Jekka's guide to pollinating herbs

A major part of our natural ecosystem on this herb farm is the biodiversity of pollinators. Many plants rely on insects to pollinate their flowers and to complete their reproductive cycle. Pollinators visit flowers to harvest their nectar and pollen. They move pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of a flower, so playing a crucial role in the flower reproduction, transferring pollen and fertilising flowers as they go from herb to herb. Insect pollinators include bees (honey bees, solitary species, bumblebees), pollen wasps, ants, flies, beetles hoover flies, mosquitoes, butterflies and moths.

We promote these pollinators as they help make healthy, tasty and strong herbs. We have three hives on the herb farm and those that are fortunate enough to have brought some of our raw honey at one of our Open Days also know how great it tastes.

In addition to the importance of pollinators for fertilisation, scientists are becoming increasingly aware of the role pollinators play in ensuring human health. For example, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, folate and fluoride (and others) are produced primarily by insect-pollinated plants. 

However, recent data shows pollinator numbers to be in decline, which is cause for global concern. If we want to combat the “Hidden Hunger”, we must therefore prevent widespread pollinator decline in both abundance and diversity.

We therefore encourage you to plant herbs and other plants to support pollinators. You need to plant not only plants with nectar and pollen rich flowers but also those that pollinator larvae feed off, like Dill and Fennel.

Some of our favourite examples of herbs that would promote and support pollinators are:

Jekka's favourite pollinating herbs

Bergamot (Monarda)

Bergamot is often referred to as 'bee balm' and has flamboyant, long lasting, distinctively fragrant flowers.  This is enjoyed especially by long tongued bees.

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Borage (Borago officinalis)

Borage flowers are very rich in nectar and are very attractive to bees. Its shallow, bright blue blooms attract bees with short tongues, like the buff-tailed bumblebee.

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Catmint (Nepeta)

The species of Catmint have different coloured fragrant flowers including white and mauve. They are adored by bumble bees, honey bees and solitary bees.

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Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Chives have purple 'pom-pom' flowers that both taste good and provide nectar for a variety of pollinators including bumblebees, honeybees, mason bees and leafcutter bees.

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Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Comfrey’s white, purple and pink flowers are excellent for all kinds of bumblebees and solitary bees as well as honey bees.

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Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

The bright yellow flowerheads of Fennel are rich in nectar and pollen, and will attract a variety of pollinating insects including hoverflies, mining bees, yellow-faced bees, bumblebees and honeybees. Fennel when allowed to seed is also popular with seed-eating birds.

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Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Hyssop has beautiful blue flowers from July onwards that attract bumblebees, butterflies and other pollinators. The deep flowers suit longer-tongued bees, including garden bumblebees and wool carder bees.

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Lavender (Lavendula)

When our Lavender beds are in flower, they literally hum with the number of bees that come to them. This is partly because they flower during the midsummer gap when there are not many other flowers around. The flowers also attract other pollinating insects such as butterflies and hoverflies.

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Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Melissa means bee in Greek, which in turn comes from Meli (honey). Honeybees and bumblebees, particularly common carder bees, are attracted to the tiny creamy-white flowers. We have read that, in the past, beekeepers would rub a handful of Lemon Balm inside the hive after hiving a new swarm, in order to help the swarm settle and to encourage them not to leave the hive.

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Marjoram/Oregano (Origanum)

A fragrant, excellent culinary herb with mauve, pink and white flowers that is loved by all kinds of bees (bumble bees, leafcutter bees, furrow bees, honey bees and a range of solitary bees) as well as other pollinators.

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Mints (Mentha)

Bees and hoverflies love the flowers; in particular, Buddleia Mint seems to attract a large array of pollinators.

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Myrtle (Myrtus communis)

Myrtle is a gorgeous evergreen perennial herb with fragrant white flowers each with a dense cluster of golden stamens that are loved by bees and other insects.  These flowers are followed by dark, purple black fruits that are eaten by birds and other visiting animals.

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Rosemary (Rosmarinus)

As Rosemary flowers early in the year it is an excellent early food source for bees and pollinators.  It long flowering season of lobulated, typically blue, mauve, white or pink, flowers attracts mason bees, flower bees, bumblebees and honeybees.

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Sage (Salvia)

The Sage family of plants are wonderful for bees and other pollinators. The purple spikes of tubular flowers are popular with leafcutter bees and long-tongued species such as the garden bumblebee.

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Thyme (Thymus)

Our mat forming Thyme beds in Jekka’s Herbetum are crawling with bees when they are in flower. As Thymes flower at different times in the season they can be a continually source of pollen and nectar. Fantastic for honeybees, bumblebees, mason bees and leafcutter bees.

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Jekkapedia: Pollinators

Whether you are starting out, an avid chef, a plant enthusiast or garden designer our collection is likely to have something to inspire you. We are growing a virtual Herbetum called Jekkapedia enabling you to browse and learn at your leisure.