Friday, August 24, 2012

The Salad of Underutilised Greens (Borage Flower, Salad Burnet and Mallow)


Winter is drawing to a close and things are fairly quiet in the garden – and yet we have stars in our eyes. Small, blue, velvety stars: they are, of course, borage flowers.

Borage self-seeds around my garden; there is always some on the go. At the end of winter, the plants go to seed, erupting in grey hairy fireworks. At the end of each stem is a spray of blue stars; and the stars are alive with honeybees.

I don’t see borage much, except in my garden; and I don’t know why it is so underused. It is attractive, whether in its young green structural phase or its grey and shabby flowering, and all parts are good eating. Perhaps it does not transport well; thus it is a special delight for the home gardener. Perhaps, too, the name ‘borage’ is too earthy, and lands with too much of a thump? It certainly has none of the grace of ‘angelica’ or ‘fritillary’, whose names roll off the tongue. The leaves are strong, thick and hairy; they can hold the name – but the flowers need another, a name which evokes shooting stars, the morning sky the other side of dawn, the colour of my husband’s eyes.

At winter’s end, after too many long grey days, I recommend borage. It is a mediaeval cure for melancholy and will give a girl courage. Eat the leaves lightly steamed or Indian style. Float the flowers in a cup of white wine and let yourself be enchanted.

To pick the flowers, grasp a petal and gently tug; the whole flower will pop right off the plant. Gather a small bowlful and serve within an hour, before the blossoms wilt. Like the leaves, the flowers impart the mildest whiff of cucumber; and their whimsy charms all diners, whether apian, romantic, or childlike.

I like to sprinkle borage flowers over salad. I serve them with another underutilised green, salad burnet, a perennial which grows in winter shade; we have it as a groundcover under a large pear tree where it spreads quickly. I also use microgreens allowed to grow two inches tall: Siberian kale, beet leaves, mizuna and little lettuces; baby rocket leaves; and baby mallow. Tossed gently in a bowl with local lemon juice, a little Victorian flake salt, and some olive oil from the Grampians this is food which needs no recipe and gladdens the heart: it is simple, sustainable, perfect.

Pictures show, top to bottom, The Salad of Underutilised Greens, borage in its shabby stage, and salad burnet.

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