Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Do people really eat this herb?

There are some herbs that are best left to the appreciation of the eye and nose, to flavor the landscape rather than the table. Maybe I have yet to unlock their culinary secrets. Given the wealth of delicious, easy to grow herbs available to gardeners, I am puzzled as to why anyone would grow borage, for example, for culinary reasons.

Now, I love herbs. My herb garden is a constant source of flavor for my kitchen. Gleanings from my plants find their way into the family dinner almost daily, be it chives cut into eggs, mint leaves ripped off the stem for a quick garnish, or basil pounded into unctuous pesto. I drink my herbs as well, steeping them for tea and liqueurs, or even blending up a lemongrass-ade. But even I have my hippie-herbal-chef limits, and borage definitely crosses the line. Does anyone really eat borage? Does anyone really look forward to borage the way, say, that I do to a sprinkling of rosemary on bread, or tarragon in my sauce?

My Rodale gardening reference advises gardeners to eat borage leaves "raw, steamed or sauteed as you would spinach". On a more ominous note, M. Grieve, author of Culinary Herbs and Condiments (Dover 1971), reports that borage leaves were "formerly considered good in salads". "Formerly" I presume to mean "in a time when folks were too near starvation and scurvy to turn down anything green". The surface of the plant is thick with stiff, prickly white hairs. Though hailed as a source of delicious honey and for a "crisp cucumber flavor" (undetectable on my tastings), the hairy borage leaf is not something I would willingly eat again. It's like eating fur. Finally, as if the hairiness of the leaves were not enough, M. Grieve also writes of Borage's uses that "stems and leaves supply much saline mucilage". Shudder. The less mucilage on my plate the better.


  1. Abbie, I have a friend who grows Borage in her huge vegetable garden. She eats everything she grows so I am sure she uses this as an edible. It is a huge plant so it certainly wouldn't work in my garden.


  2. I haven't tried borage, but this year for the first time I tried steaming radish greens (hairy and prickly when raw, really delicious as cooked greens - similar to spinach.) Maybe borage leaves are good steamed? I seasoned my radish greens with sesame oil, tarragon, basil, and coriander. . . yum!

  3. this may be a future challenge for me -- I need to break out the cookware and steam up some leaves! The jury is out for me on radish greens...I still think they are a bit too chewy when I make them.