Meet Herb

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.

Pimm's No. 1

  • 1 part Pimm's
  • 3 parts clear lemonade
  • slice of lemon
  • sprig of borage
  • ice cubes

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.

Preserving borage becomes a little tricky, as it's almost a succulent plant. In drying, the leaves will tend to turn black and lose their aroma. Dry them at very low temperatures in a well-ventilated room on cake racks or wire mesh. Crumble into airtight jars and store in a dark place. The flowers can be preserved in ice cube trays by covering them with water and freezing. The cubes can then be placed into plastic bags and dropped into cold drinks.

Borage Fritters

Borage leaves have a slightly cucumbery flavour that is perfect in these fritters.
  • a handful of young borage leaves or flowers
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 cups oil for frying
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar

Rinse the borage well beforehand, blot them and leave them to dry completely.

Whisk the egg whites until they stand up in stiff peaks.

Heat the oil until a piece of bread dropped into it turns golden in about 60 seconds.

Dip the borage into the flour, shake, then dip into the egg white.

Deep fry them, lifting them out with a slotted spoon onto paper towel to drain.

Sprinkle with sugar and serve warm with sour cream on the side or with a fruit salad.

  • Yields: four servings

Cottage Cheese with Borage

Store this for at least a day before using it. Serve it on thick rounds of cucumber as a canapé.
  • 1 cup small curd cottage cheese
  • 4 tbs minced borage leaves

Place the cottage cheese and borage into a blender and process till smooth. Season to taste.

Borage Flower Syrup

This syrup has a pretty pale blue tint and is delicious poured over ice cream or fruit compote. Decorate with borage flowers.
  • 1 cup fresh borage flowers
  • boiling water
  • sugar

Place the borage flowers in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to steep overnight.

The next day, strain the liquid into a pan and bring to a boil. Pour this boiling liquid over another cupful of borage flowers. Soak for 8 - 10 hours. Strain again and press all the juices out with the back of a wooden spoon.

Measure the liquid and add 1 cup of sugar for every 1 1/4 cups of water. Heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved then boil fast until thickened. Remove from heat, skim and store in bottles or jars.

Borage and Bay Potpourri

Put this into muslin bags for a sock drawer. Leave it in baskets topped with borage flowers.
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp crushed cloves
  • 2 tbs dried orris root
  • 3 drops lavender oil
  • 2 drops oil of bay
  • 1 drop rose geranium oil
  • 1 cup dried lavender flowers
  • 1 cup dried crumbled bay leaves
  • 1 cup dried lemon verbena, lemon balm or lemon thyme
  • 1/2 cup dried borage flowers
  • 1/2 cup dried chamomile flowers
  • 1 tsp shredded orange rind

Put the spices into a bowl with the orris root. Add the oils and combine thoroughly.

Mix together the dry ingredients then stir in the spice mix. Store in an airtight container for six weeks shaking from time to time. At the end of six weeks it's ready to use.

Well . . . I'm off to entertain my American visitors. Have a happy August and we'll "See you in September!!"