Borage (Borago officinalis, Linn.), a coarse, hardy, annual herb of
the natural order Boraginaceæ. Its popular name, derived from the
generic, is supposed by some to have come from a corruption of cor,
the heart, and ago, to affect, because of its former use as a cordial
or heart-fortifying medicine. Courage is from the same source. The
Standard Dictionary, however, points to burrago, rough, and relates it
indirectly by cross references to birrus, a thick, coarse woolen cloth
worn by the poor during the thirteenth century. The roughness of the
full-grown leaves suggests flannel. Whichever derivation be correct,
each is interesting as implying qualities, intrinsic or attributed, to
The specific name indicates its obsolete use in medicine. It is one of
the numerous plants which have shaken off the superstitions which a
credulous populace wreathed around them. Almost none but the least
enlightened people now attribute any medicinal virtues whatever to it.
The plant is said to come originally from Aleppo, but for centuries has
been considered a native of Mediterranean Europe and Africa, whence it
has become naturalized throughout the world by Europeans, who grew it
probably more for medicinal than for culinary purposes. According to
Ainslie, it was among the species listed by Peter Martyr as planted on
Isabella Island by Columbus's companions. The probability is that it was
also brought to America by the colonists during Queen Elizabeth's time.
It has been listed in American seedsmen's catalogues since 1806, but the
demand has always been small and the extent to which it is cultivated
Description.—Borage is of somewhat spreading habit, branchy, about 20
inches tall. Its oval or oblong-lanceolate leaves and other green parts
are covered with whitish, rather sharp, spreading hairs. The flowers,
generally blue, sometimes pink, violet-red, or white, are loosely
racemed at the extremities of the branches and main stems.
"The flaming rose glooms swarthy red;
The borage gleams more blue;
And low white flowers, with starry head,
Glimmer the rich dusk through."
"Songs of the Summer Night," Part III
The seeds are rather large, oblong, slightly curved, and a ridged and
streaked grayish-brown. They retain their vitality for about eight
Cultivation.—No plant is more easily grown. The seed need only be
dropped and covered in any soil, from poor to rich, and the plants will
grow like weeds, and even become such if allowed to have sway. Borage
seems, however, to prefer rather light, dry soils, waste places and
steep banks. Upon such the flavor of the flowers is declared to be
superior to that produced upon richer ground, which develops a ranker
growth of foliage.
In the garden the seeds are sown about ½ inch asunder and in rows 15
inches apart. Shortly after the plants appear they are thinned to stand
3 inches apart, the thinnings being cooked like spinach, or, if small
and delicate, they may be made into salads. Two other thinnings may be
given for similar purposes as the plants grow, so that at the final
thinning the specimens will stand about a foot asunder. Up to this time
the ground is kept open and clean by cultivation; afterwards the borage
will usually have possession.
Uses.—More popular than the use of the foliage as a potherb and a
salad is the employment of borage blossoms and the tender upper leaves,
in company or not with those of nasturtium, as a garnish or an ornament
to salads, and still more as an addition to various cooling drinks. The
best known of these beverages is cool tankard, composed of wine, water,
lemon juice, sugar and borage flowers. To this "they seem to give
additional coolness." They are often used similarly in lemonade, negus,
claret-cup and fruit juice drinks.
The plant has possibly a still more important though undeveloped use as
a bee forage. It is so easily grown and flowers so freely that it should
be popular with apiarists, especially those who own or live near waste
land, dry and stony tracts which they could sow to it. For such places
it has an advantage over the many weeds which generally dispute
possession in that it may be readily controlled by simple cultivation.
It generally can hold its own against the plant populace of such places.
Borage, Famous for "Cool Tankard"