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So far in this column, I have hit on the more common herbs. With this month's entry, I'm going to start bringing out some of the lesser known ones.
So, to begin with, we introduce Borage. The word itself comes from the Celtic borrach, which means bravery, and a draught made of this herb is said to have an exhilarating effect. An infusion of borage was given to the Crusaders before they set off. Borage is also the basis of a drink called nepenthe, a wine that was reputed to bring about forgetfulness. The Queen of Egypt gave it to Helen of Troy.
Borage grows mostly in Mediterranean countries where it grows wild and is immensely popular with bees. It sports a star-shaped flower which is a brilliant blue tinged with pink. Legend has it that these are the colours of the Virgin Mary's robes.
Borage signifies contentment. The 17th century herbalist Coles said that it was "very cordiall and helpes to expell sadness and melancholy" for it was believed to revive and cheer hypochondriacs.
Use a poultice of borage to soothe swellings and sprains or an infusion for fevers or chest complaints. But you can find it most often in cool drinks. In Shakespeare's day, you would also find it added to tankards of cider, today you can find it decorating a cup of Pimm's.
Put three or four ice cubes in a glass. Pour the Pimm's over them, then the lemonade and stir. Decorate with sprigs of borage.
Yields: 1 drink
The plant itself is a hardy annual, growing 3 feet high. Plant it in a sunny spot in the garden and watch it flourish. It's not the prettiest of plants, with grey-green leaves that grow kind of lazy and untidy, but its pretty flowers more than make up for this. Remove the flowers as they fade to encourage new growth. It's much more practical to grow your own borage as it's very rarely found for sale in any form. Trimmings and stems make a great addition to your compost heap, as they are high in nitrogen.