In this guide we teach you what you need to know about growing borage plant. Borage plant (borago officinalis) is an easy to grow, annual herb. Originating in the Mediterranean, its attractive blue flowers are popular with pollinators, particularly bees. This has given borage its other name of Bee Bush.
Borage’s popularity with pollinators means that it is often grown as a flower in fruit and vegetable gardens. It is also regularly grown amongst flower filled beds in cottage garden style planting schemes.
An attractive annual herb to grow in your herb garden. Both the flowers and foliage of the plant are edible. Growing borage is also a magnet for pollinators and birds.
Both the borage leaves and flowers of this distinctive plant are edible herbs. The leaves of the plant have a noticeable cucumber-like taste. The star shaped flowers are also sweet and are often compared to honey.
Varieties of Borage
Common borage, Borago Officinalis, is the most commonly grown variety. The seeds of this variety are sold in plant catalogues and nurseries. While this is the most commonly grown variety there are other types of bee bush.
Borago Pygmaea or Creeping Borage is, as the name suggests, a sprawling variety. It produces fragrant pale blue flowers from late spring until fall.
The cultivar Variegata produces white flowers and mottled green foliage.
There are few different varieties of bee bush available. However despite the lack of available choice this is still an attractive and popular garden plant.
How to Grow Borage
Borage is a pleasingly easy to grow Mediterranean herb. It is an annual plant, lasting for only one year. This means that USDA zones do not apply. However, bee bush is happy to self-seed meaning that the herbs will return year after year.
Borage does best in warm, full sun positions. Here the borage will reach close to their optimum size, 18-36 inches.
Bee bush also grows in partial shade. However, shade growing plants may not be as sturdy as those growing in full sun. This can be a problem when the plants flower. Bee bush flowers can cause the borage to become top-heavy, if the borage are stocky enough, or supported in another way, they may become floppy.
When grown in a preferable position, and well cared for, healthy borage flower from late spring throughout the summer months.
Regularly deadheading spent flowers encourages the borage to continue flourishing. If you don’t deadhead the borage they begin to decline and go to seed.
How to Sow Borage Seeds
Bee bush is a fast growing plant. In the right conditions you can harvest the borage within 6 to 8 weeks of sowing. Begin sowing bee bush seeds from early April onwards.
Before sowing, weed and rake over the soil. While bee bush plants prefer rich well-drained soil they can grow in dry or poor soil. Whatever the condition of the soil working in organic matter such as homemade compost will help the borage.
Sow seeds as thinly as possible on the surface of the well drained soil. Cover with a thin layer of well drained soil and gently water.
Following germination, once the seedlings are about 3 inches tall thin them out. Ideally the borage should be spaced 12 inches apart.
Starting Seeds Undercover
While borage seeds are best sown directly into their growing position they can also be started undercover for an early harvest in your herb garden. Sow up to four weeks before your last predicted frost date in biodegradable pots.
Bee bush produces a long taproot that shouldn’t be disturbed when transplanting. Growing the seedlings in biodegradable pots means that you can plant the seedling still in the container in its final position. As the plant grows the pot will break down into the soil.
Allow the seeds to grow on in containers. Once the last local frost date has passed, harden the young plants off before transplanting into their final position in your herb garden.
Borage’s self-seeding habit means that it will spread throughout an herb garden if left unchecked. While the borage are easy to remove, growing in containers is an easy way to keep their growth habit in check.
If you are sowing in containers make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of your chosen vessel. Fill the container with fresh, good quality soil.
The attractive star-shaped borage flowers give way to borage seed pods. If not harvested these will split, allowing the plant to self-seed through your herb garden. Deadheading flowers helps to control this spread.
How to Care for Borage Plants
Once germinated, bee bush is pleasingly easy to care for. Regularly weeding around the plants will help to ensure that they can access as much moisture as they need. It also means that young plants won’t be smothered by fast growing weeds.
Water borage regularly until they are established. Once the borage are established and growing well, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Remember plants growing in containers will require more frequent watering than those in the ground.
Borage growing in poor soil will benefit from fertilization. Applying a fertilizer high in phosphorus helps to prolong the plants flowering period. Alternatively apply a homemade compost tea or diluted fish emulsion. Either of these will also help to extend the flowering period of the borage.
Placing an organic mulch around the base of the borage helps the soil to retain moisture. As the mulch breaks down it also enriches the soil, further benefiting the borage.
Mulching also helps to keep the borage foliage off the soil. Foliage contacting soil, particularly damp soil, can rot or become diseased.
Organic mulches help the soil to retain moisture, keeping borage cool and preventing bolt. As the organic mulch breaks down it returns nutrients to the soil, further boosting the growth of your borage.
Prune or pinch out new growth once the borage reaches 6 inches in height. This encourages branching and helps to keep the plants more compact and robust. Pruning back to half the plants size in midsummer encourages the plant to produce fresh, tender leaves for a late harvest.
Prune away flowers as they fade. This prevents the borage from producing seeds. If you want to grow bee bush again the following year allow the flowers to seed. The seeds can then be harvested when the pods ripen and turn brown. If the seed heads aren’t removed they will split and the plant will re-seed in the same position the following year.
Allowing the plant to re-seed can also cause it to spread through a space. Unwanted plants are easily pulled up.
When in flower, bee bush can become top heavy and prone to toppling. Stake tall plants to prevent toppling.
Common Pests and Problems
Bee bush is almost completely problem free. Many pests are deterred by the plants’ prickly leaves.
Borage as a Companion Plant
Companion planting is the practice of growing mutually beneficial plants close together. Bee bush is a particularly useful companion plant. This is largely because borage is a popular plant amongst pollinators, particularly bees. It is also believed to help strengthen the disease and pest resistance of a number of plants, in particular strawberries. Additionally, borage is said to deter cabbage worms and tomato hornworms.
Bee bush is popular with pollinators such as bees. Planting near other fruiting plants such as tomatoes will help to draw pollinators to them. This helps to give your fruiting borage a boost as well as helping to increase flowering or fruit production.
If you decide to companion plant Borage with flowers or certain vegetables, it can benefit both sides to improve how productive your garden or flower bed is. Boarge is one of your best options for any garden bed for a few different reasons. Along with attracting beneficial insects and pollinators, borage also releases potassium and calcium into the soil. These nutrients will help some plants like tomatoes or squash combat different diseases, including blossom rot. You can interplant borage with the following for the best results:
How to Harvest Borage
Prune away the leaves or flowers as and when you need them. Fresh leaves taste better than older leaves. Older leaves can also become prickly, making harvesting harder.
Harvested leaves are best used fresh. Bee bush leaves do not dry well. While both the flowers and leaves are best used fresh, flowers can be frozen in ice cubes. They can then be added to cooling drinks during the summer months.
If you have plant allergies use the flowers sparingly until you know how they will affect you. Borage is believed to have a mild laxative effect.
To save the borage seeds, harvest them from the plant when they are brown. Store in a cool, dry location, such as an airtight tin, until you are ready to sow.
Remember to label the tin with the date as well as the name of the seeds. This helps you to remember what seeds you have as well as gauging their viability. The older the seeds, the less likely they are to germinate.
As well as being an attractive plant with edible flowers and foliage these are also popular plants amongst pollinators. A mineral accumulating borage plant placing the old borage plants on your compost heap at the end of the growing season will give your garden an extra boost.
A relative of comfrey, bee bush is an attractive Mediterranean herb. Doing best in sunny, warm positions both the foliage and flowers of these plants are edible. An additional bonus is that bee bush is a great mineral accumulator. In particular it harvests nitrogen and potash from the soil. This makes borage soil an ideal addition to your compost heap. Alternatively the plants can be incorporated into homemade plant feeds.
Common Borage Pests and Diseases
Unfortunately, this plant tends to have a big problem with powdery mildew if you have damp conditions or live in an area that relatively has higher humidity levels. For the best chance of your plant avoiding contracting this disease, you should space the plants out to ensure they get excellent airflow every day, and they should also get a lot of sunlight.
Japanese beetles and aphids are another problem because they tend to feed heavily on the plant’s leaves. You can control an aphid infestation by spraying your plant with water from your garden hose. You can pick the beetles off by hand and put them in a jar full of soapy water to get rid of them.
Borage Uses and Benefits
Borage produces a flower that is edible, and the leaves are also edible. You can use them in several different ways too. The flowers have a very refreshing taste to them that tastes a little like cucumber. You should pick the blooms early during the morning hours and use them to add a zest to any sandwich, brighten up your salad, cook in stews or soups, or mix into a variety of dips. You want to harvest the leaves of this plant when they’re younger to give you the best texture and taste.
Borage works well, used fresh as salad greens, or you can easily steam them like you would kale or spinach. You could also dry them and set them aside to use as a seasoning or dry herb in your dishes. You can candy them or steep them in teas.
Borage in the Kitchen
- Aroma and Flavor – Borage flowers and leaves impart a cucumber-like flavor that is refreshing and cool with the slightest salty hit. You can add it to any dish where you want this refreshing taste like a salad. You can use the leaves and stems as flavoring.
- Flowers – Add freshly picked borage to sandwiches or salads. You can float the flowers in drinks for a bright look, or you can use them in ice cream or cake. Another idea is to freeze the flowers into ice cubes and drop them into your drinks.
- Leaves – You can eat young leaves raw, sauteed in butter, or steamed like spinach. The steamed leaves work well when eaten as a vegetable. The furry coating on the plant’s leaves will vanish when you steam them. Try mincing the leaves over soups, in salads, in yogurt, or in curry, chicken, or fish dishes. The flowers and leaves will enhance the taste of fish, cheese, eggs, poultry, green salads, most vegetables, pickles, ice beverages, and salad dressing. Mature leaves can be toxic when you eat them in large quantities, so use them sparingly.
- Stems – Eat your borage stems chopped and peeled like you would celery.
Preserving and Storing Borage
- Drying – You can dry the flowers and leaves in the microwave by putting them in a single layer on paper towels and microwaving them for one to three minutes. You can also put them in a refrigerator on a baking sheet covered with paper towels to help them dry out. If you have a mesh bag, you can air-dry them in a dry, cool place or place them in a bowl and stir the leaves every day until they dry out.
- Freezing – Put your borage leaves in a plastic bag to freeze them. Flowers and leaves can also get frozen and put into ice cubes. Add these ice cubes to your favorite drinks for a splash of colors.
- Refrigeration – You can safely refrigerate the stems and leaves of your borage plant in a sealed plastic bag as long as you wrap them in a damp paper towel.
- Seeds: This plant reseeds readily, and you should transplant them before they develop taproot. Directly sow the seeds in late spring.
Harvesting Borage in the Home Garden
This plant will return to your garden year after year, and you can harvest the young flowers and seeds as needed. Always harvest the leaves when the plant is young before the buds open and flower. Older leaves get prickly, and this makes it very unpleasant to harvest anything from this plant.
This plant is also openly pollinated, and it’s very easy to collect the seed from the flowers if you keep them on the plant until they fade to brown. It will spread a lot if you let it seed naturally, so consider planting it in a raised bed where it’ll be semi-contained.
Drying Borage Leaves
Spread a very thin layer of leaves onto a cooking sheet and put them in a cool oven or a well-ventilated location that is very airy. The leaves should keep their green color and be dry to the touch in about two weeks. If this is too long, you can easily heat the oven to a low temperature of around 180°F for a few hours. Check on your leaves every half hour so you don’t cook them too long. You can store them in an airtight container for up to a year without a problem.
Cooking with Borage
Since both the leaves and flowers are edible, you can have a very versatile herb. They combine nicely with a huge array of dishes too.
Cooking with Borage Leaves
Steam or saute these leaves and eat them like you would spinach. If you like celery, peel and eat the plant’s stems raw. The taste profile is much milder than either celery or spinach, so you can add it to salads without a problem.
Borage Flowers Culinary Uses
If you want a nice way to add a hint of color to soups, salads, spreads, or dips, borage flowers are the way to go. You can use them as a very pretty garnish to any open-faced sandwich or as a cake decoration. You should always use them sparingly until you know how they affect you. It can have a mild laxative effect, so eat them in moderation.
You can brew these flowers in a tea with other herbs or on their own. To make a tea out of this plant, you do the following:
- Mash around ¼ of a cup of borage leaves gently with a mortar and pestle. You’ll need ¼ cup per serving.
- Put the mashed leaves in a liquid measuring cup and pour a cup of boiling water over them. Let them steep for five minutes.
- Strain the leaves using a cheesecloth or sieve and pour it into a tea cup.
Tip: To get a cooling tea, add a few freshly picked mint leaves to the cup.
Freezing Borage Flowers
Freezing the flowers into ice cubes is a nice way to make a colorful statement in any tea, lemonade, or cool drink. You can freeze them by:
- Fill your ice cube trays ¾ full.
- Add one flower to each ice cube compartment.
- Allow them to freeze and store them until you need them.
Candied Borage Flowers
When you candy borage flowers, they’re a very pretty decoration on top of cookies, cakes, and other baked goods. Once you candy them, you can store these flowers in an airtight container until you need them. You’ll:
- Gently rinse off the flowers and let them dry
- Remove the flower’s dark sepals
- Combine an egg white with 2-3 drops of water and beat lightly
- Paint the flowers with an egg white mixture using a smaller paintbrush
- Grasp the flowers by the stems and sprinkle them using a superfine sugar
- Arrange the sugar-coated flowers on a cookie sheet on waxed paper and leave them to dry for 24 to 36 hours
Tip: When you’re picking out borage flowers to candy, you want to leave a small amount of the stem on it. This makes it easier to handle, and you can remove the extra stem before you serve them.
Borage Health Benefits and Herbal Medicine Uses
Borage is a very common diuretic, and it has the potassium nitrate and malic acid like traditional diuretics do. These medications work by helping your body get rid of water and sodium. In turn, this reduces how much water you have moving through your blood vessels, and this can reduce the pressure on your arterial walls. Diuretics are very commonly prescribed to treat edema, kidney disorders, and high blood pressure.
Borage also has a higher mucilage content, and this has medicinal uses. This is a gel-like substance that many plants secrete, especially the aloe vera plant. It can help soothe sore throats, and you can make a soothing tea to help treat any pain you feel due to respiratory infections like bronchitis.
You can use the leaves of this plant as a poultice to treat swelling, bruises, and inflammation. They also work to treat dry skin via facial steam.
Borage Seed Oil Benefits
Did you know that borage seeds have a high amount of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)? This is an omega-6 fatty acid that has a host of anti-inflammatory properties. You can use borage oil in place of evening primrose oil, but borage has two times the amount of GLA, so it offers more healing benefits. A few other uses for this oil includes:
- Treating sore throat, cough, and upper respiratory infections
- Reduces rheumatoid arthritis pains or aches
- Treats gout
- Relieve PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms
- Protects against high blood pressure
- Reduces stress
You can get borage seed oil in many health food or holistic stores. When you decide to use this oil as a supplement, you should follow the manufacturers’ recommended dosage.
Borage Plant Frequently Asked Questions
Borage by Neil Schofield / CC BY-NC 2.0 Even though this plant is very popular, there are several common questions floating around about the general care of it, so we’ve rounded up some of the most common ones for you.
- Will borage come back each year?
Borage is an annual plant, and this means that it only lives through one growing season. However, it grows readily from seed, and you can sow it directly into the ground without any special equipment. So, new plants will spring up every year.
- Do you have to deadhead borage?
If you want to keep your plants flowering, you should deadhead borage. If you want to have flowering borage all year round, you’ll stagger the planting time during the spring and summer months. This way, when one plant stops flowering, another will take its place.
- How long does it take borage to grow from seed?
This is a blue-flowering, easy-to-grow flowering herb that you can use for decorative and culinary purposes. It’ll sprout from seeds in 5 to 15 days after you first plant it. However, it takes roughly 8 weeks to reach full maturity and flower, so it’s easy to stagger the flowering times.
- Does borage need a lot of sun?
Ideally, you’ll plant your boarge in an area that gets a lot of sunlight. You can plant it in partial shade too without too many issues. However, you should note that this will cause it to flower less when it does bloom.
- What is the difference between comfrey and borage?
One of the biggest differences between the two items is that borage is an annual while comfrey is a perennial. This also determines how you care for each plant. For sowing borage quicker, you’ll refrigerate the seeds for two weeks before you sow them in the spring.
Easy to grow and harvest, the borage plant is a welcome addition to container and vegetable gardens as well as informal flower beds. A full sun loving plant, its attractive star-shaped flowers, which drape downwards, add interest to the herb garden. Hope this detailed guide on growing borage plant was useful!
Elizabeth learnt to love gardening as a child in her grandparents backyard. Today, she is a trained horticulturist and has maintained a productive allotment for over 10 years. When not growing her own, Elizabeth enjoys helping other people with the plant problems. An experienced writer and editor, away from gardening Elizabeth is also a keen bird watcher, local historian and genealogist, meaning that she can often be found with her dogs exploring an overgrown graveyard.