Grow herbs to save the bees

Grow herbs to save the bees

Flower power is real when it comes to saving the bees and other pollinators says Jean Vernon

There are so many great reasons to grow herbs, but did you know that herbs can help save the bees too?? And not just the bees, herbs also benefit our other precious pollinators too.

We usually grow herbs for their leaves to add flavour and nutrients to our menus, or to make delicious herbal teas, or for bath and beauty and medicinal* concoctions. But most herbs flower and it is the nectar rich herb flowers that offer vital forage for adult pollinators. 

Herb Power

The first ‘rule’ of growing anything in your garden is to grow what you love and when it comes to herbs that means grow plants that you will use and herbs that embellish your garden or patio too. Even a small plot can support a few pots of garden herbs. But if you have more room, then plant a herb garden full of the things you love. Choose to grow organically so that the natural balance can restore in your garden and to keep your food and that of the pollinators and other wildlife, free from toxic chemicals. There’s a reason why organic food costs more to buy, so push the value of what you grow to the limits, it’s better for your health and better for the planet too.



Let them flower

Leave about a third of your herb stems to flower, that way you can keep harvesting the leaves for your culinary creations, and you provide a new source of food for your garden pollinators. Whether it’s the soft, mauve flowers of rosemary that are present in late winter into spring, or the spikes of mint flowers that form in summer, our herbs provide copious nectar and pollen for all pollinators. But what’s more fascinating is that some insects have been shown to self-medicate when feeding on herb flowers. Thyme is known for its medicinal properties; it has anti-fungal, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory powers and many more. Scientific researchers found that bumblebees suffering from a fungal infection called Nosema were foraging on thyme flowers to heal their infection; basically, self-medicating on the powers of the thyme essence. Many of our modern medicines have their roots firmly grounded in herbs and it is heartening to think that wildlife can benefit from the plant powers held within and that they know how to do so.



Talking tongues

When it comes to growing plants for pollinators there is one important consideration that is often overlooked. Different pollinators have different tongue lengths and they can’t all feed from the same flowers. That means it is vital to grow a variety of flower shapes throughout the season and herbs fit the bill perfectly. Insects like hoverflies have short tongues (as do honeybees, many solitary bees and wasps), so they need short flowers to feed from. Herbs like mint, thyme and marjoram are ideal as are the apiaceae (formerly umbellifers) like angelica, coriander and parsley. Butterflies and moths (and some bumblebees) have longer tongues and need deeper flowers to feed from like salvias (sage), lavender and agastache. And then there are the pollinators that have medium length tongues which need flowers that are accessible to them, the very best herb for these pollinators is viper’s bugloss (echium vulgare), the onion family which includes chives, garlic and many more.



Baby Food

When we want to support our garden pollinators, it’s usually the nectar rich flowers which we grow, but pollen is particularly important for bees. Bees feed their larvae (baby bees) protein rich pollen which they collect in pollen baskets, or on brushes beneath their abdomen. But there are other pollinators that need our plants as baby food to complete their lifecycles. Butterflies and moths need specific plants to feed their babies, but instead of collecting food, they spend a great deal of time seeking out the correct species of plant and healthy specimens of that plant on which to lay their eggs. They can’t and don’t lay eggs on random plants. Caterpillars don’t kill plants, instead they do a virtual Chelsea chop. Most plants when cut back, grow back stronger and so a bit of caterpillar ‘damage’ should be seen as a good thing. Our plants are at the bottom of the food chain and are a vital part if we want to see butterflies and moths in our gardens. So, if you want more diversity of wildlife in your garden and local area, grow more and more variety of plants. And if you want to save the pollinators; grow herbs.



Want to know more?

Come and join Jean Vernon on a Bee Tour at Jekka’s Herb Farm on Friday June 7th and Saturday June 8th 2024. Buy tickets online on our Open Day page. Alternatively, come and visit the herb farm in South Gloucestershire at one of our Master Classes or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar).

You can also find more about herbs in Jekka’s blog, our past newsletters and videos as well as Jekka's new book '100 Herbs to Grow' and Jekka's existing books, namely 'A Pocketful of Herbs' or Jekka's Complete Herb Book, and also by browsing Jekkapedia and exploring our herb based recipes.

Jekka's Herbs of the month blogs: Bay (January), Rosemary (February), Salad Burnet (March), French Tarragon (April), Angelica (May), Alliums (June), Lavender (July), Basil (August), Mint (September), Szechuan Pepper (October), Thyme (November) and Curry Tree (December).

For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs

Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us ( We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.


*Always consult a qualified medical herbalist before experimenting with herbal remedies and medicinal properties of plants. AND make absolutely sure you have correctly identified EVERY plant you intend to use.