In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, our pollinators are in trouble. The number of bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles, and even hummingbirds has been steadily declining in recent years. In fact, seven species of yellow-faced bees native to Hawaii and the rusty-patched bumble bee are now on the endangered species list, with another nine percent of bee and butterfly populations currently at risk.
If you’re thinking that honey is the only thing in jeopardy – think again. According to the Xerces Society, a non-profit dedicated to protecting invertebrates and their habitats, more than one-third of the food we eat relies on pollinators, including more than 150 food crops in the U.S. alone. Beyond helping crops simply grow, pollinators can actually improve the quality of the crops. Tomatoes visited by bumble bees bear bigger fruits and strawberries pollinated by multiple bees yield fewer misshapen berries.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do at home to protect our pollinators and help them thrive. We asked Mother Earth News, the original guide to living wisely for your health and the Earth, to share some of their favorite herbs to plant for pollinators. These herbs not only support the bees and butterflies, they make excellent additions to your own culinary explorations – so it’s a win-win for everyone!
- Monarda or Bee Balm is a perennial that prefers full sun. The traditional variety produces bright red flowers but there are several varieties also available.
- Hyssop is a hardy perennial that tolerates soil variations well and can be planted in full sun or partial shade. It produces small blue flowers that pollinators love.
- Sage is well known for cooking but pollinators also enjoy it. There are several varieties available, each tolerating basic soil in full sun. Nocturnal pollinators also like sage.
- Rosemary makes a great container plant and requires full sun, average soil, and not a lot of water.
- Winter Savory is a perennial that prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It blooms with white flowers that attract pollinators and repel unwanted pests. In food, it provides great flavor and can even be used as a replacement for salt.
- Thyme is a classic culinary herb that is a great option in rock gardens or in drought tolerant areas. The aroma can range from lemon to caraway and orange.
- Borage is an annual herb that is easy to grow from a seed, and will regrow each year. As a long blooming plant, it will keep the pollinators happy long after other flowering plants have lost their blooms. It prefers full sun to partial shade with fertile, well-drained soil.
Want to learn more about gardening and more at home? If you live in Asheville, or plan to visit soon, you won’t want to miss the Mother Earth News Fair on May 6th and 7th at the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center. Enjoy more than 150 workshops and demonstrations, as well as hundreds of exhibitors with sustainably-minded products. You can find a full list of workshops here, including several exciting programs to help you protect and support our pollinators in your own backyard.