24 May 2012

Borage: it's almost Pimms O'Clock

Borage flower

Borage flowers are one of the unmistakeable signs of summer.  Borage is one of the prettiest summer herbs with both edible and medicinal uses and easy to grow from seed. Once pollinated, the flowers develop large black seeds (the size of peppercorns) - be quick to gather these if you don't have the space to let the plant self-seed.

Growers of the herb know that the flowers can be frozen in ice-cubes and used to glam up summer drinks; they have a slightly sweet cucumber flavour that goes particularly well with Pimms, that quintessential English drink favoured by Wimbledon devotees. In her book 'Good Enough to Eat', Jekka McVicar suggests sprinkling the flowers into a salad, crystallising for decoration on cakes or adding to chilled summer soups; she has a nice recipe for mixing the flowers (stamen and pistils removed) with creme fraiche and layering this with a fruit purée for a lovely summer pudding.

purple borage flower

The whole plant is edible: freshly picked young leaves have a salty cucumber taste and can be eaten as part of a salad, or with cream cheese and tomatoes in sandwiches. They're very bristly so are best chopped finely and mixed with other leaves if you're going to use them for this.  Both leaves and flowers can be used to make a nice refreshing tea which is said to have a slightly diuretic effect (not dissimilar to normal tea or coffee).

This is the same plant which is elsewhere known as Starflower (you can see why) and whose seeds have a high concentration of Gamma Linoleic Acid, a valuable oil used to regulate female hormones.  For me though, it's best use is as a companion plant.  Bees absolutely love it so it's a great herb to grow next to your beans for an increased yield. It's also attractive to blackfly which could be off putting unless you grow some as sacrificial plants.

I have a tray of borage, grown from seed, ready to go out into the veg patch but, just in case those didn't work out, I also have two bought borage plants growing on my balcony. A few days ago I noticed that these had produced clusters of buds:

Borage bud

24 hours of sunshine later and warmer temperatures have coaxed the flowers out, first pink then turning a beautiful deep blue.

Bright blue borage flowers

I have gardener Naomi Schillinger to thank for these seeds.  I admired the borage growing in her garden last summer and she swiftly removed a handful of seeds and popped them in an envelope for me.  Naomi has done marvellous work with her neighbours' front gardens and the tree pits in her local streets;  check out her inspirational blog or if you can get to North London, she's participating in the Chelsea Fringe.

The broad beans are also beginning to flower and I'm on blackfly watch for the broad beans in the veg patch.  I spotted a couple on one of the plants this afternoon but I'm afraid that aphids are building in numbers elsewhere - I just hope that the ladybirds can keep up with the feast!  For some reason, I thought that my pink Karmazyn beans would produce pink or red flowers but, no... Unless something dramatic is about to happen to these creamy buds!

Broad bean flowers


  1. You'll never be without borage again. I've only grown it from seed once, now it pops up everywhere. They're lovely plants and the bees absolutely love them.

    1. I had a feeling that would be the case. Still, it will be a welcome guest alongside the orach, nasturtiums and cerinthe that I sowed once ... and looks like the sunflowers and calendula could also be in that group!

  2. I have lots of Borage in the garden most of it self-sown - this year I sowed a wild flower border which has been disastrous - about the only small plants I can recognise are yet more borage! As for the Karmazyn broad beans - I too was under the impression that they produced pink flowers, and like yours mine are white - do you reckon we should sue!

    1. Perhaps other wildflowers are still lurking in the soil under all that borage? What do you do with yours Elaine? Do you eat it as an edible plant or grow it as a companion plant or just for the flowers (Nothing wrong with that!). I know you're a good forager so I wonder if you've tried the leaves in salad? I would think the flowers floating on a chilled cucumber soup would look fabulous! Re the beans, I'm going to have to try and source some pink flowered beans for next year - I think there's a Victorian heritage bean with red flowers... will let you know!

    2. I tend to grow it just for the flowers as it carries on right through to October and of course, as you say, the bees love it.

  3. My borage self-seeds and grows again every year, which I don't mind as it's a lovely looking herb.
    There's been signs of blackfly on our site this week. Flighty xx

    1. I hadn't realised that the plant was so prolific as I grew it on my balcony last year - I'll make sure to site the new seedlings where they can spread and provide springtime nectar for the bees. Good luck in keeping the blackfly in check. I'm going to try the old washing up liquid trick tomorrow and hope that works.


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