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Summer 2023

Remember the Pollinators

by Cynthia Engers

white butterfly on lavender flowers - AdobeStock
white butterfly on lavender flowers - AdobeStock
The third week of June is National Pollinator Week, an international celebration of the importance and vulnerability of pollinators. It was designated as such by the U.S. Senate in 2007 to raise awareness of the declining population of pollinators. Following the global focus on this topic, we are providing links to some of our in-depth coverage from past issues, as well as looking at the opportunity to support pollinators from a new angle: Edibles.

Although we grow edibles for their produce, we might not realize that they might also be grown as bee-attracting flowers, specifically to entice pollinators to visit us.

Photo courtesy of pexels.com
Photo courtesy of pexels.com
Herbs, in particular, offer a smorgasbord for our hungry pollinator friends. Although at least eight plant families, including fragrant, astringent, and bitter plants, are botanically classified as herbs in the broadest sense, this article focuses on edible herbs.

Bees buzzing around a lavender plant in bloom, a member of the mint family, is a sound that the majority of us are accustomed to hearing. Though lavender is a culinary herb that is edible, it isn’t the most common in cooking. There are, however, many other pollinator-attractive edible herbs we can grow.

A large number of the edible herbs come from the same mint family, the Lamiaceae. Among the most well-known are basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop, and thyme. Another family that provides many of our edible herbs is Apiaceae (carrot family) whose members include celery, fennel, coriander (cilantro), dill, and parsley.

Because these herbs are generally grown for their leaves or bulbs, they may not often be cultivated when they begin to flower. However, it is exactly at this point that they work their pollinator magic. Dill, fennel, and parsley, in particular, support swallowtail butterfly larvae. Not only is the fennel bulb edible, so too are fennel leaves, flowers, and seeds which offer a feast for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

In addition to lavender and fennel, the herbs mint, basil, oregano, and thyme are particularly attractive to bees, as are sage, rosemary, lemon balm, dill, and chives. To attract nectar-seeking butterflies to the herb garden, look for sage, oregano, and sweet marjoram. And hummingbirds love lavender, sage, mint, and rosemary.

Borage. Photo courtesy of AdobeStock.
Borage. Photo courtesy of AdobeStock.
Particularly early in the season, one of the best herbs for luring pollinators is borage. Borage is an edible plant that is primarily planted as a functional garden plant. It is also occasionally used as a cover crop. However, the capacity to draw bees to the garden is its superpower. Although it self-seeds and could become invasive if left unchecked, the seedlings can be readily managed with a little tugging now and then.

The capacity of edible herbs to draw predatory insects that aid in the control of pest insects rounds out the list of advantages they offer gardens. Lady beetles that consume aphids, mites, mealy bugs, and other pests are drawn to dill and fennel. Parasitic wasps that feed on aphids, moths, and beetle larvae are drawn to dill, parsley, and wild carrot.

Who knew that allowing our herbs to flower could be so helpful! Remember, though, that herbs will lose some of their pungency or become bitter when they flower, so picking the leaves intended for kitchen use before this stage is recommended. A good and garden-generous approach is to plant liberally, so there will be an adequate crop for both human consumers and aerial consumers!

Bee on Lavender - Courtesy H. Van Den Broeck
Bee on Lavender - Courtesy H. Van Den Broeck

Gardening for Butterflies, by Kate Verhoef - 2021 Spring issue of News to Grow By

California Native Bees, by Laurinda Ochoa - 2021 Spring issue of News to Grow By

How to Attract and Maintain Pollinators in Your Garden

Use and Culture of Culinary Herbs

Herbs in your Garden: a Guide to the Use, Cultivation and Selection of Culinary Herbs

The Multi-Purpose Herb Garden

Culinary Herbs from Garden to Gourmet

How to Use Culinary Hyssop: 8 Ways to Cook With Hyssop - 2023 - MasterClass