Borage





(Borago officinalis, Linn.), a coarse, hardy, annual herb of

the natural order Boraginaceae. 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 plant.



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

very limited.



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."



--George MacDonald

"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

years.



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 1/2 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.





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