Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seedy Saturday: Borage

Borage  planted as a border in the back alley. I wanted to attract bees to my lacklustre squash (check out the post on sex in the squash patch for more on that).

I first heard of borage at a workshop with the Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan. He had a small seedling available to touch and sample. On tasting a small, tender leaf I was surprised by its flavour: mild, and a touch minty (to my palate). I decided to seed it in a stretch of garden that had been stripped of grass (the same stretch that I planted the strawberries a few seasons later).

The plants have a thick, hollow stem and their habit is large and sprawling. I've planted it both on the north and south side of a fence and its stretched profusely on both sites, irregardless of the sun. They have an abundant number of purple to blue bell shaped flowers that have a mild nutty flavour (with no acid kick when you swallow it).  As a garnish on cakes and salads, they add an unusual colour and flavour. I've also frozen them in ice cubes for a nice effect at summer parties. Harvest can happen throughout the summer and well into fall.

To eat, pick the more tender leaves. As the leaves get larger, their soft fur becomes more prickly (not as harsh as hops  but more abrasive than the hairs on sunflower stems).  Chop them up and use in pesto (like I did here), or pasta sauce, or to flavour pork or beef. They also make a nice cold tea: flavoured with lemon and mint.

Borage is an annual that copiously self seeds. I decided to move it from its original location- where I wanted to plant more fruit- to a weedy and forlorn stretch around my garbage nook in the back alley.  The bees love this plant. I have it paired with icelandic poppies and cilantro so when I throw out my garbage, I'm always treated with the sound of working bees, a bursting rainbow of colours, and some cilantro mixed in with the usual garbage smell.

There are a couple things to note about this plant before sowing-- plant it and you will have it every year, as borage seeds are tough little gaffers in our cold climate. The seedlings are large (they look a little like a squash seedling) and are easy to pull, but they really do come up everywhere. Also, the large, adult plant's hairs can be tough for sensitive skin. I handle it with my hands fine, but when I clear up the plants I need long sleeves to protect the softer skin on my arms.

Borage is a great herb, a brilliant bee magnet, and a hardy self-seedier. I also think this plant would be great in a guerilla gardener's seed box-or bombs!

Richters sells the seeds (see catalogue number below). However, if you are in the Edmonton area and  you want to snag some seedlings from me, please email. I'm always pulling them out and am happy to save them from the compost!

BORAGE (Borago officinalis)
Known as the Herb of Gladness for its exhilarating effect. Try adding chopped young leaves and flowers to salads or summer drinks. On those sweltering summer days, cool off with iced borage tea, adding honey and lemon juice to taste.
S1470 Seeds: Pkt/$1.50, 100g/$13, 1kg/$73, 10kg/$530 N S1470-001 Seeds: Pkt/$2.75, 10g/$7, 100g/$40, 1kg/$280