The botanical name is Borago officinalis, it is a perennial herbaceous plant, often cultivated as an annual, widespread in the wild in the whole Mediterranean area and in most of central Europe; the plant is now also naturalized in Asia and northern America. It produces a thick rosette of broad, wrinkled, dark green leaves; in summer between the leaves rises a fleshy, branched stem, which bears small bright blue flowers, star-shaped, very showy. The whole plant, leaves and stems, is covered with a thin white hair, which makes the whole decidedly very decorative. When the cold arrives, the plant loses all the aerial part that dries.
Borage has always been used in cooking, in most of Europe, and in Italy there are many regional borage-based dishes. This plant as well as aromatic is also medicinal, as it contains in itself a series of active principles used in herbal medicine, in homeopathy and also in conventional medicine.
Despite this, recent studies have found in the fresh plant minimal quantities of a substance that would be harmful to the liver, for this reason we do not recommend the consumption of fresh leaves and flowers; actually the real toxicity of the plant is limited to the cases in which it is used immoderately, and always fresh, since cooking, even short, completely destroys the substances toxic to humans.
Borage is traditionally used for decoctions and herbal teas, or for dishes in which the plant is consumed after cooking, and therefore its hepatotoxicity does not manifest itself in habitual consumers.
Borage is a plant, mostly spontaneous or cultivated as aromatic, which is however very decorative thanks to its star-shaped flowers colored by one of the most intense blues that can be found in the plant world.
It has always been held in high regard first of all for food uses and secondly for its ability to attract pollinating insects and therefore be of great benefit to the environment.
In general it can be considered an annual plant (or at most two years) ...
|Family and gender|
Borraginaceae, borrago officinalis
|Type of plant||Annual or biennial herbaceous, spontaneous or cultivated|
|Rusticitа||Not very rustic|
|colors||Blue or white flowers|
|Irrigation||Only in the event of prolonged drought|
|Flowering||From April to October|
|Composting||Light in the spring|
In Italy, borage is a plant typical of slightly damp uncultivated places, it does not require great cultivation care and also bears adverse cultivation conditions, enduring the drought, the summer heat, the scorching August sun. In many areas it is usual not to cultivate the plant, but to harvest it directly in nature; being a weed and easy to grow even from seed, the collection in nature has no ecological impact, and is therefore recommended for those who do not have a piece of land to cultivate; clear that in any case it is good to follow some precautions, such as avoiding to collect borage leaves from the banks of canals close to busy roads, to avoid bringing home and eating leaves completely covered with unhealthy substances. We gather the leaves remembering that if the plants we are cutting survive our passage and bring the flowers to seed, the following year we will be able to return to the same place and find our borage ready to be picked; if instead we wildly uproot the plants, or we take away all the flowers, in a short time we will erase our small natural garden, and we will have no more in the years to come.
It is cultivated in the vegetable garden or among the aromatic plants, as an annual plant, in a sunny, well-worked flowerbed, with fairly fertile soil; it is sown in spring, and the harvest takes place for many weeks, removing the basal leaves. If we wish to collect the borage for a long time, we remove the flowers before they go to seed, so that the plant continues to produce new leaves.
It is a pretty decorative plant, and therefore we can also grow it in the flowerbed of aromatic herbs in the pots on the balcony, or near the house; the color of the flowers is typical of borraginaceae, and is very showy.
It is a mostly annual plant whose height ranges from 15 to 60 cm. It is completely covered with rather sparse whitish and almost irritating to the touch hair.
The stems are thick and very branched, the alternate leaves of a medium opaque green, fleshy and slightly wavy at the edge.
Those of the base, larger and slightly petiolate, have an oval shape and are pointed at the top. The upper leaves are sessile instead. The flowers are carried by a long velvety peduncle and have the shape of a star with five pointed petals. They are usually bright blue, but there are also forms characterized by white or purple petals. As soon as they bloomed they turn pink.
The fruit is composed of three brown or blackish achenes. The plant is endowed with a highly developed tap-rooting root.
Use in the kitchen
This plant is used in many regions of Italy in typical regional dishes; in addition to this, in many regions the leaves are simply boiled, seasoned with oil and salt, in early spring, as a purifying vegetable.
The young leaves and flowers are also eaten raw, mixed with salad, or shredded to color goat cheese or ricotta; the aroma is not very incisive and is pleasing to many, even mixed with other herbs; it is not recommended for raw use, although in fact, in a salad, few leaves are used, mixed with leaves of other plants, and therefore the harmful substances they contain do not have any harmful effect.
The plant is also typically used in soups and omelettes, to which both leaves and colorful flowers are mixed; they are also the basic ingredient of the filling of pasta stuffed with lean, mixed with spinach or chard.
In Genoese pansoti and agnolotti, with ricotta, borage is a traditional ingredient.
It is also used in risottos, often mixed with spinach or even nettles.
The leaves are picked when needed, washed under running water and steamed or boiled, or chopped and cooked directly in risotto, in omelette or in soups.
Borage as a medicinal herb
There are many active ingredients contained in this plant, traditional medicine uses it for decoctions and herbal teas, which use fresh or dried leaves, against cough, as a diuretic, but also as a tonic to be used in the transition from winter to spring; borage is also used to combat stress.
This plant is also cultivated for medicinal purposes, as the oil extracted from the seeds is a valid source of gamma linoleic acid, used in herbal medicine and in medicine to combat obesity, metabolic disorders and diets. Gamma linoleic acid has functions to protect blood vessels, the heart; it is used as an anti-inflammatory, against rheumatic pains. To obtain all these benefits, the use of borage oil should be carried out only in the case of nutritional deficiencies of gamma linoleic acid, and in diets rich in other foods, such as for example pese and other fish products.
The oil of borage seeds it is also used in cosmetics, as it has positive effects against eczema, psoriasis, acne and excessively oily skin.
Origins and history
Today this plant is considered a spontaneous very widespread throughout Europe. However, research has shown that its most likely origins can be found in Syria, Egypt or in the plains of Siberia.
The ancient Greeks already used their flowers to give color and aroma to salads and wines. They called it Euforisina (that is "that makes you happy").
The plant was introduced very early in Europe, probably before the arrival of writing, but it was long forgotten and neglected. For example, it is never mentioned in the Capitolare of Villis in which all the useful plants were reviewed.
It became popular again at the time of the Crusades.
We can say that from the middle of the Middle Ages onwards it became important for its usefulness: it is an indispensable ingredient for vegetable soups and for the preparation of medicines (it was used for heart diseases).
In 1494 it is one of the first plants to be brought to the American continent to be used as a vegetable.
Even today it is part of many popular pharmacopoeias. In Italy it is still widely used in regional cuisine. In particular, it is very popular in Liguria where it is considered indispensable for the preparation of the filling of pansotti or for the Pasqualina cake. It is equally useful as an ingredient for soups or omelettes, in combination with spinach or chard.
Sowing and planting
Those who want to own borage plants can follow different paths. The simplest is to buy potted plants at a nursery. Unfortunately it is not always easy to find this plant because its use is often confined to regional habits. It may therefore happen that in some areas it is very popular and can easily be found for sale, while in others it is practically impossible to find.
In any case it is sold in pots, usually about 10-12 cm in diameter. In this case, all you have to do is extract the entire loaf of earth and place it in a hole that is at least twice as big, specially excavated. Usually the plant does not need a basic fertilization because it is rather autonomous and vigorous plants even in the presence of poor soils.
It will continue to grow and flower until at least October and November and we will then be able to take long leaves for our cooking uses. We won't even have to worry about it for years to come. It is in fact a plant that spreads very easily. In all probability, the following spring, we will find several spontaneously born specimens that we can leave where they are or move where they wish.
Sow in a container
If we fail to find a specimen in pot we can proceed with sowing, which is quite simple. We can retrieve the seeds by contacting specialized retailers or possibly online e-commerce.
Sowing is usually done in September-October in areas where winters are not particularly harsh. In the spring, therefore, some large plants will already be available.
If we live in the Center-North or in mountainous areas it is instead preferable to proceed starting from March.
In both cases it is good to sow in jars or alveolar boxes (with alveoli not too small). Place the seed on a light but rich substrate (a mixture of soil and peat) and cover it with agricultural vermiculite. The ideal temperature for germination is around 15 degrees and humidity must always be kept high. Ideal is immersion irrigation.
Germination is quite fast. Once you have reached the third leaflet, you can start trimming to make the subject better. When a good size is reached, it can be transferred directly to a dwelling or in a larger container.
The same procedure can be followed for direct sowing. We only need to pay particular attention to the working of the soil, which must become very soft and aerated, and to water interventions to encourage germination. These must be done frequently and by means of very light sprays to avoid moving the seed or seedlings.
Where to grow borage
These are vegetables that survive very well even in the spontaneous state (indeed, they often become intrusive). Therefore they do not need great attention.
The ideal substrate for their proliferation must be deep, fresh, rich in organic matter, but light, that is not too compact and clayey.
Exposure must be as much as possible sunny, but even the partial shade will not be an extreme obstacle, especially if at least four hours of direct light are available every day.
Collection of leaves
The time for harvesting the leaves for domestic use is rather short: it is around two months. This, however, should not worry us because, as we have said, it is a plant that self-disseminates very easily and has a very fast growth cycle. It is almost certain that when the first plants are exhausted we will already have new specimens available for our daily needs.
The collection of leaves can be done at any time and in the amount we need for the desired preparation.
Flowers and leaves should be used as soon as possible.
An alternative is to dry them on grids in a shady and well-ventilated room. Once the humidity has been completely eliminated, they are inserted into airtight jars to be kept cool and away from light.
If you want to speed up this process you can proceed by putting them in the oven at a very sweet temperature (around 50-60 degrees), possibly ventilated for several hours.
To harvest the seeds and use them for the production of new seedlings in the coming year you must proceed in this way:
• Let the flowers of our most beautiful plants bloom and mature
• We harvest the fruits just before they are fully ripe
• Let them dry in the shade, shell them and put them in bags, keeping them in a cool, dry and dark place until spring.
Borage is a plant much loved by gardeners because it combines many other virtues in its use in the kitchen. It is aesthetically very beautiful and has the ability to attract numerous pollinating insects, also useful for the vegetables that are grown around it.
It is also able to supply the soil with good amounts of potassium, calcium and other minerals that are indispensable for growing a vegetable garden.
It also seems to have the ability to remove nematodes, which are very harmful to crops.
In compost it is able to speed up decomposition processes.
Use in the kitchen
Borage must always be consumed cooked (except for the flowers in salads, in small quantities) because it is suspected that, raw, it can be harmful to the liver.
Some make the leaves less leathery, making them salt and then burning them.
Only water scalding is often enough to make them soft and eliminate the effect of annoying hair.
RAVIOLI DI BORRAGINE
For the pasta: 300 grams of flour, 2 whole eggs and one yolk, a teaspoon of olive oil, a dash of white wine.
For the filling: about 600 grams of borage leaves (if you want you can replace a part with chard), Mayana, nutmeg, 200 grams of sheep's milk ricotta, 1 egg white, grated Parmesan cheese and grated pecorino cheese, salt and pepper.
Make the dough and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour (better, however, all night).
Carefully clean and wash the borage leaves and possibly the chard (eliminating the coast). We put very little water in a saucepan and throw the leaves over. We close with the lid and we turn every now and again until they are completely soft. The times for the two vegetables are different so let's cook them separately.
Blend and then add them to the other ingredients, stirring carefully and tasting to test the flavor.
Spread the thin pasta and fill it with the mixture. The ravioli must be rather large.
Cook them in abundant salted water and condiamoli with noisette butter and grated cheese.