Notes from Herb Heaven



"Borage for courage" they used to say in olden days as soldiers munched on the leaves and starry blue flowers, marching off to war. A quaint picture. "Old wives tales" you may think, but modern research confirms its stress-relieving properties, the way it stimulates the adrenal glands and adrenal cortex and the presence of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C, calcium and potassium. Apart from giving us that "fight or flight" energy, it also helps to build the immune system and is thought to have an uplifting, refreshing, relaxing and soothing effect, not only on jaded nerves and depression, but also on a body infected with coughs, sore throats, laryngitis, chest infections, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), menstrual irregularities and more. Borage has myriad medicinal uses and can be made into teas, tinctures, juices, lotions, gargles, washes and poultices as well, which are used for eczema, ringworm, arthritic joints and gout. Cotton cleansing pads, soaked in a cool lotion of borage water, will soothe tired eyes and the seeds are given to nursing mothers to promote lactation.

Borage grows easily and seeds itself readily. Although it likes aerated, richly composted soil, it also copes with a dry, poor soil, clay or sandy. It likes full sun but tolerates partial shade and can grow to a metre high. It takes up a fair bit of space, so plant out the seedlings about a metre apart. Because borage has a long taproot it is best to plant the seedlings when very young. Stake them for wind damage as they grow. As a companion plant they are good with strawberries and can also help to control tomato worm when planted near tomatoes.

Its culinary uses are well noted by many. The pretty blue flowers can be added to punches and salads and look beautiful crystallised for cakes and puddings. They can also be frozen in ice-cubes and added to sangria or iced tea. The leaves are somewhat hairy and only the youngest can be added to salads, although it can be cooked with cabbage and spinach, in soups and stews or chopped fine and added to cream cheese and sandwiches. The leaves dipped in batter and fried in olive oil and butter would make an interesting fritter. When bruised, the leaves smell somewhat like cucumber and the diluted juice made with spring water is a refreshing and uplifting tonic. A quarter cup of leaves steeped for five minutes in boiling water, strained and drunk with a little honey if liked, makes a relaxing bedtime drink. The flowers also look beautiful added to floral arrangements or used to garnish a plate.

So, pick a bunch of borage and munch on those leaves and starry blue flowers as you march off to the war that is our fast-moving world today.

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