If you’ve been following this blog for a while and paying attention to our gardening plans, you may have noticed that borage appears in our plant beds every year. You may also be wondering, as I did at the beginning of this adventure, what the devil borage is, and why we grow it.
Borage, no matter what horrible weather or conditions we’ve started or dealt with during a growing season, has flourished on our property. Even when I thought that my seeds didn’t germinate, the wily pollinator plant self-seeded its way into the garden from the previous year.
I am both powerless and disinclined to stop it. We’re big fans of this herb, and it’s super easy to grow – a gardening win-win! So let’s begin.
Borage: What Is It?
Borage is a flowering herb with anti-inflammatory medicinal properties. It grows relatively quickly, with large, hairy, borderline spiny leaves (like cucumber leaves, those “hairs” can hurt if you touch them without gloves!), and star-shaped flowers that bloom in clusters.
Most of the time, the flowers are blueish purple, but can also be pink or even white. Borage plants can grow to about 2-3 feet tall, and bloom throughout the warm season.
Why Grow Borage?
We like borage for many reasons, hence why we include it in every garden plan, every year:
- Borage is beautiful. The flowers, while small, are bright and stunning against the backdrop of their own green leaves and other plants in the garden. It doesn’t take many borage plants to create density in a small space, so they’ve been especially nice for my moon garden.
- Borage grows relatively quickly. It’s one of the first plants we get in the ground come spring, and is our first pollinator crop every year. It’s a morale booster to see the big leaves doubling in size, even when nothing else in the garden seems to grow.
- Borage lasts throughout the warm season. We have big clusters of borage blooming from June to October, and I don’t feel bad when I have to cut it back to give other plants some sun, because there’s plenty of it, and…
- Borage is self-seeding. If you plant borage and let it bloom and go to seed, rest assured it’ll be back next year in the same spot or very close by. This is great for perennial gardens, as well as “lazy” gardening (no such thing), as it acts almost like a perennial with little to no extra effort.
- Borage is an excellent pollinator plant. It replenishes its nectar every two minutes (!), so the bees and butterflies love it. And we love the bees, so. Our borage plants attract the most bees of any flower in our garden, by far. While this makes for some excellent and relaxing garden-watching, attracting bees is also important for crops that require pollination between male and female plants, like squash. The more bees in the area, the more likely we are to get fruits from such plants.
- Borage attracts aphids. While this doesn’t sound great at first, an aphid attractant is beneficial in the garden: aphids will go for borage over other crops (say, those strawberries or that cabbage), and aphid-eating insects and birds will, in turn, be attracted to your borage and eat those little rascals right up.
- Borage makes good mulch and green compost. The borage plant stores up nutrients from the soil (especially potassium), so it makes great mulch and compost for potassium-loving plants when it’s time to cut it back.
- Borage tastes nice. The flowers, stems, and leaves are all edible. We especially like muddling the fresh leaves in water for a cooling cucumber-like sipper, long before the cucumbers are ready. I’d like to use the flowers to decorate cakes and toss in salads this year, too, and perhaps try a borage tea (or mixture).
- Borage has possible anti-inflammatory properties. This isn’t mainly why we grow it, nor have I researched it much, but many people swear by it to reduce inflammation from many ailments, from arthritis to asthma.
How to Grow Borage
So I’ve convinced you to grow borage – huzzah! How do you go about it?
Good news, everyone! Borage grows in just about any soil. We have a lot of rocky clay soil here in the mountains (the kind you really have to mix compost into if you want anything edible to grow), and we’ve gotten borage year after year, without or without the aforementioned compost mixing. So if you’ve got poor soil, even soil that’s been used to grow several crops in the past, you’ll probably get borage.
That being said, borage will grow best in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil, as most plants do.
Climate-wise, borage is a warm-weather plant, so if your area gets a spring and/or a summer without a frost, you can grow it.
Borage grows best from seed: just direct seed it after the last frost, either in your garden plot or a container, in a space with full to partial sun. Space them 18-24 inches apart when they’ve sprouted true leaves and are about 4-6 inches tall.
As I mentioned before, one borage plant can grow to about 2-3 feet tall and fan out pretty far, so make sure you don’t crowd them. They also self-seed – that is, at the end of their life, they’ll flower and drop seeds to germinate again come the next season, with or without your intervention. If you don’t want this to happen, make sure to remove the blooms before they seed.
And that’s it! If you haven’t tried borage, and have some extra space in your garden this year, and/or want to attract all the bees and butterflies to your yard, why not give it a shot?
Do you grow borage? What do you use it for? Let me know in the comments, and happy homesteading!