Friday, May 27, 2011

"B" for Blue and Bees

I learned at the butterfly plant sale that you should plant in blocks of color to assist insects in nectar foraging.  As an example, bees mostly can see the color blue (and white for them shows up as a flourescent.)  If you plant a whole big area of blue, it's easier for them to see, and it's more one-stop-shopping for their nectar gathering.  I try to focus on planting plants that bloom blue and orange at my house because they are favorite colors of mine.  At the butterfly plant sale I bought a lot plants with blue blooms because it seems they are more difficult to find in my regular shopping than orange. 

My pansies that I had at the bottom of my back steps were no longer thriving, so I pulled up most of them and in their place planted Bog sage, Brazilian Verbena, Borage, and one Tennessee Coneflower (endangered.)  The coneflower will be purple, and the other 3 plants bloom blue.  The Bog Sage and the Brazilian Verbena will reseed and spread, and at maturity they can easily be 3 feet tall.  Admittedly this is a risky planting for me, because my dog is allergic to stings -- and I planted this right by the steps.  Probably not my wisest move... but I was following the areas that are full sun.

I've taken several photos of this new bed since I put it in, but none of the photos seem to do it justice.  Here's the best of the lot:

The three fuller looking plants in the back are the Bog Sage, then the 4 tall spindly plants are the Brazilian Verbena, the two light green plants on the right are Borage, and then the spikey looking one at the lower left is the Tennessee Coneflower.  Already since I planted this, the Borage has more than doubled in size, and two of the Brazilian Verbena have shot up and are blooming.

Remember my mystery seed butterfly beds back by my yoga platforms?  Turns out Borage was in the seed mix!  Here are two photos of it from there:

Their form is droopy -- and aren't the blossoms the most vibrant shade of blue?  The plant will reseed itself and it's a perennial, so it will come back every year!  I love that it is literally covered in blossom buds -- very promising.

Borage is one of the most photographed and often represented culinary herbs in tapestries, needle point work and ceramic painting. These countless renditions are inspired by borage's quintessential 'herby' look.

Borage has traditionally been associated with good spirits and well-being. Pliny has been quoted as saying, 'A Borage brew would eliminate a person's sadness and make the person glad to be alive'. Such was the belief in the spirit-rousing powers of Borage, it was given to crusaders before going on long journeys and to gladiators prior to blood-curdling skirmishes. In Wales Borage is known as llanwenlys, which means 'herb of gladness'.

Celtic warriors drank wine flavoured with borage to give them courage in battle, and it has always been considered it a very effective anti-depressant for the feeling of elation it induces. Wikans suggest to find courage you should tuck a borage blossom in your pocket before any stressful situation, or drink a tea or glass of wine flavoured with borage leaves. Drinking borage tea is also said to increase psychic powers.

Borage's cucumber flavor makes it a logical addition to any green salad, but be sure to cut the leaves up small enough to negate the hairiness. Add the cut up leaves to cream and cottage cheese and put into herb sandwiches with a little salt and pepper. Borage flowers floated on refreshing drinks such as fruit punch or a Pimm's look attractive and the flavor is complementary. A popular dessert and cake decoration is made by dipping Borage flowers into beaten egg whites, dusting with sugar and allowing to dry.

Leaves are used raw, stems are steamed and sautéed, much as spinach is. Stems can be used as you would celery. The star shaped flowers of borage are great as a garnish or tossed in a salad. The leaves and stems enhance poultry, fish, cheese, most vegetables, salads, pickles and salad dressings. The candied flowers are used to decorate candies and cakes. Flavors blend well with dill, mint and garlic. Because the stems and leaves are fuzzy, many chefs use them for flavoring and remove them from the dish before serving.

Chinese chefs have been known to use the leaves much as others use grape leaves: stuffed and rolled. Germans add the leaves to stews and court bullions. And in England, the gin based drink, Pimm's No.1, has borage as one of its important ingredients.

Borage's wonderful blue color creates whimsical and eye-catching garnishes and is a fanciful way to add cucumber flavor in an unexpected way. They are a tantalizing garnish on canapes, (smoked salmon is particularly nice). They are also tasty on grilled onions sprinkled with balsamic vinegar; the color combination is dramatic. Try tossing them in a salad of baby greens and edible flowers. When using borage flowers in a salad, be sure to add them on top at the last minute to avoid wilting and discoloration. Another colorful and tasty combination is shrimp and avocado, with a lemon vinaigrette and borage flowers. Candied or crystallized blossoms are also used as garnishes for cakes and pastries.

After learning all of that, I'm glad that I have it in more than one place in my garden!  It looks like it could fast become a favorite.

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