Wednesday Weed – Borage

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…..

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Borage (Borago officinalis)

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.

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A lonely 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.

IMG_1997Borage 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.

Frankfurter 'Green Sauce' with potatoes

Frankfurter ‘Green Sauce’ with potatoes

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.

Bee on Borage, by Angela Sevin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/angela7/6545222797/)

Bee on Borage, by Angela Sevin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/angela7/6545222797/)

Bee approaching borage, by Ferran Pestana (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ferranp/2358642371/)

Bee approaching borage, by Ferran Pestana (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ferranp/2358642371/)

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.

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8 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Borage

  1. Anne Guy

    A great plant indeed and self seeds so easily you are never without it! Also the little flowers when frozen in ice cubes make a fun accompaniment to your Pimms!!

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Joan, borage is part of the comfrey family so you’re mostly right! They can be very difficult to tell apart before the flowers come, too….

      Reply
  2. Daisy Solomons

    Marks and Spencer used to sell a prepared salad which features nasturtium and borage flowers, as well as other salad leaves – very pretty. If I had a borage plant the flowers would end up sprinkled over my lunch!

    Reply
  3. David Bevan

    I have enjoyed your blog (?). Borage appeared in Coldfall Wood in 2007 – soon after the stream coppice was cut, but has not been seen there recently. I am currently working on a Flora of the Parkland Walk – and would be interested in any unusual records you may have from there.
    Best wishes

    David

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks David, so glad you’re enjoying the blog! I am just a beginner really, but am learning all the time. I have a trip to the Parkland Walk planned, so will certainly let you know what I find, and I will hopefully see you at the Coldfall Plant walk in a couple of weeks.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Wednesday Weed – Lungwort | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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