially for fruiting and flowering crops.
One sowing of Borage is usually enough to establish it in your garden or veg patch as it will freely self-seed and in subsequent years you will see colonies emerging at different times. Although you might find seedlings in places you never expected, they are easily lifted or can be hoed in to the soil if you find yourself being barraged by Borage!
Borage flowers are amazing to add to your summer salads, try them as a colourful contrast to the petals of Calendula, Nasturtium and Viola. Toss them into fruit platters, cooling punches and freeze them into different shaped ice cubes. Crystallized, they look beautiful on cakes and puddings. The young leaves are edible too, with a hint of cucumber and green melon and finely chopped or blanched can be used like a green vegetable in lots of dishes. Later sowings are best for more tender bristle free leaves.