The Courage to Cook with Borage

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A close up of borage flowers
Photo by Shutterstock

Not everyone knows that the borage plant is edible. So are borage flowers.

Most people barely even know what borage is, let alone what you might do to highlight its flavor. Borage arrived in my garden years ago when I planted it not to eat, but as a bee attractant: The more bees in your garden, the better they pollinate its other plants.

Once you plant borage, like purslane, you have it forever unless you nuke your garden. It so readily seeds itself I get volunteers sprouting all year long; sometimes those seedlings get, well, a little aggressive.

Then it was time to prep that bed to plant a round of summer cannellini beans. I pulled everything — including the borage plants — turned the soil and added lots of compost. I planted my beans, watered, and waited. What came up? Borage. Lots and lots of borage. No beans. Grrrr… Then I got zen about it and thought that if life has given me borage, I ought to make borage-ade. Or something. And as borage seedlings are not nearly as prickly and spiny as an older borage plant, this was the time to use as many of them as I could.

Well just what do you do with 100 pounds of borage seedlings? Frankly, you compost most of them. But borage, especially young borage, has a crunchy, cooling flavor that can best be described as herbal cucumber.

Borage plays well with fish, and indeed, every now and again I get a faint fishy aroma coming from this plant. Holly can’t detect it, so maybe it’s just that I’ve smelled too many fresh fish over the years; many species, especially smelt, smell like cucumbers.

Salads were the obvious choice. Beyond that, I looked around my cookbook collection and came up nearly empty. Yes, Euell Gibbons has some excellent ideas in his Stalking The Wild Asparagus: Borage drinks, borage jelly, etc. But Euell likes jellies with his meat, a la lamb with mint jelly. I don’t, and I eat jellies and jams rarely. And borage juice requires a juicer — doing it with a food processor means you need to press everything through a sieve, which is a big pain in the ass.

I found a few hippy-dippy recipes for borage that looked too mystical for me.

At a loss, I decided to make one of my green soups. Long-time readers of this space know I really, really like bright green sauces and soups. So why not a borage soup?

Borage being an herb, I figured I needed something to add body. A russet potato worked fine. A little veggie stock and a smidge of duck fat added to a heap of blanched borage (borage only needs about 30 seconds in salted boiling water to blanch, by the way), and, after sufficient buzzing, I had a nice green soup.

I like this soup. It is filling, savory, a little herby, and you get just enough of the cucumber-y flavor of borage to make this soup cooling, even served hot. I ate it hot, at room temperature and cold, and I preferred it at room temperature. (Here is the full recipe.) But still… While it was a good soup, it did not scream BORAGE to me.

Ligurian Pansotti, a triangular ravioli filled with borage and ricotta cheese, was another good choice. Borage stands in for the more common spinach.

borage plant flower with a bee
Photo by Shutterstock

This rocks. It’s just a variation on that classic ravioli filling we all know and love. Only here you definitely get that cucumber taste, making the filling light as air. A dash of nutmeg helps a lot, too. Making ravioli can be fiddly, but it’s worth it, as these ravioli are pretty cool-looking. (Full ravioli recipe here.)

So now we have salad, a soup and a pasta course. I definitely had this Iron Chef Battle Borage thing going on. Time for a main course. Borage goes well with fish, and as I’ve been reading Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, I had chimichurri on the mind. So yeah, I made borage chimichurri.

It’s definitely good stuff, and definitely a sauce I’d use with fish, pheasants, quail or chicken. Turkey would be pretty good with it, too. Not so sure I’d do borage with red meat, though. The chimichurri is cooling from the borage and cutting from the vinegar, with a hit of raw garlic and a base note from fresh oregano.

All it needed was some grilled chinook salmon. Borage chimichurri is both pretty to look at on the salmon, and a good balance to its richness.

Salmon with borage chimichurri
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Main course down. Dessert? Nope. Didn’t go there. Not sure a borage ice cream or sorbet would be good, although a savory borage sorbet would be a good palate cleanser between courses, I suspect.

What was the point of all this? Well, those damn seedlings choked out all my beans, so I felt I needed to exact a measure of revenge against the interlopers. Besides, I may never get such a flush of borage seedlings again, and I wanted to make hay while the sun shined, so to speak.

But it’s really an issue of getting to know an ingredient — really getting to know it — that made this so much fun. Sure borage is obscure. But it’s easy to grow and I’m glad to have it around. Now I know what I can do with it.

I also know I did not come near to exhausting borage’s uses. Anyone out there have any others? I’m all ears, as there will always be more borage lurking somewhere in my garden.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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73 Comments

  1. AS long as we are on the subject of borage nutrition, check out this from the Wikipedia article on Borage:

    Traditionally borage was cultivated for culinary and medicinal uses, although today commercial cultivation is mainly as an oilseed. The seed oil is desired as source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA, 18:3, cis 6,9,12-octadecatrienoic acid), for which borage is the highest known plant-based source (17-28%).[4] The seed oil content is between 26-38% and in addition to GLA contains the fatty acids palmitic acid (10-11%), stearic acid (3.5-4.5%), oleic acid (16-20%), linoleic acid (35-38%), eicosenoic acid (3.5-5.5%), erucic acid (1.5-3.5%), and nervonic acid (1.5%). The oil is often marketed as “starflower oil” or “borage oil” for uses as a GLA supplement, although healthy adults will typically produce ample GLA through dietary linoleic acid.

  2. Borage is loaded with potassium, and potassium helps to keep blood pressure down. The only veggie I have found with more is spinach, but borage is real close.

  3. And I always thought that Borage was the nerdy boy who sat in the front of the classroom! I have a rogue plant thats popped up and is strangling the madumbis out of some coriander in a pot …. get thee behind me borage! I reckon some filled pasta pockets … borage, ricotta and an egg yolk … ! Favoloso article!

  4. I have monster Borage in my garden-the plants have grown to 5-6′ keeping pace with my monster tomato plants. I’m so happy to have found all these wonderful uses for it! I’ve been wondering what to do with it (other than composting it). I can’t wait to try them!!!

  5. Greetings from Japan…
    Very informative and entertaining post… borage grows so well and is all over in my garden, and like you, I was trying to think what I can do with them… thank you for your write-out and the many suggestions… now, if I can only get my missus to try out some of your recipes… have a good day…

  6. I have been using borage instead of spinach to make home made green pasta for “Lasagne verde alla Ferrarese” Unusual taste, and much better than store bought tasteless green pasta.

  7. thanks for some interesting reading – I’m going to try a borage’n’ricotta falone – basicallly a pasty from here in Sabina, italy

  8. i just made borage and blueberry lemon custard ice cream. it was delish!

    when i scalded the milk i added the borage then strained. then just did a regular custard base adding a bit of lemon juice and zest…be careful not to curdle the milk and eggs. only use yolk if using lemon juice.

    next time i will experiment with using more flowers maybe candy them… but i only had enough for garnish.

  9. I once bought a little bunch of borage stems with their pretty blue flowers at the market, and was told you could steep them to make a medicinal, sudorific (=sweat-inducing) beverage. I’m not sure what ailment calls for such a cure, but there you are. 🙂

  10. Fascinating! I’ve had the same problem here in western wisconsin with borage. It almost grows like a weed, even in our lawn (that I wish we didn’t have anyway)! Maybe I’ll try some of your recipes once we get a billion seedlings again.

    By the way, I recently found this blog and I love reading it. My blog is pretty new and I just now am making an effort to advertise it– anyway — you’re on my blogroll.

  11. I am familiar with Borage Oil but didn’t realize the greens are edible. I’ll have to seek some out and try a few of the above ideas. Or, how about a Savory Borage Souffle or Borage Flan? The Borage Chimichurri is a definite must try!

  12. fritters: fry like sage leaves. Just a tempura batter (or flour & water which is what I do), coat the leaves. Slide in hot oil. Remove as soon as the batter is golden (does not take long), salt if desired. Serve hot. Sage fritters done this are quite addictive, and the flavor of sage really comes through. Chances are, it’d work with borage. If I had some, I’d try, but borage is not one of my gardening success. Sage is.

  13. Robbing Peter: Yeah, I also thought of borage when I say Colicchio say that. I awlays let some plants go to seed — just not 500!

    Ryan: Borage was in the original Pimm’s Cup. How it was used has never been clear to me.

    Adele: Borage syrup is in Euell Gibbons’ book. Haven’t gone there yet…
    Sylvie: An omelet would be good, but I think borage would be too delicate for fritters.

  14. Wow. I’m impressed.

    I imagine you could make borage syrup to put in drinks… borage lemonade, perhaps?

  15. – Omelette (lots, finely shredded, don’t forget some cheese. It goes into the eggs, not a stuffing)
    – fritters
    – use the leaves to wrap dolmas, instead of grape leaves
    – gratin with a little cream, sauteed onion and fresh bread cream

    chimichurri, though, that’s a mighty idea!

    (and borage does not grow easily for me, I can tell you that)

  16. The flowers are beautiful. They’re great sprinkled in a salad. They would be pretty garnishing an ice cream or an ice. (I know you were dealing with seedlings, but I had to mention.)

  17. Borage was a common herb grown throughout the Middle Ages, and there are quite a few Medieval recipes that call for it’s use. But primarily it was grown for it’s flowers.

    When I watched Top Chef and heard Collicho say that there are no truly blue food I was all, like, you are so wrong. With the Medieval obsession with coloring and disguising foods, borage was essential as a blue colorant. It is totally edible and will dye things a bright blue color.

    Now, this necessitates that you allow more borage to come to flower – but I guess you could pick it before it goes to seed. 😉

  18. I’ve only ever eaten the flowers, and i just ripped out my full grown plant so it would quit choking out my thai basil.

    I imagine I’ll have more to work with soon, if my seeds have sown:)