Today I weeded all day, instead of driving to Toronto to drop off CSA boxes, like I normally do. My body felt like an 80 yr old who was thrown down a flight of stairs at the end of the day. However, I had a really fun time tackling weeds in the field today; acting like Rambo, hacking and slashing the tallest weeds with a machete and doing it with brute force as fast as I could. I enjoy weeding for the most part, because it is either a zen like experience where little thought is involved and I can think about other things (or nothing) or I can Mr.Clean a row until I fall over! At the end of today, I would estimate that I handled about 1000 weeds all together, including lambs quarters, pigweed, milkweed and thistle; the meanest plant of all.
So for today’s blog I am not going to talk about any of the wild edibles I encountered today, but a much more beautiful one, which we are growing intentionally at Wicklow Way. Borage is a hardy annual that is known for its gorgeous electric blue star shaped leaves. It is also known as starflower and has been an herbal remedy since ancient times. The health benefits of borage are well known, and is used as an alternative for relieving minor depression, effects of the heart, adrenal glands, kidneys and the entire digestive system. It has been used as a cure for jaundice.
Borage is known as a plant to lift the spirits and would be a great garnish in spirit drinks, along with in a salad or iced drinks. The flavour of borage is a light tinge of cucumber, to match the brilliant blue colour. The leaves can be eaten cooked like spinach, which takes the hairiness away from the constitution. The word borage is presumed to come from the Latin barra, meaning hairy garment, and in all the countries bordering the Mediterranean, where this plant is plentiful, it is spelled with a double ‘r. In addition to eating the furry leaves and beautiful flowers, you can also consume the seeds of borage which are high in gamma-linolenic acid, which helps to regulate the hormonal systems and lowers blood pressure. It is used both internally and externally as it can relieve PMS and skin complaints. For fun the flowers can be crystalized to make candy.
Something else that I am interested in, is natural dyes and which plants provide the special properties to do so. Borage is one on the list, as you can make a blue dye from the flowers, and some people use to colour vinegar, although apparently it turns pink when contacted with acids.
Borage in the landscape is grown for it’s beauty, attracting bees and pollinators and can be a companion plant with tomatoes to deter hornworm and Japanese beetle, and also stimulates the growth of strawberries. It is best to plant when the soil warms up in the spring and will grow in any soil but prefers soil that is somewhat dry, however, can withstand shade. If you are lucky, borage will occasionally reseed itself, and return in the same spot as the previous year. It is important to pull the leaves off the plant before the flowers form, so the leaves will be young, tender and flavourful. Like any plant, once it starts to go to flower or seed head it changes the taste of the plant.