Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
Dear Readers, not far from where I live is a road called The Bishop’s Avenue, which has been in the news recently. It is home to some of the most enormous, pretentious, overblown dwellings in the country (guide price for one recently – £45 million). Furthermore, many of the houses are barely used, being retained as boltholes by people with lots of money who live in the more volatile parts of the world. Some of the properties are literally falling down which is obscene when you consider how many people are desperate for a home of their own. The Bishop’s Avenue exemplifies everything that is bad about what’s happening to the city that I love. But, as many of the houses continue their slow disintegration into ruin, the verges and wasteland that surround them are becoming increasingly fascinating to those with an interest in plants, and the way that they colonise newly-available spaces.
So it was that anyone waiting at the traffic lights on Sunday would have seen me positively dancing about with delight, because there, amongst a positive scrum of opportunistic plants, was a single Borage.
Why do I love Borage so much? Well, it is bright blue, and furry, and has an exquisite pointed flower that reminds me of a hummingbird. It is the plant par excellence for bees – not only is it so full of nectar that if you nibble a bloom it gives you a little hit of sweetness, but the nectar replenishes itself within two minutes of being drained. Furthermore, it is a member of my very favourite plant family (yes, I know you aren’t supposed to have favourites, but hey), the Boraginaceae, which also includes Comfrey in its many forms, Green Alkanet, Viper’s Bugloss, Lungwort and all the Forget-me-nots.
Borage has been in cultivation in the UK since at least 1200 – its leaves and flowers were much used as a herb, and were included in fruit cups for their cucumber flavour. It was first recorded in the wild in 1777. It is used as a vegetable in many places along the Mediterranean, where it is a native plant, and also in the ‘Green Sauce’ of Frankfurt.
Borage is also the richest known plant source of GLA (Gamma-linolenic Acid). The ‘Starflower Oil’ that can be purchased in chemists is made from Borage. Traditionally, it was used as a cure for melancholy, and also as a supplement for women suffering from PMS or menopausal symptoms. Borage leaves have also been used as a poultice for swellings, in the same way as those of its cousin, Comfrey.
It is also said to be an excellent companion plant, distracting tomato worms from their preferred hosts, and, of course, attracting a host of pollinators.
Borage is a wonderful plant for bees. It has the alternative names of ‘bee bread’ and ‘bee flower’, and these are apt descriptions.
I am fast running out of space for plants in my north-facing back garden, but it seems to me that I’ll have to have a pot of borage in my front garden, where it gets the sun and the bees can enjoy it. After all, who knows how long the wild plant that I saw will have to enjoy its moment of flowering? It can’t be too long before some developer plonks a twenty-bedroomed house on top of it.