Friday, 15 October 2010

Borage, seed saving and leafy green vegetables.

Borage is a beautiful plant to grow.  It could easily have a place in a flower garden or the front yard as well as the herb patch.  Anywhere that you're going to need bees as pollinators, borage is a bonus.  It is also a good plant to start seed saving.  The flowers are lovely and can be frozen into iceblocks to cool summer drinks or sprinkled over a salad just for the decoration...

 Once fertilised, the seeds grow quite quickly and they produce up to four seeds in each flower head...
 Some time ago,  I collected these seeds (and they have appeared in a previous post.)  They are even beautiful looking seeds.
I planted these particular seeds in a small pot on the window sill so that I could keep an eye on them...

 ... and if you enlarge this first emerging baby borage plant,  you can see how the black seed coating is splitting and allowing the growing cotyledons out.

They grow quickly.... this is just a couple of days later....

... and eventually,  in about 7 days, the first real leaves are appearing...
 ... the "real" leaves have the familiar borage-style texture, and the coarse hairs that are characteristic.  I'll transplant this little plant out into the garden soon.
Borage is a good plant to begin the practice of seed saving.  Seed saving has been carried on by farmers and gardeners in the past... in fact, there was a time when it was the only way to maintain a garden or a crop.  Sellers of seed have been raising crops merely to produce the seed for sale... and in recent times, multinational companies have been patenting seeds and collecting royalties.  This loss of independence for food growers and gardeners will be a threat to food security in the long run.... but that is another story.
There are a number of good books and plenty of information about seed saving and many of them are wonderful, but there is nothing as convincing as "having a go" and getting a tiny bit of success.  Borage is a good way to begin.  Other plants that are relatively easy to grow from saved seed are silver beet and broad beans, among others.

The leaves of borage taste similar to cucumber and can be used in the same way as  other leafy green vegetables... once cooked the hairs disappear and the results are more like spinach or any other leafy vegetables.
Borage has an interesting history.
Peasant food has consisted of soups and gruels that could be drunk from a bowl or cup.  These dishes were enriched with "weeds" that were picked and included and these are still a good source of vitamins and minerals that the plants have accumulated in their leaves.
In particular,  in Europe, leaves that have been included in such dishes are borage, chicory, chard (silver beet) and nettles.  Borage has also been cooked, mixed with cheese and used as a ravioli filling.
Borage is a native of Syria, and has been used to make a kind of tea, by crushing the leaves with water and straining the juice. This tea is supposed to be a cure for melancholy...  

"In ancient times, it was believed to be a mood elevator. It was thought to lift the spirits, make men and women merry, dispel melancholy and give courage. The Celtic name borrach means courage. The Welsh name Llawenlys means herb of gladness. It originated in the Middle Ages in central and southern regions of Europe. It was widely used to flavor wine.
At their departure, Crusaders were often gifted stirrup-cups of water with floating borage flowers inside to give them courage. Dioscorides and Pliny identified it as Homer’s nepenthe or herb wine rendering him with complete forgetfulness. In times when vegetable crops were not plentiful, it was also eaten as a vegetable."  (Borage history and lore.)
And in Latin,
Ego Borago
Gaudia semper ago.
That would be, “I, borage, bring always courage.”
Who knows, perhaps a regular soup of leafy greens, from the garden, might be useful even in these modern times.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

Great post Jane, Our garden is full of speckled borage. I let it go to seed and it reappears everywhere after reading you post I shall now save some of the seed.
Most folks today no very little about herbs and their amazing healing properties.
Enjoy your garden