Herb of the month: Borage

Botanical name: Borago officinalis

An easy, fast-growing annual herb distinguished by its fuzzy, prickly leaves and bright blue flowers; also known as starflower. Fun fact that I just learned from the NW Horticultural Society: the nectaries in borage flowers are replenished every two minutes, which is a bonus for our bee friends!

Suggested uses: culinary, medicinal, pollinator friendly, companion planting, therapeutic benefits

I began growing borage in 2018 on our Portland-based farm, sowed around my vegetable beds in what I’d called my “soggy bottom garden” and in several wine barrels by our deck.  I loved watching bees buzzing among the dozens of borage plants that sprawled happily upon each other.

Later, a posting from The Side Yard Farm and Kitchen inspired me to freeze borage flowers in ice cubes to dress up lemonades and cocktails. These days, with limited freezer space, I can only store one *packed* gallon bag of borage cubes that I savor sparingly until I transition into warm winter drinks.

After we left our Portland farm in December 2020, I didn’t stop growing borage. I cultivated two new edible gardens in Beacon Hill, Seattle – one on the rooftop of our rental, and the second in the tiny front yard and balcony of our current townhouse. Last year, I experimented with succession planting, sowing a second batch of borage seeds mid-summer and extending the season of one of my favorite herbs until the first frost. Check out this post from November 2021 on turning borage fun into a family affair.

Borage flowers are safe to eat and lovely sprinkled into salads, just like nasturtiums. They have a mild cucumber flavor. When eating other parts of the borage plant, I’ve read suggestions to seek out the youngest, most tender leaves, and blanch them in hot salted water, like you might prepare nettles.

Therapeutic invitations: Visit a garden where you have permission to pick a couple of borage flowers – or put borage on your list to grow next season. The picture below was taken when I volunteered at an event held at the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands.

Set aside about five minutes to engage mindfully with this friend of the pollinators:

1. Drink in the sight of borage with all of its unique characteristics. What do you notice? What adjectives might you choose to describe borage?

As a former psychotherapist, I frequently highlighted the power of naming. Practicing “using our words” – and noticing what we’re feeling while we’re interacting with plants, can strengthen skills to navigate the tough stuff that arises during the course of our day.

2. Listen to sounds arising around the borage: bees and other insects, the whistle of the wind, birdcall, even background sounds of traffic or people.

Observe how your mind categorizes and labels each sound as pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. When you find that you’ve wandered away into thinking (frequently in my own mind: “so many sirens in the background and planes overhead, argh!”), gently redirect your attention back to the borage plant before you.

One of the most powerful benefits of engaging mindfully with nature is how we can strengthen our ability to direct (and redirect) our attention back to the present moment, when it inevitably wanders away. Nature sounds are also helpful objects of awareness that we can access in-person or virtually. What sounds ground or soothe you? You might experiment with this guided mindfulness of sound exercise or check out this meditation offerered by Sebene Selassie on making contact with the Earth as home base.

3. Borage invites us to engage through the sense doorway of touch. Using your fingers to explore the various parts of borage, what do you notice? The prickly fuzz of borage stems and leaves serve as a deterrent to insects yet depending upon my mood, I find the texture intriguing.

When you are feeling bored or low energy, what textures do you like to prefer? Do your preferences change when you’re feeling overwhelmed and seeking soothing? I cuddle with our pets as one way to navigate stres and calm my body. Caressing their fur – or the soft leaves of a plant or tree, can help calm or relax us.

4. Gently crush a borage leaf between your fingers, then bring it to your nose. Do you smell the scent of cucumber?

What are your favorite aromas? Hands down, I love lavender. Look for a post next month on the many joys of lavender – and how to integrate lavender into your life as a therapeutic tool.

5. Taste – either alone or in a salad (fruit or veggie), bite into a borage flower and hold it there for several seconds. Notice how your tongue and mouth respond to its texture. Then chew as normal, intentionally bringing full awareness to your experience of exploring borage through the sense of taste. What did you notice?

6. Save borage to savor in the future – if you have access to borage flowers to freeze, I highly encourage you to practice this last step. Experience the intimacy of handling the small, delicate flowers, placing each one in an ice cube compartment, and carefully filling with water. Take in this edible art before you place it in the freezer, and then notice the difference in appearance when you take the borage flower cubes out at the end of the day. On the right, an example of borage flowers and apple mint leaves from my garden before they are frozen.

Bonus round: pick some of your favorite edible flowers and create a pretty arrangement before enjoying in a salad.

Interested in adding borage to your container collection or garden? Read growing tips here.

Visit a local nursery or if you live in the Seattle area, look for my end-of-August pop up sale where I’ll be selling borage along with a few of my other favorite herbs and edible plants through Lavender Belle Farm, my new woman-owned plant nursery. We grow good things and share gardening education with a therapeutic purpose, because plants do make people happy!

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