Herb Planting For Bees

There's a great variety of wild and cultivated herbs for bees out there, and many herbs are among the best plants for bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies and hoverflies.

Some herbs are easy to grow from seed or cuttings, others can be divided and shared with friends. 

A List Of Herbs For Bees And Pollinators

Here are my favourite herbs for bees:

Agastache foeniculum - Anise hyssop

bumble bee on tall purple flower head of Anise hyssopBumble bee on Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum

A wonderful, aromatic bee plant and herb, and the leaves are sometimes used to make a tea, or eaten in salads.  This is a herbaceous perennial and comes from the mint family.  Provide well drained soil and ensure it has full sun. 

You can start this plant with seeds, and divide the clumps in spring when established to plant elsewhere around the garden, or share with friends.

Origanum - Oregano and Marjoram

Gingery-colored common carder bumble bee on pink Oregano flowersBees love Oregano!

A fragrant, excellent cullinary oregano and marjoram are loved by all kinds of bees (bumble bees, honey bees and a range of solitary bees,) as well as other pollinators.

  • Pretty pink flowers available in a range of shades.  
  • Dwarf varieties are available, and you can freeze or dry the leaves to enjoy them in your cooking later.

Borago officinalis Borage 

Bee foraging on blue borage flower.Borage is popular with bees.

I have read that Borage refills with nectar every 2 minutes!  Certainly, there is plenty of scientific evidence confirming that Borage flowers provide lots of nectar and pollen for bees and pollinators1.  

It's not uncommon for beekeepers to seek out borage fields with the aim of producing borage honey.

Borage a favourite with bees, and is easy to grow from seed, and in my experience, it grows quite tall.  It can look a little 'gangly', so I think it's best if it occupies a space at the back of the flower border

Allium schoenoprasumChives

For chives to be beneficial to bees, you obviously have to allow them to flower.  You can still clip some of the stalks for cooking.  

bumble bee on pinkish purple, globe shaped chive flower headChives in flower. The flowers are attractive and bees love them.

Again, I have found chives easy to grow from seed.  I start them off in small pots, then plant them out in the garden. They begin quite spindly with just a few stems, but soon fill out the following year.

Lavendula - Lavender

Bumble bee on English lavenderBumble bee on English lavender - popular and fragrant herb

Choose different lavender varieties for a prolonged season.  You can propagate more plants from cuttings, but ensure you take quite a few as they may not all 'take'.

ThymusThyme

thyme her showing small pale pinkish flowersThyme

Thyme can be grown in pots, the rockery or border, as long as it's in a well-drained, sunny spot.  It can even be used to create a small patch of  decorative lawn.  Other pollinators such as butterflies like thymes too.

Research suggests that not only does Thyme provide nectar and pollen for bees, but also may help maintain bee health by providing natural protection against bacteria and diseases.  You can read more about this on my page: Do bees like thyme?

Symphytum officinale - Comfrey

Bumble bee nectar robbing comfrey.Bees may be spotted nectar robbing comfrey.

Another excellent flower for bees – refills with nectar approximately every 45 minutes.  All kinds of bumble bees and solitary bees feed on it, as well as honey bees.

Some shorter tongued bees may engage in nectar robbing to access the nectaries, as pictured above.  

Mentha & Salvias - Mints & Sages

Some well-known favourites for bees and pollinators, fall within the mints and sages categories.  

bumble bee on nepeta - catmintBumble bee on Catmint (Nepeta).

Read more about this group on my page Do bees like mints?

Dill

Dill in flower with yellow flower headsDill

Dill is one of the herbs I use most often in cooking.  It has a gorgeous, delicate flavour I find very versatile in the kitchen. 

When allowed to flower, it is also especially enjoyed by honey bees and butterflies (such as swallowtails if you have them in your country).  Dill adds a graceful softness to a border.

Lemon Balm

In the past, beekeepers would rub a handful of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) inside the hive after hiving a new swarm, in order to help the swarm settle and to encourage them not to leave the hive.

Rubbing hands with the leaves is also claimed to help prevent bee stings!

Fennel

Fennel - yellow flower headFennel

Also popular with seed-eating birds and hoverflies, as well as bees. Find out how to grow Fennel.

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) - Bee Balm

Often referred to as 'bee balm'Long tongued bees especially, enjoy this pretty herb.

Cultivated varieties of Monarda are available.

Common carder bee on Wild BergamotCommon carder bee on Wild Bergamot

References

1. Stawiarz, Ernest, Wróblewska, Anna, Masierowska, Marzena and Sadowska, Dagmara. "Flowering, Forage Value, and Insect Pollination in Borage (Borago Officinalis L.) Cultivated in Se Poland" Journal of Apicultural Science, vol.64, no.1, 2020, pp.77-89. https://doi.org/10.2478/jas-2020-0005.

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