You may remember that The Portugal news and João Marreiros (the man behind the Loki restaurant in Portimão) were attempting to bring you a monthly series we call 'Foraging with Loki'. Having grown up in Monchique and learned all about the local flora, João now regularly supplements his menu with what he finds and this makes him just the man to let us in on a few secrets about what's going on ‘on the ground’ in the Algarve.
Now, after a long hot summers hiatus, where João has been very busy at his restaurant, but also, let's face it, the rather dry landscape has meant it’s been pretty slim pickings for any would-be foragers, we are back. Just in time, as with winter closing in, the familiar faces of all the many wild, wonderful and even useful plants will soon start sprouting up all over the place.
I should perhaps remind you at this point that this isn’t a guide to picking them (as you should only do that if you really know what you are doing) but hopefully it will give you a little more insight into what's growing and give you a reason to be more curious and to remember to look down.
This time João has chosen Borage (Borago officinalis L.). Borage is from the Boraginaceae family and can be found growing mainly in south and west Europe and the Mediterranean region. Although this plant could use one or two more showers before it really gets going here in the Algarve, it should start to appear in November with its lovely light blue flowers being a main staple feature well into spring.
Borage is famous for giving courage (even to the least adventurous) and João says he’s been dreaming of its arrival as it has always been a huge inspiration to him at his restaurant. The pretty blue flowers are always a fantastic way to 'dress up' a plate and as such, he’s happy to say that it has been used in haute cuisine a lot in Portugal.
But it's not just the flowers that can be used to decorate dishes and add flavour, the leaves can be used in salads (although only the tender ones), soups, stews, etc. The roots after being well cleaned and processed can be used like any other tuber.
The plant not only provides wonderful decoration but also has a great flavour, which João says reminds him of cucumbers and oysters.
It even has medical uses. Borage is anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and anti-sweating. It's also good for cholesterol and your skin. And in cosmetics, the oil from its seeds are used in anti-aging treatment.
But be warned, flowers and leaves should not be consumed during pregnancy due to the content of pyrrolizdemic alkaloids.