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.
Here are my favourite herbs for bees:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
Rosemary is a lovely aromatic herb that will provide nectar and pollen for bees from early spring onwards.
There may be other benefits to bees too! Read about planting Rosemary for bees.
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?
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.
Some well-known favourites for bees and pollinators, fall within the mints and sages categories.
Read more about this group on my page Do bees like mints?
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.
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.
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!
Also popular with seed-eating birds and hoverflies, as well as bees. Find out how to grow Fennel.
Often referred to as 'bee balm'. Long tongued bees especially, enjoy this pretty herb.
Cultivated varieties of Monarda are available.
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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