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Herbs For Pollinators

The herbal world provides crucial habitat for many a creature in the natural environment, including pollinators. A critical part of our ecosystems, pollinators are largely responsible for the health and reprouction of many flowering and edible plants, including in our agricultural sector. Without bees, the world as we know it would simply not exist. Many of our most loved herbal medicines are also flowering plants, which help to provide habitat for both native and honey bees alike. When planning your herbal gardens this spring, consider throwing a few medicinals in for the bees, helping to increase the vitality of your own crops, while also providing forage for these critical members of our environment and ecosystems.

As a former conservation biologist with a specialty in native bees, the medicinal herbs below are among my favorites to add to the garden for both medicine and wildlife. Every time I plant these beauties in my yard, I always notice an abundance of bees buzzing about throughout the growing season, making the medicine, and garden, that much more magical. Planting pollinator-friendly plants is an easy and simple way to support global health and plant vitality in your own home.

Borage (Borago officinalis): a pollinator favorite with edible flowers (photo by Anna Beauchemin)

Medicinal Herbs + Pollinator Plants

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

This sweetly flavored perennial is native to North America (though not California) and is one of my all-time favorite pollinator plants. I first started planting Anise Hyssop because it's one of my most cherished tea herbs, but when I saw how many bees visited this thriving plant, I couldn't help but leave the blooms for the pollinators. A hearty flowering plant that will go on for a nice chunk of the growing season, providing long-lasting forage for bees. A gorgeous flower when dried and saved for tea, Anise Hyssop has a long history of traditional use with the respiratory system and acts as a flavorful carminative in supporting digestion as well. A deer-resistant plant to top it off, you can't beat this wonderful addition to the yard.

Anise Hyssop / Agastache foeniculum (Photo by Anna Beauchemin)

Basil (Ocimum basillicum)

Everyone knows basil for its prevalence in the kitchen (including my favorite, pesto), but this spicy and flavorful herb is also an excellent pollinator plant. When planted early in the growing season, basil can grow to large heights providing a nice patch of forage for bees. By pinching off your basil leaves (and flowers) you encourage continual growth of the plant, providing a nice source of flowers for bees during much of the season. As an added bonus, you get yourself a bountiful source of basil leaves, perfect for summer pestos, dressings, salads, and more. Basil's cool and moistening nature makes it a wonderful summertime herbal, perfect for adding a cooling dose of plant medicine to your meals and more. Basil also has benefits in the IPM world and is thought to help ward off aphids, flies, fruit flies, and whiteflies.

Basil / Ocimum basillicum (Photo by Anna Beauchemin)

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

More than just one of my favorite summer tea herbs, Lemon Balm is also an outstanding plant for bees. A member of the mint family, lemon balm can be quite aggressive once it takes hold, resulting in a potentially large patch of this sweet and lemony herbal medicine. Lemon Balm makes a delicious nervous system supportive tea, all while adding a dose of pollinator habitat to the yard. Be sure to plant this beauty somewhere where you are ok with it spreading.

Lemon Balm / Melissa officinalis (Photo by Anna Beauchemin)

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

This nervous system calming medicinal also boasts flowery blooms, perfect for attracting pollinators (such as honey and bumblebees) to the yard. Another member of the mint family, this perennial plant can grow into large patches when established, with a big burst of flowers in early summer and into the growing season. Catnip is also thought to benefit the yard in other ways, as a known deterrent for ants in the integrative pest management world. I love to add fresh catnip leaves to my summer tea blends, for a dose of calm at the end of the day, helping to soothe jittery and anxious nerves. This plant also serves as an attractant for cats, so be sure to dry some of the leaves for your furry friends to enjoy in the home!

Catnip / Nepeta cataria (Photo by Anna Beauchemin)

Interested in Learning More About Pollinator Plants?

To learn more about plants to help pollinators to your yard check out The Xerces Society for nationwide planting suggestions as well as Dr. Gordon Frankie's website through UC Berkeley for native California pollinator plants that also help attract bees. For more information on helping other wildlife in your yard, check out the National Wildlife Federation.


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