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  • Writer's picturekalianieg

Borage: The Courageous Starflower



What is Borage?

Borage is an annual herb that blooms blue and purple flowers. It is also known as the starflower since there are 5 petals creating a star-like shape. You can even find a variety that produces white flowers, which is more rare because the blue flowers are the dominant trait. The plant grows up to 2-3 feet high with multiple flowers protruding from many stems. It has a fuzzy-like texture all over the plant that pricks your fingers when you try to pluck it. Native to the Mediterranean region, borage was also introduced to different parts of Europe and the Americas where it has grown abundantly. Their many blooming flowers produces a ton of seeds which helps them spread fast. In high dosages, consuming the plant can be very toxic to the point of liver damage. The plant and even the flower’s honey contains Pyrrolizidine Alkaloid, which is found in other plants, mostly to defend itself against plant eating insects. The degree of health risks depends on the differences between peoples health and age. Yet, despite the health risks, borage is still used and consumed in several different ways. Some ways the borage plant is used is by preparing it in foods both raw and cooked, as well as used as a garnish for foods and desserts. Borage is also used medicinally in teas and ointments. Its seeds can also be pressed and used for oil.

History of Traditional Use

Traditionally used in culinary practices and medicine, the flower also became a symbol of courage among the Celtic people. They drank the leaves mixed in wine to give them a boost of adrenaline, crusaders also had them in their drinks during their journeys. It is also said that borage was given to potential husbands to give them courage before asking a woman to marry. In ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology, it is said to cause forgetfulness when mixed with wine. Even King Henry VIII of England had a wife who used borage to treat her melancholy. During medieval times, the borage flower was embroidered on the mantals of kings and jousters to bring them courage. In folk tales, the plant has also been used in drink mixtures to promote spiritual awakening.

Borage has also been used as a vegetable and dry herb. It is most commonly used in Germany, a few Spanish regions and on the Greek island of Crete. The dish that borage is commonly known for is the German recipe grüne Soße, which translates to green sauce. The dish is a Frankfurt specialty and uses a variety of herbs, mostly served with potatoes, and or rye bread accompanying dishes like hard boiled eggs or roast beef brisket. In Italy it is also used in ravioli fillings as well as pansoti. Poland and Russia use it as a flavoring in their pickles. You can also find borage in soups, salads, sauteed, in cocktails, and also in deserts.

Why The Interest

I first learned about borage through a gardening friend who gave me a cutting of the flower. She told me to dry the flower to extract the seeds. She often gives me flowers so that I am able to save the seeds and try and plant them. The plant is very good at attracting pollinators as well as keeping the other plants safe from certain types of bugs. Surprisingly the borage plants in my garden are not from those same seeds. 

I purchased a pollinator seed mix from a local hardware store, to use for my garden to attract more pollinators in hopes that it will help with aphids that attack my vegetables and herbs. The seed mix included a variety of floral plants, and I was excited to see what types of plants would sprout. So, I prepared an empty space in my yard to grow these flowers. Unfortunately, I had a hard time keeping the seedlings moist during the hot sun and protected from the birds and the slugs who love to eat the young sprouts. I tried multiple times using different methods and soon gave up when the plants would not survive. To my surprise a couple sprouts did stick and grew very well. Among those sprouts was borage, California poppies, and cosmos. I took one of the borage sprouts and transferred it to the other side of my garden patch. The plant I transferred had a rough transition, it wilted but after a few weeks it perked back up and grew new leaves. I left the single borage to grow and die in its season, which caused me to either have the greatest blessing or curse in my garden.

Growing seed mixes are fun and great until they are not. They need constant care and flower trims to make sure you have the plants under control, or else they might spread their seed far and wide. Time and time again I made a promise to keep my plants daily, but sometimes life catches up to you and before you know it, you have an overgrown mess of a wild flower mix that spills into other people's yards. Oops, but that’s okay, because no one has complained yet. As a gardener I understand the importance of weeding my plants so they don’t become overtaken and cluttered by each other. Of course, I tear up the unwanted weeds in my yard, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to tear up the borage and poppies that have taken over a third of my garden patch and even the planted pots on my patio. As Well as the snap dragons that sprinkled all over the empty pots and potted plants causing the sprouts to cover the dirt like grass. For now they stay growing undisturbed.  I meant to keep the borage under control because I was hoping to make use of the plant while it grew. After finding out what was growing in my garden from the wildflower mix, I came across the uses of borage. In the early days I picked flowers daily or every other day to use them in a variety of recipes. One of my first recipes was making borage infused water. I used the young leaves and blossoms and cold brewed it in the fridge. Something quite refreshing for those hot summer days. The plant isn't finicky and will spread like wildfire. Survival of the fittest.


How I Used it

Back in November I wrote a similar post on the pumpkin flower, giving a brief history on the plant and my journey with it. Due to a couple limitations in my garden, I was not able to try as many recipes as I would have liked. This time around I had more borage than I could keep track of, in return it let me try many more recipes with some wiggle room for mistakes. 

My gardener friend told me the leaves were edible and that I should try it in salad. As much as I try to push myself to try new things, there are just some things I find hard to force myself to do. The biggest factor for not trying the borage leaves raw is its prickly and hairy texture. Strange textures are my worst enemies, I run for my life when foods are textured too different then I am accustomed to. So, I never got to try raw borage and then totally forgot about the plant until I saw it growing in my own yard. Which led me to research about it, and so here we are, discussing about the plant. 


Drinks

I tried borage in a couple

different ways and one of the easiest ways is making it in a drink. Borage infused water was one of the easiest ways to use it. There were a few kinds of steeping methods, the way I chose to do it is by letting the flowers and leaves steep in water in the fridge for about 24 hours. The drink was cold and quite refreshing, though there was this aftertaste tingling inside me which sort of made me nauseous if I drank any more. I then made a simple syrup infused with the blossoms. A cup of borage with a cup of water and a cup of sugar. I let the hot syrup sit for 30 minutes then I strained it, and put it in a jar. I then prepared myself a glass of carbonated water with ice and added some syrup. This became my favorite drink since it was very sweet. The flower is said to have a sweet cucumber honey-like taste. I don't think I quite agree with that description, but it tasted very leafy. I've also tried it as a sweetener in tea, adding another layer of flavor to the tea. The last drink I tried was borage tea. I dried some of the blossoms then steeped then in hot water for about 5 minutes. Smells and taste like an herbal tea, which isn't my favorite flavor. I added some agave and a lemon slice to my tea giving it a sweeter flavor that masks the smell and taste of the tea. Drinking borage tea has many medicinal benefits such as, relieving stress and depression, relieving fever, chest colds, and bronchitis, just to name a few. These are statements I found on the web, I am not a medical professional.


Food

Foodwise, I chose to make a pea soup with borage following this recipe right here. I was surprised it took a lot of leaves to make. Making the recipe shouldn't have been a problem for me, but I found myself not being able to acquire all the leaves needed for the soup due to the neighborhood slugs feasting on the tender leaves. I chose only young leaves as they are less hairy then the much bigger and older ones. Overall the soup was very delicious. I like the addition of the potatoes and the boiled egg. The recipe called for poached eggs which I didn't feel like doing. I also added some garden peas to the soup to give it more texture and volume. I think soups are the best and I'm glad I tried it. This soup sat well in my stomach at first then settled down a little heavy. 


Dessert

For dessert I candied some of the flowers, using egg whites and sugar. I tried both granulated and powdered sugar, and I found that the powdered sugar gave a better result. The flowers are so small and delicate that the granulated sugar sat very chunky on top. It could have also been that the granules of sugar in my pantry are much coarser than others. Sweet little candies to share with your friends. I also used a similar method to bake some flowers on top of cookies. These cookies were delicious and easy to make. If you would like to try and make them, you can find the recipe here.




References

  1. “Borage.” Wikipedia, 6 Dec. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borage. Accessed 6 Nov. 2023

  2. “Pyrrolizidine Alkaloid.” Wikipedia, 23 Nov. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrolizidine_alkaloid. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024

  3. “The Herbal Guide To Borage: Growing And Usage.” Garden Therapy, 15 April 2023, gardentherapy.ca/borage/. Accessed 8 Nov. 2023

  4. “Natural Pest Control Spray With Herbs.” 11 May 2023, gardentherapy.ca/pest-control-spray. Accessed 31 Jan 2024

  5. "Green Sauce" Wikipedia, 29 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_sauce#Germany. Accessed 31 Jan 2024


 

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post don't forget to give a like. My next comic post is on the 16th, you can find it on my Instagram. I will also have a special blog post on the 18th.


Future Pop Ups

  • Feb 10th: Art & Food Festival at Stonestown, San Francisco

  • Feb 16: Everdaze, San Francsico

  • March 9th: Carrier Con, Alameda



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