Growing borage is easy. It’s hardy, and spreads freely. Even here, in my zone 4 backyard, it has self-seeded in a raised bed and flourished, to the point of being unwieldy, popping up where I’m pretty sure I didn’t plant it. The flowers are lovely and blue and star-shaped, and even when not yet opened, the nodding heads of blooms sitting atop light green leaves is a testament to verdant fecundity and all that stuff. Borage is bee paradise. On any given day, I can walk by my borage and hear the steady hum of countless bees busily collecting pollen as they travel from flower to flower. The bees don’t bother me and I don’t bother them. I just quietly weed and harvest around them and they are happy to fill their little pouches with pollen.
Borage is known for its high percentage of gamma lineolic acid (GLA), which helps skin conditions like psoriasis, excema, and rosacea. Not surprisingly it contains anti-inflammatory attributes, which makes it great for skin-healing salves and oils. Even if you don’t plan on using it for its healing properties; its ability to attract every bee that ever lived, and its purported attribute as a pest repellent (say goodbye hornworms and cabbage moths) makes borage pretty much indispensable to the vegetable garden. Trust me: your tomatoes and cruciferaes will thank you.
Another garden plus, borage leaves are edible—in fact, they taste herbaceous and kind of cucumbery. A piece of advice though: if you are going to eat the leaves it is best to pick them when they are young. The boarge plant is covered with fine white prickles, that looks downy and soft. Don’t let their baby lamb’s ear-like appearance fool you though, those little prickly suckers want nothing more than to stick to your fingers, arms, the crook of your elbow, your clothes, or your cheek, if you lean in too close to pull a weed (#askmehowiknow).
When you are ready to harvest the borage, wear gloves. Just do it. You’ll thank me. I wish someone had told me that. But even if they had, I probably wouldn’t have listened. See, I have this problem: I’m not a protective glove wearer. Sure, I have plenty of gloves—gardening ones bought for me by my mother-in-law every spring, work gloves for construction projects with cute little Velcro bits at the wrist, latex gloves for messy paint-type projects, rubber gloves for dirty jobs—but I don’t wear a single pair. I start out with the best intentions, of course. I’ll actually go to the trouble of pulling them out and even, sometimes, start on a task with them on. But inevitably, my hands will sweat, or I won’t be able to get a good enough grip, or someone will demand my attention and my ungloved hands for a time, and then the gloves that I had on, with the best intentions, end up unceremoniously in some heap that ends up being left in the rain, or kicked under a dresser, never to be seen (or worn!) again. I am one of those who mark how hard they have worked by how beat up their hands are, how much dirt is caked under their nails and ground into their skin, and how long it takes for those long ugly splinters to naturally eject themselves from fingertips and that soft part of the thumb.
I knew when I harvested the borage that those little, seemingly innocuous prickles were pokey. I had carefully cut the stalks, then laid them out to dry a bit in the shade before separating the leaves from the stalk and tossing them in the dehydrator. When they were dry, I began crumbling them, without gloves on, of course, into my mason jar. I thought to myself, hmmm, dehydrating must soften the prickles or maybe they dry right off becaue this doesn’t poke at all. It was somewhere in the middle of this thought, my little pain receptors sparked to life and were like, hello, these pokey things are like totally stinging your hands! And then they really started screaming at me with this panicked itchy-itchy-oh-my-what-was-I-thinking-not wearing gloves this really hurts thought. I held my hands up to get a better look. They were covered with those tiny white boarge prickles. Literally covered. It looked like translucent hairs carpeting my palms and fingers. I would’ve taken a picture had the prickles not made every bend of finger so totally annoyingly painful. I washed my hands, then scrubbed them, then finally took a dry towel and buffed them. Hours later, I ate my lunch with a prickle lodged in my fork-holding hand. Stupid errant prickle. Take what you want from the story, but my advice to you when handling borage—wear gloves.
But I digress: Besides being a green porcupine posing as salad fodder, borage has many medicinal benefits. I could expound, but I won’t. Just Google it. Google is your friend. You will most definitely find a million recipes for tonics, tinctures and the like, as well as about a million healing benefits of borage. For me, I specifically cultivate it for its anti-inflammatory properties. I infuse the leaves, seeds, and flowers in oil, then use the oil as a part of my daily face wash, in my face creams, salves, and in my soap recipes.
Check out how to do it here!