Flowering Borage Plant Boraginaceae   -   Family


The Forget-me-not / Borage family (Boraginaceae) is ranked as Incertae sedis, meaning it is currently unplaced in any order and of uncertain rank, though currently within clade Lamiids, itself not placed except within the Core Eudicot clade Asterids. Currently the family includes six subfamilies containing about 146 genera and about 2000 species, but placement of these subfamilies is also uncertain so this may change.   Photo of Changing Forget-me-not (Myosotis discolor) by Sannse distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.


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Subfamily Boraginoideae
This is the Subfamily most familiar to folks in North America and Europe. The subfamily includes well over 100 genera, each with numerous species. While it includes a number of noteworthy medicinals, there really isn't much to eat here.


Borage   -   [Starflower; Borago officinalis]
Borage Plant with Flowers

This herb is native to the Mediterranean region, but hardy enough to grow in the British Isles. It has become naturalized in many other regions, particularly by escaping from gardens. This herb has long been grown in home gardens for its fresh leaves, which have a cucumber-like aroma and flavor. It has also been grown as a medicinal, but the main purpose of commercial cultivation today is for borage seed oil, often sold as "Starflower Oil". This oil has the highest percentage of gamma-linoleic acid of any plant oil, and is sold into the ever profitably "health conscious" market as a supplement.

Used fresh, the leaves often appear in European salads. The bright blue flowers are sweet and nontoxic, making them desirable as a color garnish, particularly for deserts. In Germany, the leaves are often used in soups, but in Frankfurt they are made into a green sauce called Grüne Soße. In Liguria, Italy, borage is often used as a filling for ravioli and pansoti. The leaves are used as a vegetable in the Navarra and Aragóne regions of Spain, boiled and sautéed with garlic. They are also popular on the island of Crete. Borage has been long used as a medicinal, particularly for PMS and menopause symptoms.   Photo by Dinkum contributed to the Public Domain.

Tuberous Comfrey   -   [Meacan dubh cnapach (Gaelic); Symphytum tuberosum]
Tuberous Comfrey Plants with Flowers

This herb is native to Europe, including the British Isles, but while common in Scotland it is not common in England and Wales. It has been extensively planted in Ireland, and to some extent in the West Coast region of North America. While the best known comfrey, Symphytum officinale, is too toxic to use except medicinally, Tuberous Comfrey is also used as an edible plant. In the spring, when the leaves are tender, they are used as a potherb. They are not eaten raw because they are hairy and toxic until cooked. The root tubers are used mainly as a non-acidic substitute for coffee, roasted until brown and brittle, then ground.   Photo by Asaspor distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Alkanet   -   [Dyer's Bugloss, Orchanet, Spanish bugloss, Languedoc bugloss; Ratan Jot (India); Alkanna tinctoria]
Alkanet Plant with Flowers

This plant, native to the Mediterranean region, has blue flowers on very hairy foliage, and a root that looks black from the outside but is blue-red on the inside. It has long been used as a dye and as a stain for wood, but also as a food coloring, particularly to color wine, other alcoholic beverages and vegetable oils (the color is soluble in alcohol and oils, but not water). In India, under the name Ratan Jot, it has been traditionally used to color some versions of Rogan Josh curry. Alkanet is currently approved as a food coloring in Australia but banned in the European Union.   Photo by Jean Tosti distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Italian Bugloss   -   [Agoglossos (Crete); Anchusa azurea]
Italian Bugloss Plants with Flowers

This herb is native to Europe, Western Asia and parts of North Africa. Elsewhere it is known as a noxious weed. On the island of Crete, tender stems are eaten steamed, boiled or fried.   Photo by Alberto Salguero Quiles distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.



Subfamily Hydrophylloideae
This is a small Subfamily of 20 genera containing about 300 species, a number of them well known decoratives. Several North American herbs of genus Hydrophyllum were of considerable interest to American Indians in past times, but are now known mainly to a few people who like to forage for wild edible plants. Placement of Hydrophylloideae has been rather unstable and is still uncertain, so it could be moved again.


Ball Headed Waterleaf   -   [Hydrophyllum capitatum]
Flowering Ball Headed Waterleaf Plant

This herbal plant is native to western North America, from British Columbia and Alberta in Canada down to central California, Utah and Colorado in the United States. It was an important food source for American Indians and early settlers. Tender shoots and leaves were cooked as greens and the fleshy roots were also cooked.   Photo by Matt Lavin distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Virginia Waterleaf   -   [Eastern Waterleaf, Shawnee Salad; Hydrophyllum virginianum   |   also Large-leaved Waterleaf; H. macrophyllum   |   also Appendaged Waterleaf; H. appendiculatum   |   also Broad-leaved Waterleaf; H. canadense]
Flowering Virginia Waterleaf Plant

These plants are native to North America from Minnesota in the Great Lakes region east to western New England and south to eastern Kansas and Virginia. They are perennial herbs that live in moist forested areas. Tender young leaves and shoots are eaten as salad greens and older leaves are cooked like spinach. The flavor is mild, but gets bitter if the leaves are too old. Young leaves may have whitish spots that look like water spots, thus the name "waterleaf".

The photo is of H. virginianum, which is very unpopular in gardens. It spreads quickly by long root runners and soon takes over everything, and is difficult to impossible to eradicate once established.   Photo by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency = Public Domain.

Yerba Santa   -   [California Yerba Santa, Mountain balm, Consumptive's weed, Bear weed; Eriodictyon californicum]
Flowering Yerba Santa Plant

This shrub is native to dry mountain slopes of Oregon and California, though there are only scattered populations in Southern California. It can grow to about 10 feet high, and has narrow leaves up to 6 inches long. The Spanish name translates to "Sacred Herb", for its medicinal properties, especially applied to a wide range of respiratory problems. It has recently come to the attention of the food and pharmaceutical industries due to four flavanones it produces. These may be useful for masking bitter tastes.

This plant encourages the spread of wild fires, having coated itself with highly flammable resins. It does this on purpose, because it quickly grows back from rhizomes deep in the ground, after competing plants have been burned off.   Photo by Breck22 contributed to the Public Domain.



European Heliotrope   -   [European Turnsole; Heliotropium europaeum of subfamily Heliotropioideae]
Flowering European Heliotrope Plant

There are over 250 species of Heliotrope, many of them native to Yemen. They are noted for being highly medicinal and/or toxic. This one, native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, is the only one that has had significant culinary use. In Europe, sap from the flowers was used as a food coloring in Medieval times, and in France into early modern times. It is no longer so used due to toxicity and easy availability of other colorings.   Photo by Michael Becker distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.


Subfamily Ehretioideae
This is a small subfamily of about 10 genera, only one of which, Ehretia, provides anything to eat. The similarity of Ehretia species in Asia, Australia, Africa and Mexico indicates the genus was well established before Gondwana broke apart into the current continents, about 140 million years ago.


Peach Bush   -   [Native Willow, Peachwood; Ehretia saligna]
Peach Bush Shrub

This shrub or small tree, growing to about 20 feet high, is native to northern Australia. It produces tiny yellow or red fruit, similar to that of Koda (see below) but in smaller clusters. The fruits are 0.16 to 0.20 inches (4 to 5 mm) diameter, and contain 2 to 4 large seeds. This doesn't leave much to eat, but the fruit was an important food for Australian aborigines, particularly in arid regions. It is not much eaten today due to difficulty in harvesting.   Photo by Mark Marathon distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Koda   -   [Koda (Australia); Ehretia acuminata]
Koda Fruit Cluster

This tree, native to East Asia, Southeast Asia, New Guinea and Australia, grows to nearly 100 feet high. It produces large clusters of tiny yellow or red fruit, 0.16 to 0.20 inches (4 to 5 mm) diameter. The fruit contains 2 to 4 large seeds, which doesn't leave much to eat, but it is edible. It is also eaten by many birds. The tree is used for building timber, furniture making and in traditional Chinese medicine, but the fruit is now only occasionally eaten.   Photo by Mark Marathon distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Anacua   -   [Knockaway, Sandpaper tree, Sugarberry; Anacua (Mexico); Ehretia anacua]
Anacua Flower clusters

This tree, native to northeastern coastal Mexico and southeastern coastal Texas, can grow to 45 feet on the floodplains, but remains shrub size on arid hillsides. It produces clusters of tiny reddish yellow fruit, usually between 0.25 and 0.32 inches (7 to 8 mm) diameter. The fruit contains 2 stones, each containing 2 seeds, but the edible flesh is sweet and juicy - also enjoyed by birds and various mammals.   Photo by Carlos Abrego distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic.



Subfamily Cordioideae
This is a small subfamily of only three genera, of which only Cordia, with 300 species in warmer regions worldwide, is really significant. Even Cordia doesn't provide much to eat.


Fragrant Manjack   -   [Snotty gobbles, Glue berry, Pink pearl, Bird lime tree, Indian cherry, Preserved Taiwan Seeds (market); Bocote (Spanish); Dela, Gunda, Lasora (Hindi); Bhokar (Marathi); Lasura (Nepal); Cummingcordia, Pobuzih, Phoa-po-chi (Taiwan); Anonang (Philippine); Thanapet (Burma); Cordia dichotoma   |   also Lasura, Assyrian Plum, Pidar, Panugeri, Naruvilli, Geduri, Spistan, Burgund dulu wanan; Cordia myxa]
Fragrant Manjack Leaves, Fruit

Fragrant Manjack is native to Pakistan, Nepal, northern India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia including Philippines, China, Ryuku Islands, Taiwan, New Guinea, northern Australia and New Caledonia. It produces small clusters of pink fruit, 1/2 to 3/4 inch diameter, containing a single large seed. Ripe, the fruit is mucilaginous (used for glue in offices), a bit insipid in flavor, very delicate and very perishable. It is usually sold unripe or pickled. C mixa is very similar to C dichotoma and used the same, but the fruit tends to be more tan than pink.   Details and Cooking.   Photo by Dinesh Valke distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Manjack   -   [Mareer; Snottygobbles, Glueberry, Narrow-leafed Bird Lime Tree; Kerosene wood (Papua New Guinea); Tou, Kou (Hawaii); Cordia subcordata]
Kou Flowers, Fruit

This tree is native to Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia including Philippines, and the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. It produces small clusters of oblong fruit, 3/4 to 1-1/8 inches long, containing one to four seeds. Ripe, the fruit is woody and unappetizing, designed to float long distances across the sea. The seeds are edible but used mainly as famine food.

The main culinary use for this tree has been in ancient Hawaii. Because the wood did not taint or flavor food is was used for bowls, utensils and large containers of 2 to 4 gallon size for fermenting and storing Poi (a paste made from cooked taro roots - the main staple of traditional Hawaiian cuisine).   Photo by Tau'olunga distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.


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