Borage (Borago officinalis) is a hardy, cold-tolerant annual native to Syria that has become naturalized throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, Asia and South America. It has fuzzy leaves, sky-blue flowers, grows to about two feet in height, and has a long history of both culinary and medicinal usage. At present, it is commercially cultivated mainly for its seeds, which are high in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA.)
As an ornamental plant, borage has a place in the flower garden as well as the herb garden, though its sprawling shape may be more appropriate for informal, naturalistic plantings rather than a formal bed. The gray-green leaves and blue flowers mix well with rosemary, catmint, rock roses and other drought-tolerant plants. Bees love the plant and use the nectar to make excellent honey. It is said to be a good companion plant for tomatoes and strawberries and to make nearby plants more resistant to pests and diseases.
The leaves have a flavor somewhat like cucumbers and can be used in sauces like the German "Grune Sosse" (green sauce). Though a bit prickly to the tongue, they are sometimes used to flavor salads and can be cooked into soups and stews. The flowers can brighten salads and other dishes with their edible petals, be candied, be added to lemonade and punch, or used as decorations for ice cream and fruit compotes.
Ancient traditions associated borage with both courage and good cheer. Leaves and flowers were steeped in wine to give it the ability to dispel sadness and depression. Infusions of borage have been used to relieve fevers, bronchitis and diarrhea. The leaves have been said to be cooling and soothing when used as poultices. Its tannins make it slightly astringent and constipating, and its mucilage make it useful as an expectorant. The leaves are said to stimulate milk flow in nursing mothers. As a flower essence, it is used to give lightness of heart, optimism and enthusiasm.
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