Bee Plant of the Month - August 2020
Reach for the Stars!
When it comes to choosing bee-friendly plants, borage (Borago officinalis) doesn’t readily trip off the tongue. But believe me, if there’s one flower that bees will make a bee-line for in order to lap up the nectar, it’s borage. Apparently, borage nectaries can be replenished in a matter of minutes – an amazing feat of nature – so bees can more-or-less be guaranteed a feed whenever they visit.
As for pollen, honeybees automatically distribute any loose pollen when they visit the flower to collect nectar. Bumblebees, however, can ‘buzz-pollinate’ the flowers. This is when the bee produces strong vibrations from their flight muscles which they direct on to the anther of the flower - this results in the anthers releasing a cloud of pollen that the bee harvests. Clever, eh?
Borage - also known as starflower, because of the shape of the blossom - is an annual herb, native to the Mediterranean which, it’s thought, was introduced to Britain by the Romans. If it has the right conditions, namely well-drained, but not acid soil, in a sunny spot (although it can cope with dappled shade), it can grow up to a metre high – Gerard in his 16th century herbal tells us it will grow 2 cubits high (about 90cm). If it’s happy, it will also self-seed at an alarming rate, which is lovely in the right spot, but given free rein, it can become a nuisance.
Are there any other reasons to grow borage, apart from it being good for bees? Well, it’s useful elsewhere, too: the star-shaped, blue (although you can get a variety that produces white) flowers also add a splash of colour to a salad and are de rigeur in a Pimms! If you make your own cakes, the crystallized flowers look so pretty as a decoration, especially on individual cupcakes. The young, tender leaves – which taste like cucumber – make a lovely addition to a summer salad: don’t worry about the tiny hairs on the leaves – they will dissolve.
And borage goes really well with courgettes – here’s an easy recipe. The cucumber-y essence of the borage complements the subtle (some might say bland) flavour of the courgettes beautifully.
This recipe calls for really small courgettes - the smaller the better - not the ‘baby marrows’ that are sometimes passed off as courgettes.
500 g courgettes
A glug of olive oil
Handful of young borage leaves, chopped
150 ml double cream or crème fraîche
Squeeze of lime juice
A dozen or so borage flowers
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice the courgettes diagonally into 1 cm chunks. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the courgettes gently, without browning, until they are just tender – don’t overcook them. Add the borage leaves and double cream or crème fraîche and heat through. Stir in the squeeze of lime juice and salt and pepper.
Serve warm with the borage flowers sprinkled over the top – yummy.
Borage is also useful from a commercial point of view, too, since the oil in the seeds contain a remarkably high natural source of GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid). GLA has been shown to help with various medical conditions ranging from eczema to multiple sclerosis and there is even talk of using borage oil powder as a non-dairy creamer, so farmers grow acres of borage at a time.
This in turn accounts for the fact that you can have borage honey. If hives are distributed among the borage crop the beekeeper can be certain that the nectar is from borage and little else.
If you are keen to try borage honey – or another designated flower honey – the best source I have found is The British Honey Company. Click here to have a look at their website.
I shall leave this post with a reminder about the give-away!
To mark my golden blog anniversary (on 29th July), I thought I would give away a pair of Burgon and Ball Flower and Fruit Snips. (Ok, they’re not exactly golden, but they’re worth their weight in gold in the garden!) All you have to do is join my mailing list by the 31st August 2020 – just fill in the panel at the bottom of the page – and a name will be picked at random on 1st September. If you have already joined my mailing list, your name will be automatically entered into the draw – you do not need to sign up again.
Please note: this give-away is not sponsored.