Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Plant Profile: Borage

Whenever I see my borage plant growing in my garden, in my head I sing the words "My borage brings all the bees to my yard" to Kelis' Milkshake. Seriously though, this plant is a bee magnet. Whenever I walk by a borage plant in bloom, there buzzes a bee. 

Beyond bringing bees to your garden, what can borage not do? You can eat its flowers and leaves, it's a fantastic companion plant, and, if you're particularly crafty, you can make an oil from its seeds that's high in omegas. Also, it's incredibly easy to grow from seeds. For the most part, I use it for it's delicious, cucumber tasting flowers, to attract bees, and sometimes to companion-plant. I find it thrives, despite my ignoring it for much of the spring--only recently have I started trimming and watering my borage.

Growing zone No growing zone as a warm season annual (sow seeds after last frost)

Soil requirements Well draining soil with average pH

Light requirements Full sun to partial shade (will grow sturdier stems in full sun)

Uses Food production (leaves and flowers), bee friendly plant, companion plant (strawberries, legumes, spinach, tomatoes, and brassicas), and omega oil production

Establishing Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and about 6 inches apart. (You can find seeds at Renee's Garden and at Baker Creek). Keep seeds evenly moist until germinated. In Northern California, during our El Nino year, I planted in late February, watered once, and left alone until the summer heat started to come around in May, when I watered maybe once a week. I've found the plant to be pretty hardy and happy to grow large.

Caring In my Mediterranean climate, this plant is easy care. I cut it back every once in a while, trim off older leaves close to the ground, and set it to the drip system. And that's about it. As it's an annual, it's a one shot deal per seed you sow but it will reseed itself for next year. Come the following spring, you will see lots of little light green leaves popping up in your yard. If you don't want as many, they are easy to pull out.

Varieties Beyond the most common, blue flowered variety (Borage officinalis), there are two other varieties: 'Alba', with white flowers, and 'Variegata', which has yellowy, mottled leaves.

How to use in food The leaves of borage are edible, in addition to the flowers, and have the same light cucumber flavor and has been likened to spinach. I like adding both the young leaves and the flowers to salads--the flowers are especially lovely for the color pop they add. The older, larger leaves, however, have more developed prickers/thorns that will scratch your throat so I wouldn't eat fresh/raw. However, you can cook the older leaves, which evaporates the thorns, and you end up with a spinach like green. People use borage leaves in soups, as part of a German green sauce, in tacos,  and just as a plain sautéed green. Next up for me is adding the flowers to ice cubes for a fancy summer cocktail and figuring out a pesto recipe--I'll let you know how it goes!

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