This week we are taking a close look at Borago officinalis, commonly known as Borage or Starflower. The common name ‘starflower’ comes from the star-like flowers which appear blue, but can sometimes open as the colour pink then change to blue as the flower matures. There is also a cultivated version Borago officinalis ‘Alba’ that bears white flowers. Apart from the distinct flowers, Borago has hairy stems and large basal leaves with toothed, wavy margins. While this plant grows wild in the Mediterranean, it is now widely cultivated around the world for it’s herbal properties and edible uses.
B. officinalis is an easy plant to grow, being happy in most garden soils, though it does prefer dry soils in a sunny spot. With its origins in the Mediterranean it should come as no surprise that this plant favours loose, stony soils with sand and often chalk present. Although B. officinalis is an annual, it will usually self-sow quite prolifically, resulting in more plants emerging the following year after the original ones have withered away. It is important to note that disturbing the soil with activity such as hoeing, can prevent the seeds from germinating.
B. officinalis makes a great companion plant in the garden as it can deter pests which go after other plants. It can repel cabbage worm and tomato worm while also attracting precious pollinators such as bees and wasps. Plants that grow particularly well with B. officinalis include strawberries, tomatoes, squash and cabbage. It is also worth noting that the mature leaves of B. officinalis make an excellent mulch due to their high mineral and nutrient content.
B. officinalis is a great addition to the wildlife garden as it provides an abundance of sweet nectar for bees to enjoy all summer long. This has lead to the plant also being known as ‘Bee Plant’ and ‘Bee Bread’. Some of the species of bee attracted to B. officinalis include the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), common carder bumblebee (B. pascuorum), red-tailed bumblebee (B. lapidarius), white-tailed bumblebee (B. lucorum) and red mason bee (Osmia rufa).
B. officinalis is not only great for the bees but it can also be enjoyed by humans. Both the leaves and flowers can be used for eating. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and have a salty, cucumber taste. They make an excellent addition to a salad, though due to the hairiness of the leaves it is advised that they be chopped finely or mixed with other leaves. Be sure to always use fresh leaves as when dried they lose their flavour and colour. The flowers have a sweet, mild cucumber flavour and are eaten raw as a delightful addition to summer drinks or as a garnish in salads. Both the leaves and the flowers can be brewed into a refreshing tea and an edible blue dye can be obtained from the flowers. Not only is this plant tasty it is also rich in nutrients including potassium, zinc, vitamin B & C, beta carotene, calcium and iron.
B. officinalis has been used medicinally since ancient times and holds many medicinal properties which include:
- enhances energy levels and concentration
- helps with apathy and depression
- prevents dizziness
- protects eyesight
- helps with throat and mouth infections
- heals wounds
- strengthens the heart
- regulates hormones in women
- enhances iron absorption
- helps against rheumatism
The herb can be used both internally and externally to achieve various results. The leaves should be harvested in late spring and summer as the plant begins to flower. These can be used fresh or dried, however they will lose their medicinal properties if stored for longer than one year. If you do not fancy yourself as a herbalist you can usually find B. officinalis available in caplet form or as a liquid extract from health food shops.
Wildlife & Eco Gardens can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
With so many benefits to growing B. officinalis why not sow some seeds in your garden this year?