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Borago is a genus of herbs that belong to the Boraginoideae family and have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for over 2000 years. There are only two recognized species within the Borago genus, including Common Borage (Borago officinallis) and Creeping Borage (Borago pygmaea). Both of these species have small, star-shaped flowers and broad, egg-shaped leaves that are covered with rough hairs. Also known borage, the leaves of these plants are used to flavor dishes with a refreshing cucumber taste. Borage flowers have a sweet taste that is used to flavor regional pastries, honeys and wines.
Common Borage is native to Northern Europe, but the herb has become naturalized throughout the continent, as well as in many regions of North America. The plant is often grown in herb gardens and is commonly found growing along roadsides and around waste areas. This hardy annual grows to around 18 inches (46 cm) tall when it reaches maturity. The bright blue flowers of the plant are often candied and used to decorate cakes and pastries. Common borage leaves are typically used to flavor soups, stocks and sauces. This herb was also once added to wines by the Roman soldiers in order to promote courage during battle.
Creeping Borage is typically grown as an ornamental plant due to its attractive, sprawling habit. This species is native to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and has been naturalized throughout most of Europe and the temperate zones of North America. Also known as Slender Borage, the fragrant, pale blue flowers of this herb bloom repeatedly from the late spring through the early fall. The leaves and flowers of this Borago species have a milder flavor than Common Borage, but they are used for similar purposes in the kitchen. Creeping Borage spreads too slowly to be used as an effective ground cover. Instead, the plant can thrive in a rock garden and provides balance in flower gardens that feature many different sizes of plants.
Both species of the Borago genus have a long history of medicinal use in addition to their culinary applications. The herb is most often used by infusing the leaves in boiling water and drinking the beverage as a natural remedy for fevers and high blood pressure. A borage infusion is also used as a diuretic and to promote kidney health. Borage has anti-inflammatory properties that can be helpful in treating swellings when it is applied externally as a poultice.