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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70 Comments

  1. I was interdicted to it when living in Zaragoza, Spain. It was usually served cooked with potatoes and sausage in a big heaping pile, sort of like kale or Swiss chard.

  2. We love to make a yogurt herb salad dressing which is basically an olive oil apple cider vinegrette with tons of minced fresh herbs from the garden (dill, parsley , chives or green onion and borage) combined with enough yogurt to give it a creamy consistency. Then salt and pepper to taste. It goes well with fresh lettuce or as a base for a cucumber salad.

    Cheers!

  3. Thanks for this post. I’ve never been successful with borage, so I wasn’t expecting last year’s batch to self seed! Now I have lots of ideas.love the chimmichuri idea.

  4. Planted borage for the first time and it is growing so eagerly. Nice recipes – came to the site to find out how to incorporate it into my meal cooking.

  5. Thank you I’ve learned a lot about borage today. It came up among my herbs. First time I saw it. Now I know what it is and how to use it. Thanks to everybody I will definitely trying it out.

  6. Half of my polytunnel has been taken over by borage 😉
    Another Ligurian dish where borage is used is the Torta Pasqualina – a herb, local cheese and egg pie, of which there are many variations, (spinach only, green beets, artichokes…) and there are wild herbs (like a micx of nettle. lams lettuce, borage, sea beet…) versions of it (makes a lot of sense to me as the name implies that this pie was traditionally made at Easter, a time of the year where wild herbs are at their prime, and little produce can be found in the vegetable garden) A link to a good picture of it https://lamiacucinacasalinga.forumcommunity.net/?t=22919211

  7. Great blog & great green thumb! Thanks!
    We’ve been in Nice in France and in Liguria in Italy several times and have had those wonderful borage ravioli in autumn (at the restaurant La Favorita in Apricale) with a creamy pumpkin sauce (probably just pumpkin purée, heavy cream & salt). They put it in stews & soups instead of spinach, too (had a tripe & borage stew…). Bourrache” in French, “Boragine” in Italian.

  8. In Spain they use the stems for a great variety of dishes, and the blanched leaves mostly run through a food processor and creamed

  9. The previous tenants planted borage here and I’m now awash in it – it’s taken over the entire garden. From the previous posts, I’m not sure if you can eat the older leaves even though they’re covered with prickles (most of mine are prickly). Not interested in infusions – just would like to know an easy recipe that could use the prickly leaves (i.e. saute like spinach)? Many thanks from New Zealand.

  10. Greetings from Paris. I discovered borage today and used it in a fusion salmon tartare. So as to preserve its subtle oyster flavor I kept the flavorings low key : sea salt, very good olive oil, some finely shredded sorrel and bean sprouts marinated in lime (instead of shallots which would have been too powerful). I also sprinkled it on a grilled buttered toast. With a chilled white wine, everything was perfect. The only thing is that I saw on the net that borage contains alcaloids, which when ingested in quantities (like infused..) can be harmful. PS I’ll post the picture and recipe in a week or so , you may want to have a look 🙂

  11. This is great. I finally grew a great patch of borage, and needed a recipe. Live the ideas and the authors point if view. Wil come back for future ideas

  12. borage is great in lemonade. add a few handfuls and blend with a hand blender, refrigerate over night and strain through a cheese cloth. makes a unbelievable pimm’s cup.
    also, paula wolfert has a chilled pea and borage soup recipe.

  13. I just found some Borage tea in the kitchen at work which had me wondering just what its medicinal qualities were. Your blog inspired me to try it and see how it affects blood pressure.
    Thanks!

  14. I have just arrived in Florence, Italy where borage is growing wild amongst the olive groves. A lady picked some for me (along with the sweetest wild spring onions – I think this is what they are and their smell is amazing!). She indicated the borage leaves should be coated in bread crumbs and fried, then served with rice prepared like a risotto. This is tonight’s challenge.

  15. my mother would pick the biggest leaves, divide them in pairs, put a thin slice of cheese between each pair, then soak them in beated eggs, cover them in bread crumbs and finally fry them 🙂

  16. I just googled Borage to find out what I could do with mine other than let the deer eat it – they love it – or use some in flower arrangements. Thanks for the ideas everyone!

  17. This article. *Rolls around in it*.

    I just discovered a virtual borage seedling carpet in front of my house where a single borage plant once lived. I am pleased to see that I’m not alone in having encountered this “problem” and that you have foraged ahead (excuse the pun) to find some yummy ways to use the stuff.

    Much thanks!