Borage – Friend or Foe?


The sun’s had his hat on this weekend. And my flowers, veggies and weeds are growing at a rate of knots. So I’m glad to see after the past week or so of cool, wet weather, that the bees are back in town.

Among the plants that are starting to resemble towering spires amongst the borders are the Borage. I’m in two minds about Borage; on the one hand, it has beautiful, dainty blue flowers, the bees can’t seem to get enough of it, and in theory, it has a lot of medicinal and culinary uses. It also fills a few spaces in my seemingly endless long borders. I’m guessing it can be used for fertiliser, in the same way as comfrey.

However, on the other hand, it spreads with the verocity of a thuggish weedy giant, is an absolute pain to rip out if you haven’t a pair of thick gloves to hand, and not matter how thoroughly you weed it out, it’ll still come back next year. It might as well blow raspberries and give you two fingers. It’s that obnoxious.

So what do you do with yours?


  1. We eat it! Seriously, I know the problem – my veg plot could easily be a borage field if I didn’t weed them out when the plants are still small. But I wasn’t joking about eating borage – the leaves are edible, but best used when young. So when the little plants are no bigger than your hand and before they get that blue/green super hairy flower head forming in the centre, pull them up, cut of the root, give them a good wash in a sieve and cook as you would spinach (steam in a covered pan with just a sprinkle of water and tiny nut of butter; stir fry with garlic and pine nuts then add a dash of cream; soup – great combined with peas). The borage leaves become really bright deep green and they have a hint of cucumber – very nice 🙂

    Leave a few plants to mature as the bees love it and you need some blue starry flowers to float in the pimms.

    Oh, and a word of warning, when pulling up the larger plants, take great care – if the sap in the stems gets on your bare skin on a very sunny day you’ll get horrendous burns. I know from experience and had the scars for years.

    Hope you have a good week

  2. That’s interesting – I didn’t know about the sap and the burns – will bear that in mind. I also have borage, grew it for the first time last year and wondered if I’d made a serious mistake when I saw how much it had spread itself around – but like you say, the bees love it so it must be worth it!

  3. Good to be warned about borage sap. I planted one in the veg patch last year and we have several self-seeded plants this year. I’m leaving them where they are not a nuisance, but would pull them up if they were in the way, just as I do with pot marigolds, which are proving prolific.

  4. Well, I tried to grow borage this year and had no luck with it at all. It is supposed to be easy to grow and easily self-seeds, but I haven’t got one borage plant, so I must have done something wrong.

  5. I have a few growing at the foot of walls around the house, I just leave them bee… (see what I did there?)

    I didn’t know the sap was an irritant, eep

  6. I agree you do have to have a bit to go with the vegetation in the Pimms ( btw have you seen the price of it lately, just renewed my stock!) and the flowers really are great for my bees. Some weeds are ok some not (I’m thinking couch grass, bindweed..)

  7. Hi there, Lucy:

    Apologies for my ramblings; but this goes far, far deeper….than just weeds-&-stuff.

    Anyway. In answer to your question….according to that great exponent of foraged food -Richard Mabey – borage was once renowned not only as a ‘pep-pill’ but even as an aphrodisiac (John Evelyn expounded that “the sprigs…cheer the hard student” – ooerr!).

    As ‘Magic Cochin’ Celia suggests, if using the leaves for fodder eat ’em when young – either as a steamed veg or in a soup (I find especially married with robust fish, as an alternative to a medieval recipe I tickle for Carp & Nettle broth – delicious).

    Please, leave the flowers for bees to browse as they LOVE the stuff: & as you know the world’s bee population is suffering, so anything we can do to help is absolutely crucial.

    And have you ever tried borage (also known as starflower) honey? It has a delicate, mild flavour & is ideal utilised as an alternative to sugar in tea or coffee (judging by its reputation it might even have the opposite effect to the notorious potassium bromide, which was allegedly put in British soldiers’ cuppas to quell their *ahem* appetites…!).

    Anyway I collect the flowers & steep them in a little water from our spring, freezing them in ice-cube trays & then using them to elegantly decorate all manner of refreshing, chilled summer drinks – they’re especially pretty in homemade cloudy lemonade…& as CottageGardenFarmer suggests, stunning in Pimms (must go & grab a bargain or several….!).

    Apparently when the fresh flowers are combined with woodruff & scattered in a fine claret, you achieve an especially palatable, thirst-quenching combination. Or so the Victorians tell us…

    But I too have been burned by that searing sap on a sunny day when armed with neither gardening gloves nor sufficient knowledge; & also still bear the scars. Sage advice from Celia, be warned – it’s seriously nasty stuff & it really, really hurts.

    I found that an infusion of lavender oil eased & healed the burns, somewhat. However, as with RAGWORT it can cause unexpectedly nasty symptoms, if not handled carefully & correctly.

    Regarding RAGWORT (which I mention in capitals as it is hideously dangerous & has absolutely NO redeeming features – yet seems to be frighteningly ignored as a cheerfully bright-yellow roadside/garden flowering weed, by most UK Councils) this is a thoroughly – nay, truly – nasty, vicious, plant; which I always studiously pull up at the root & burn, as soon as it is sizeable enough (carefully segregating it from any livestock, beforehand); but certainly prior to it ever getting a chance to come close to flowering.

    Whilst the leaves are a favourite meal for the stunningly beautiful Cinnabar Moth(itself introduced & encouraged by many nations – UK included – purely to control the spread of this vile & poisonous, prolific weed) it is an horrific killer of not only the majority of grazing animals; but also an unacknowledged murderer of humans, too….

    The World Health Organisation states there is a 74% probability of death within 18-24 months, in humans presenting with ragwort-induced jaundice. Unfortunately the majority of cases go unacknowledged; owing to the presentation of symptoms more typically associated with their similarity to more general, unspecified liver diseases.

    However please don’t be complacent: in 2002 one lady developed a clear case of severe jaundice only a few days after hand-pulling ragwort from her horses’ paddock – without wearing protective gloves.

    In 1998 over 80% of the commercially-produced British honey samples tested by DEFRA, were found to be contaminated with ragwort poison. In fact 10% of those samples contained such a high level of toxicity that apart from being potentially lethal, they were also (thankfully) inedible.

    So whilst the borage plant might prove a potentially unpleasant irritant (but at least has its uses), please bear in mind that the apparently cheerfully-benign, prolific nodding yellow clusters of ragwort flowerheads are at best a severely irritating nuisance; & at worst, a volatile & deeply dangerous killer for humans, animals & even insects, alike.

    So: PLEASE, lobby your local council to destroy these vile killers (because if smallholders/farmers can be fined heavily for having ragwort contaminating their pastures, how come our elected councils are left blithely alone, when said self-same weeds are permitted to flourish in such roadside profusion…? – take a drive through the glorious, golden Cotswolds at this time of year & you’ll know just what I mean).

    And once those ‘pretty’ yellow flowers have gone to seed there’s no stopping their ruthless spread…to the lethal detriment of us all.

    Incidentally Ragwort Honey (aside from being potentially poisonous) is also utterly unpalatable, to taste – Thank Goodness.

    If anyone reading this happens to discover this vile weed on their property; please,PLEASE get rid of it – ensuring that roots, leaves etc are completely burned owing to its prolific nature.

    You’ll be doing not only the UK’s domestic livestock & wild animal/insect populations a significant favour – you’ll also help those all-important, crucial creatures….the Pollinators.

    Bee helpful – Bee happy!!

  8. I was searching out information on Borage and found your page. I’m growing my own veg. for the first time in many years (now retired) and after having had a most beautiful restaurant soup of Borage and Cucumber, decided to grow it. It has been most successful, and a really nice home-made soup (chilled or hot) to boot. The flowers are absolute stunners too – but I was unaware of sap burns for which I’m grateful for the information.
    Best wishes ….

  9. alexander says

    I am interested in Borage as an animal feed, but haven’t been able to find any information about its suitability to this purpose. Does anybody know? You see, wikipedia mentions it contains some compounds, which are toxic to the liver. No doubt, in small quantities this is not a concern, but in the case of an animal feed regularly given to livestock (goats, cows etc) might be more significant. many thanks in advance for feedback

  10. This is the first time I have heard of Borage sap causing skin irritation. In my case I have used it to great effect today for bad nettle stings. I was told to use this by a Certified Herbalist some time ago and had cause to use it on a colleague and myself today. The effect was absolutely immediate – the sting has gone and the swelling almost gone. This will be my remedy of choice in the future. Anti-histamine creams do not appear to do anything for wasp or nettle stings ( I tried some recently) and according to the Safety Leaflet can cause an allergegic reaction.
    Best wishes

  11. Is it possible that the person who got burns has mistaken Borage for Hogweed? The sap of giant hogweed causes phytophotodermatitis in humans, resulting in blisters, long-lasting scars etc.

  12. On your borage page, is the photo supposed to be Borage? I planted some from packaged seed, and that photo is not borage….
    I have a skin problem that looks just like poison ivy, I’m suspecting working around my borage, which I’ve never grown before. Plants are huge.

  13. Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids in borage can cause liver failure and cancer according to articles I have read
    Be careful with this plant! Germany is very concerned that PAs from borage are showing up in honey
    We grow it as it is beautiful but we will not be consuming it

  14. Tipper is correct. The pictured flower is NOT Borage. Borage has a five-pointed flower whereas the one in the picture has four lobes. This is confirmed by Wikipedia and my books.

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