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 Roman soldiers believed borage (shown in detail above) brought them courage in battle
 Borage has varied culinary and medicinal properties. The flowers are edible and add colour to salads and summery drinks, whilst the leaves can be cooked like spinach or eaten raw. Purifying borage tea can cleanse the blood and is beneficial to kidneys, whilst a borage poultice can reduce swelling.
It seems that the Roman soldiers were on to something, as the chemicals in borage are known to act on the adrenal glands, eliciting euphoria as well as bravery. There is even an old wives' tale which claims that if a woman slips borage into a man's drink, it will give him the courage to propose. Careful, ladies!
These days, the crop is grown commercially for its seed from which the oil is harvested. Borage is the plant with the highest source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), widely used in pharmaceutical and beauty products. Marketed to the consumer as Star Flower, GLA from borage oil is beneficial for skin conditions, brittle nails and hair, for arthritis, asthma, auto-immune disorders and premenstrual tension. It is an anti-inflammatory, can be used to stimulate breast milk production and, as we've learned, is an adrenal gland tonic.
Sam Slater, who farms with his family at Windolphs, Stansfield, (south of Bury St Edmunds) is growing 45 hectares of borage this year. “It has a strong and sustainable environmental profile,” explains Sam. “It doesn't fall foul to slugs, pigeons, deer or rabbits, and we don't have to apply insecticide, so it's an easy crop to manage. Best of all, it attracts a huge number of pollinators.”
Borage, also known as bee bush or bee bread, attracts various pollinators including native wild bees, bumblebees and honey bees. Windolphs Farm invites local bee- keepers to site their hives next to the crop to aid pollination. “Bees and beekeepers love borage,” says Sam. “It fills a gap in their year when oil seed rape and other crops have finished flowering, and it produces amazingly sweet, clear honey which is much sought-after. Our borage crop and the bees enjoy
an important symbiosis.”
Growing borage commercially is
not without risk, however. A productive crop needs the perfect alchemy of moisture and warmth in its seed bed when the crop is planted in early May. It starts to flower in late June and is harvested in late July. “We use contractors,” says Sam, “to come and swath the crop, (this is where the crop is cut to fall in rows on the ground), and there it will lie for about two weeks if the weather is good, or anything up to six weeks if we’re unlucky. We then use a specialist ‘pick-up’ header on the front of our combine to harvest the seed.” Sam goes on to explain that, since borage flowers ‘indeterminately’, the trickiest part of growing borage is picking the perfect moment to swath the crop, to secure the peak amount of seed.
As any gardener will tell you, this annual plant masquerades as a perennial by self-seeding and colonising a corner of your garden before you know it.
But since this is such a beautiful, functional and environmentally friendly plant, I think that's possibly a good thing.
  Other plants/crops to spot in Suffolk
You may have noticed more crop variety growing in the fields over the past few years. It’s down to ‘ The Three Crop Rule’. It was introduced with a raft of 'greening' measures by Brussels in 2015 and enforced by The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), to encourage farmers who manage over 30 hectares of land, to grow at least three different crops.
The legislation had the intention to discourage mono-cultures and encourage stronger environmental credentials and biodiversity, but in March, Defra relaxed the rule for 2020, acknowledging that it was not practical in light of the extreme weather conditions the UK suffered last autumn and winter. Nevertheless, walk around our West Suffolk countryside this summer and the three cereal crops you are likely to see will be barley, wheat and oats.
Many farmers could not get on the land to drill autumn barley or wheat at the end of last year, but in a normal year autumn sown barley (winter barley as it is known) is grown for animal feed (cattle, pigs and poultry) and for malting (although this is a reducing sector). Spring barley is mostly used for malting or destined for Scotland's whisky distilleries. It is expected that the closure of pubs and restaurants throughout the Coronavirus pandemic had an impact on the market and farmers' decisions to include barley in their spring cropping plans. Spring barley is often considered a convenient crop which is useful for blackgrass control.
East Anglia is known as Britain's breadbasket since the soil, climate and topography are ideal for growing wheat. Winter wheat (wheat sown before Christmas) is usually used for animal feed and spring wheat, depending on its protein level, will mostly be sold as milling wheat for flour, or for processed foods (cakes / biscuits). Oats
Oats are now the third largest cereal crop grown in the UK. Demand for the grain – which usually ends up in breakfast cereal and biscuits – is currently enjoying a year on year increase. It is considered easy to grow as it will thrive in marginal soil and grow well through compaction zones. Caroline Fardell

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