Remember the Pollinators
by Cynthia Engers
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.
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.
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!
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