Think You Can Identify This Plant? No. 47 – November 2008

If you know the genus and species of this month’s mystery plant, you could win a free year’s subscription to Fine Gardening . Send your entry, along with your complete mailing address, by November 30, 2008 to [email protected] . The winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries.

Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

Last month’s mystery plant was Borago officinalis, commonly known as borage. Judging from the number of responses we receieved to this mystery plant, this old-fashioned herb is a favorite of gardeners all over the country and beyond. Borage is an annual grown for its fuzzy leaves and cornflower-blue blooms. A white-flowered variety is available, as well. The blooms are edible, as are young leaves, which lend a faint cucumber-like taste to summer drinks and dips. The flowers are often candied or tossed as a colorful addition to salads. The plant is easy to grow from seed and grows to 3 feet tall and wide. It prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. While borage is an annual, it will self-seed with abandon, ensuring a batch of fresh seedlings each spring. Mary-Anne Durkee of Alamo, California, was chosen at random from all correct entries to receive a free one-year subscription to Fine Gardening. Congratulations, Mary-Anne!

What eLetter subscribers have to say about Borago officinalis:

“It seeds around in the most lovely way-one of my favorite interlopers!”
-Jean Hanson, Snohomish, Washington

“Blue borage is one of my favorites to use as a garnish. Really highlights blueberries and cantaloupe, or for a great eye-catching fourth of July garnish on a fruit or vegetable salad try blue and white borage flowers and scarlet runner bean flowers-a real showstopper!”
-Nancy E. Hendrikson, Oberlin, Ohio

“I live in Northern California and this grows wild in my back yard.”
-Lorri Asbury, Eureka, California

“I LOVE THIS PLANT. I use it to beautify my serving dishes during the summer. I love that it is edible as well as beautiful. You never have just one plant because it is a vigorous self seeder….which isn’t a problem!”
-Erica Springstead, Port Townsend, Washington

“In my country we call it Bourrache. A very pretty blue flower to add to your salads! I grow it in my potager along with other edible flowers in Brittany, France. I have also added it to a prairy patch of wild flowers.”
-Helen Valès, Paris, France

“All summer long I gather the flowers to steep in white wine vinegar. It gives my vinaigrette a taste of cucumber, perfect with tuna and salmon salad!”
-Suzanne Rheaume, Vancouver, British Columbia

“One can use it in fruity drinks and salads-the flowers make great sugar candy, too!”
-Helena Spear, Pretoria, South Africa

“I wish all the bees that stay in my garden until they just have to get home before the evening is REALLY dark could vote; bees LOVE borage.”
-B.B. Barclay, Pacifica, California

“It is an ancient plant, a tea made from the leaves said to beneficial in treating depression. Supposedly, Socrates used borage to treat his chronic depression. Hemlock finally cured it.”
-Allessandra Smith, Weymouth, Massachusetts

“I haven’t seen it since I was a small child, but it was prolific in our garden, and burned itself into my memory.”
-Emily McKeon, Batesville, Virginia

“Borage is a wonderful plant, with light blue, five petaled, edible flowers that look wonderful in a salad with its cucumbered leaves. Or perhaps sugared (watered down egg whites gently painted on petals, then gently sprinkled with extra fine sugar) for decorations on cakes and other desserts. Thanks for letting others know about this old-time beauty.”
-Pat Greathead, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

“One of my favorites, and I think everyone should have it as an eye-poppin’ blue in the flower garden, veggie garden, and tucked into little spaces anywhere. It is so prolific and reliable. Thanks for this beauty….”
-Kathleen Sweet, Altadena, California

“It has a lovely cucumber-like fragrance, and what a color!”
-Mary Daley, West Kingston, Rhode Island

“I recently found it in the woods near my home. I’d never seen it in the wild before, but a little research revealed that it has naturalized in the U.S. Tastes a bit like cucumber.”
-Carol Reese, Jackson, Tennessee

“I scatter a few seeds of this every year in my herb garden, both the blue and white varieties. However, they self sow here and there so I have them other places than where I’ve planted them, too. The nice part is that they pop up at different times during the summer so I have a constant supply. The blooms are edible and are very pretty when decorating food on a dinner or dessert plate. The younger leaves, which aren’t as hairy as older ones, can be chopped and used in salads or in cream cheese for a dip. They have a light cucumber flavor.”
-Teresa C. Festa, Manakin Sabot, Virginia

“When I lived in Santa Cruz, California, I planted a borage start in my tiny vegetable garden. In a few months it had grown to at least 3 feet by 3 feet, maybe bigger! It was a monster! I remember it well! The flowers are edible and we occasionally sprinkled them in our salads.”
-Jennifer Chaffee Duisenberg, Marlborough, Connecticut

“You know it cures melancolia, don’t you? But then it cures melancholia when it is put in wine. Hmmm. Is it the wine or the borage?”
-Rev. Barbara Douglass, Concord Township, Ohio

“I use it when I make my Fruit Pizza. It’s such a fabulous edible flower. I like to use it in ice cubes for summer too!”
-Corrina Kettner, Long Island City, New York

“It has the best blue flowers. I have chickens that love it when I toss them borage flowers. They dart around to catch them. As a special treat I put a few in their nesting boxes for all the good work that they do. I’ve read that borage is a great companion plant to tomatos and can make them taste better.”
-Nancy Branstetter, Santa Rosa, California

“I planted two starts last year in a 5′ x 10′ raised bed and, by the end of summer, they had taken over half the bed! This was my introduction to a beautiful herb.”
-Joy Sims, Douglas, Wyoming

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