FR: Bourrache GER: Boretsch, Gurkenkraut IT: Borragine SP: Borraja
BOT: Borago officinalis FAM: Boraginaceae ILL: Plate 9, No. 7
Borage is said to have come from the Middle East, but today it is one of the more common wild flowers in southern Europe and can be found on chalk downs in southern England, where it was introduced by the Romans.
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The plant is an annual, three feet high and covered with coarse irritating hairs which give a hoary appearance to leaves and stem. The flowers are a beautiful Mediterranean sky-blue. Borage can be grown with ease from seed in all temperate or warm climates and prefers a welldrained calcareous soil and sun.
The blue flowers are sometimes used for decoration or are candied, but it is the leaves, with their flavour of cucumber, that are of most importance. The commonest use of borage leaves is in drinks to which they give a cooling taste of cucumber. It should always, if possible, be a part of the ‘garden’ in a Pimms. The young leaves and flowers are sometimes used in salads, but although the taste is excellent, the leaves must be chopped finely if they are to be eaten raw, as their hairy texture makes them unappetizing when whole. Borage, like cucumber, is delicious with yoghurt or in cream cheese. In parts of Italy (Liguria) – where borage grows in wild profusion – the leaves are used as a stuffing for ravioli or boiled as a spinach. They may even be fried in batter. In other parts, it is unknown.
Borage is locally on sale in markets, and it wilts almost immediately it is picked. It can be dried, they say, but this is a herb to be grown for decorative effect in a garden and used fresh during the hot summer weather.
Many relatives of borage, such as comfrey (Symphytum officinale), viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) and anchusa (Pentaglottis sempervirens) are also edible and may be used in similar ways. German cookery blogs mention a comfrey butter from Bavaria, and the roots are a flavouring for country wine. Various other related plants are known as alkanet and were used as a dye.
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