The star-shaped blue flower called borage, or starflower, may not look like a war hero, but it’s probably created more than a few of them. To rouse their soldiers’ spirits before battle, Roman military leaders were said to give their troops wine infused with borage, to give them courage; the plant was also used in ancient times for fighting off sorrow or as a general tonic capable of triggering positive thoughts.
Its scientific name is Borago officinalis, but in Greece it’s known by a number of names: “borantza,” “arbeta” and even “aggouritsa,” or “small cucumber,” in tribute to its fresh crisp taste.
If you’ve eaten at any of the fine-dining restaurants in Athens or elsewhere in Europe in recent years, you probably spotted borage somewhere on your dish as garnish, although whether you tasted it or simply pushed it to the edge of your plate is another story. The plant’s lilac-blue flowers have become an elegant obsession for leading chefs, who use these beautiful edible blossoms for decoration. The borage plant grows naturally in Greece and other Mediterranean countries, but over the last few decades it’s been cultivated all around the world, precisely because of restaurant demand, a need which its long flowering period serves well.
The stalks, too, are edible, and in the past were used in traditional savory Greek pies. Their small furry thorns can be easily removed before cooking, after which they require no more than two or three minutes of sautéing before they’re ready to spruce up a spring salad with the fresh “cucumber” taste that characterizes the plant’s leaves and flowers, too. The seeds of the plant are valuable as well; the pharmaceutical industry uses them to produce an oil rich in linoleic acid, a fatty acid essential to human health.
If you want to grow borage on your balcony or window sill, keep in mind that this plant requires a lot of water and sunlight. Borage is a self-seeding plant, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you soon see new plants growing in a nearby window box, or even in the neighbor’s flower bed.