Borage (Borago Officinalis) Identification

Borage / Spring / Summer / Edible

Borage (Borago Officinalis) Identification

A common annual, flowering plant. The leaves, stems  and flowers are all edible.


Common Names

Borage, Star Flower, Herb of Courage.


Botanical Name

Borago Officinalis


Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Boraginales

Family – Boraginaceae


Physical Characteristics for Borage

Leaves

When mature the leaves are alternate, hairy and oval. They are typically 5-15cm long.

Lies Van Rompaey, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Flowers

The beautiful flowers are normally blue but some pink examples can be found in the wild. They have five petals and are quite narrow. The flowering season tends to be quite long anywhere from June to September or even longer in milder parts of the UK.

The main thing people confuse borage with is something called green alkanet (also edible) but the flowers are the easiest place to tell the difference, Borage as point tips at the end of each petal where as green alkanet has a round end without the sharp tip.

Fabrizio Tampieri, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Stem

The stem is round and full with hairs all over that feel a bit fury, it’s quite succulent inside and if squeezed exudes and very sticky juice.


Habitat

Borage does grow in the wild but more often it’s seen as a planted species. It readily self-seeds so it will often reappear in the same locations each year.


Known Hazards

Care should be taken when using borage seed oil, as it contains a small number of unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids (UPAs) which are hepatotoxic, i.e. they cause liver damage.

Ysabel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Could be Confused with…

Green Alkanet and Foxglove but both of these plants have quite different flowers, so confusion would only come at the season when the flowers are not present. We always advise waiting for this plant to go in to flower at your local patch before being 100% confident on identification your first time around.


Edible Uses

The taste of borage is quite similar to cucumber and the young leaves can be added to salads or used as a garnish. They can also be cooked like spinach.

Sometimes I’ll add a stem in to my G&T or summer sangria as if it with a stick of cucumber.

The flowers are a great addition to salads or they can be frozen in ice cubes and added to cocktails.

Borage is a rich source of vitamins A and C and minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium.


Notes on Herbal Uses

Borage was used in the past to treat gastrointestinal, respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.


Extra notes from the Foragers

The common name ‘herb of courage’ derives from its use as a natural calming agent. Celtic warriors consumed wine flavoured with borage before battle to settle nervous energy.

There is an old Latin verse that reads “I, Borage, always bring delight or courage.”

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