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Borage

( Originally Published 1933 )



Beebread, Star Flower

Boraginaceae Annual

This unusually pretty annual is native to Europe and North Africa and, like its relatives, the anchusas and mertensias, has flowers which reflect the deep blue of the southern skies with an underglow of pink, which, in the white borage, appears as a blush under the creamy surface. The whole plant is covered with bristly hairs.

Root. The root is single, like a taproot with rootlets growing out from it.

Stem. The stems rise up eighteen inches to two feet.

Leaf. The leaves are oval, rough, and hairy, with somewhat fluted margins. Ibn Baithar says they are shaped like ox tongues. The longest ones measure from four to six inches, and they grow smaller as they ascend the stems.

Flower. The flowers are borne in leafy clusters at the tips of the stems which bend way over so that their faces are hidden unless the plants are high on a bank, or hanging over a wall. They have a starry look; the five-pointed petals alternate with five slenderly tipped green sepals. The petals rise into a whitish-lavender crown in the center. Inside of this raised circle are purple filaments with white anthers, and within this circle is another set of stamens with black anthers. The two sets of stamens form a cone and the whole face of the flower makes a pretty pattern. The corolla lifts, whole, right out of the calyx.

Seed. The seeds are large, rough, ridged, blackish, and their base is like the base of a cone.

Variety. The blue-flowered borage is the type. There is a white-flowered variety with lighter green stems and leaves, and dark brown filaments. There are red- and violet-flowered ones, too, but so far these have eluded my diligent searching. The several plants together must make a lovely combination of color.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

The Crusaders are said to have introduced borage into Europe. Its Arabic name is abu-raj, which means, "father of sweet." The old verse, "I, borage, bring courage" comes from the Latin saying, "Ego borago gaudia semper ago."

Ibn Baithar said that borage drunk in wine made one jolly, and cooked with honey it cured hoarseness of the windpipe and larynx, and that the burnt leaves of borage were good for the sore mouths of children.

As a medicine some said it was cooling, and others that it was hot. It was given in slow fevers, presumably for its cooling properties, and on the other hand administered in cold wine as a cordial and bracer to the spirits, and above all to stimulate courage.

Quintinye grew it in Louis IV's garden and it is one of the plants mentioned by Peter Martyr as planted on Isabella Island by the companions of Columbus. It came to the American colonies quite early, but is not on John Josselyn's list.

USES

It was grown as a bee forage.

Food. In olden days the flowers were candied as a sweetmeat and flavored cordials. The leaves have a certain mucilaginous quality and when cooked lose their bristliness and become like a dark green spinach. Most of us, however, will not get too excited over the prospect of a new spinach. The flower sprays and leafy tops were, and still are, steeped in cold drinks such as claret cup, negus, and cool tankards to which they impart a cucumbery flavor.

Separated from their calyces the corollas can be floated in cold drinks as one would maraschino cherries, and also can be used to garnish salads.

CULTURE

Borage flowers quickly after sowing and likes a dry, sunny exposure. It might be sown at intervals during the summer to keep a succession of bloom. It should not be sown too closely, and when the plants are up a few inches, if they are too thick, they can be thinned out. Borage can be transplanted. If the flowers are cut off the plants continue to bloom, although the stems become coarser.

It is so pretty it rightly belongs in the flower garden, and it possesses the virtue of being a good cut flower, keeping well indoors in water.

Borage is grown from seed, which keeps its vitality a long time.



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