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How to Plant, Grow, and Use Borage

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Borage might just be the best kept secret of the garden world. An important addition to any garden, this little plant is an easy to grow, self seeding, annual with intricate little blue star shaped flowers. It is a coarse textured plant that can grow to about 3 feet tall, with its leaves and stem covered in fine hairs.

What is Borage?

Borage is a historic medicinal herb with nutritious edible leaves and flowers. The beautiful star flower is not only great for attracting beneficial insects to your garden, but can be used in the kitchen in a variety of ways. 

The Borage plant is native to the eastern Meditererranean region but has been naturalized and cultivated in many other parts of the world. It has been widely used since the time of ancient Rome and has many medicinal benefits. Writers of old mention borage and its ability to bring joy, as well as give courage and comfort to the heart. So why wouldn’t you add it to your garden or flower beds?

Benefits of growing borage

Borage is an easy to grow, ornamental that has many benefits for you and your garden. As a medicinal herb it has several uses such as, decreasing inflammation, improving skin health, and decreasing symptoms of asthma.  

Another name of borage is bee bush because of its amazing ability to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects that help keep your garden pests at bay. Chickens love to eat borage as well, and it is thought to repel pests if spread around their coop. Borage is also great as a green manure or mulch because it has a deep taproot that pulls up nutrients and trace minerals. Simply leave it in your garden when it dies to add organic matter back to the soil, or toss it in your compost pile.

  • Common borage (borago officinalis) is the most familiar variety. It is also known as starflower. Bianca and Alba are popular varieties for growing in pots. They are more compact and sturdy with white flowers.
  • Creeping borage (borago pygmaea) is a sprawling variety that is actually a short lived perennial instead of an annual. It can grow in USDA zones 5 and above.

How to Grow Borage

Zone– Borage grows best in zones 3-10.

Plants or seeds– because of its long and delicate tap root, it may be better to grow borage from seed instead of trying to transplant if you’re a new gardener. Sow seeds in a thin layer of soil and keep them moist. They should sprout in 5-15 days.

Borage can also be grown from transplants, and if you’re careful, they can be successfully moved into the garden. Using plants gives gardeners a bit more freedom in not having to keep seeds moist, but it also is the more expensive option. The choice is really all about preference.

When to plant borage – Plant the seeds in early spring after the first frost. Borage is relatively cold tolerant, but prefers soil temps above 50 degrees. If you are in a very cold climate with a shorter growing season, start seed indoors and transplant when the soil is ready.  

Where to plant– Plant borage in full sun if possible, but it will also tolerate partial shade. My borage plants also tend to lean heavily toward the sun, so keep this in mind when thinking about placement.

Soil Conditions– Borage tolerates a variety of soil conditions, but as with most plants, it does best when planted in well draining, fertile ground. Others gardeners claim that borage can help break up compacted soil, but I personally haven’t had much success with this. (This could be because my kids trampled it before it stood a chance.)

Watering and fertilizing borage

To start, water seeds and seedlings regularly until well established. Don’t add fertilizer at this point, but it is always a good idea to incorporate compost into the soil and mulch to deter weeds and retain moisture.   

Once the plant is established, you can add a good quality organic fertilizer if your borage is planted in soil that is lacking nutrients.

How to Harvest Borage

To harvest borage, cut off the leaves and flowers that you will be using, leaving enough for the plant to continue to thrive. Borage stocks can be a bit prickly, so you may want to wear gloves when harvesting, especially if your skin is sensitive. The leaves are best when harvested young and tender and have a “cucumber-like” taste.

Prune back the plant about half way in midsummer to encourage the growth of new, tender leaves that you can harvest late in the season.

Borage is an annual, but it self seeds so well that you probably won’t have to plant it again once it is established in your garden. That being said, if it starts to take over, or grow in an unwanted area, it is easy to remove by pulling up its shallow roots. Leave it in the garden to add beneficial nutrients, or throw in in your compost pile.

Companion plants for borage

 Borage is a great companion plant for many crops such as

  • cucumber
  • tomato
  • strawberries
  • spinach
  • brassicas
  • legumes
  • squash (it helps deter pests such as cabbage worm.)
  • Another claimed use for borage in the garden is to help any plant that it is interplanted with to resist pests and disease.  See my full post about plants that help deter pests.
strawberries in hand

Borage Growing FAQ’s

  • Is borage the same as comfrey? Borage and comfrey are not the same thing, but they are in the same plant family. Though the plants look very similar when not in bloom, comfrey flowers are shaped like bells while borage has a star shaped flower. They both have medicinal uses and are a good choice for green manure crops to enhance the soil in your garden.
  • Is borage toxic? The prickly stalks may cause minor skin irritation, so it’s a good idea to use gloves when working with borage. You should always use caution when consuming medicinal herbs, especially in large amounts. Consult your doctor before taking borage especially if you have a preexisting condition or take medication regularly. Prolonged use of borage is not advisable, as some of the plants contain small amounts of poisonous alkaloids and can be toxic with sustained use. 
  • Can borage be grown in pots? Yes! Just be sure to give the borage plenty of space (no 3 inch pots for this plant) and feel free to grow it along with another plant, such as a tomato in a large container.

How-to Grow Guides

Learn how to grow all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and herbs in the home garden with my How to Grow guides!

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