Bee on thyme

Five herbs for bees

If you need another good reason to grow herbs then here it is. Herbs are also important food plants for bees.

You might find that a bit surprising, because most herbs are grown for their flavour filled leaves. But, if you leave a few shoots to flower many more herbs have very nectar rich flowers. Research has shown that some bees self medicate, feeding on the nectar from thyme flowers when they are suffering from disease.

Rosemary

One of my favourite herbs is rosemary. It is such a fabulous plant with really rich flavoured leaves that can be added to all sorts of menus and dishes. I like to make rosemary tea from the tips. But the flowers are simply beautiful and a great source of nectar for pollinators. Leave a few stems to flower for the bees. Once you’ve got a strong plant growing you can take cuttings to give as gifts. Use the stems as fragrant skewers on the barbecue and dry some of the leaves for winter use.

Bee on rosemary
Bee on rosemary plant. Image: Jean Vernon

Mint

One of the easiest herbs to grow is mint. In fact it is so easy that it can be quite invasive. But if you grow it in a large pot and part plunge the pot into the soil you will slow its spread. There are dozens of different types of mint and I would really recommend ypu spend some time to find one that you love. If you like mint tea then Moroccan Mint is a good choice. But whatever you grow leave a few stems to flower. The flowers are ideal for short-tongued pollinators like hoverflies and some of the short-tongued bees.

Sage

Many gardeners grow all sorts of ornamental sage plants for their fabulous flowers, but sometimes don’t realise that the herb sage has beautiful flowers too. We use the leaves in our menus, mixing them with onion for sage and onion stuffing, or adding them to breads and soups and sauces. But leave a few stems to flower and you will be rewarded by fabulous mauve hooded blooms that will attract all sorts of garden pollinators.

Red tailed bumble bee on sage
Red tailed bumble bee on sage plant. Image: Jean Vernon

Borage

Some plants are so rich in nectar that they become virtual 24-hour diners for our pollinating pals. Borage is a useful herb, an attractive plant and a magnet for bees, hoverflies and other nectar-drinking insects. It’s one of a handful of plants that replenishes its nectaries several times an hour, like your bottomless coffee cup; where you can drink all you want in one visit. It’s easy to grow from seed, self seeds around the garden and has pretty flowers too which can be added to summer drinks and salads for a splash of blue colour. The young leaves can be eaten too.

Leaf cutter bee on borage
Leaf Cutter Bee on borage plant. Image: Jean Vernon

Thyme

Not all herbs are tall and willowy; some like the cushion forming thymes make great ground cover or can be planted around the base of a tree in a large planter. The great thing about thyme is that its pretty mauve, pink or white flowers are perfect for many short-tongued bees, hoverflies and flies offering herb infused nectar to their diet. Research has shown that diseased bumblebees do self medicate by feeding on thyme flowers that seem to offer them their anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties.

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