My first adventure into growing borage took place when I was trying every herb I’d never grown, and here was borage, a fast-growing annual that bloomed blue. True to its reputation, Borago officinalis was as easy to grow as a bean, and its starry blue flowers were a beautiful presence in the garden, much visited by bees. I never developed a taste for the hairy young leaves beyond steeping them in hot water to make a cooling cold drink with cucumber kick, but then no plant has everything.
Growing Borage as a Companion Plant
In search of excuses to grow more borage, I began looking into its usefulness as a companion plant. There is much talk of growing borage as a companion plant for tomatoes, cabbage, strawberries and squash, associated with a reduction in leaf-eating caterpillars such as tomato hornworms and cabbage worms. But borage is a big, broad-leafed plant that will bully out smaller competitors, so it’s actually a poor companion plant based on spatial characteristics. Something else had to be happening.
I found a partial answer by growing borage at opposite edges of a cucumber bed. In my climate, cucumbers are often bothered by yellow-and-black cucumber beetles, which spread diseases and weaken the plants. There were far fewer beetles on the cucumbers growing between the borage plants, which I think was due to the heavy traffic of big bumblebees flying back and forth over the cukes. Bumblebees have no interest in cucumber beetles, but the risk of collision with tanker bumblebees was so high that smaller insects avoided the area. That’s my theory, anyway.
Borage will bloom for many weeks if the older flowers are trimmed off, and you can often push tattered plants to make a comeback by pruning them back halfway in midsummer. Healthy borage plants shed numerous black seeds, so expect to see volunteers for two years after growing borage. Self-sown borage seedlings are easy to dig and move, or you can pull and compost the ones you don’t want.
Medicinal Uses for Borage Seed Oil
Borage has a long been used medicinally for numerous ailments, but in recent years two specific uses have emerged for borage seed oil, which is pressed from ground borage seeds with the help of added enzymes. Taken internally as capsules or rubbed onto troubled skin in creams, borage seed oil can work wonders for persistent itchy skin. Some studies suggest that borage seed oil can reduce inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis, too.
A review of studies on the use of borage seed oil to treat persistent dermatitis was inconclusive, in that some people saw results while others did not. But it was established that taking a borage seed oil capsule twice a day is quite safe provided you are not taking prescription blood thinners, and borage seed oil delivers three times the gamma-linolenic acid of primrose oil. It is possible that some people with chronic skin problems may have a glitch in their body’s ability to mobilize this hormone-like nutrient, which can be naturally supplied from the seeds of a beautiful, bee-pleasing garden plant.