Who doesn’t love festooning a homemade pizza with just-picked basil? Or muddling fresh mint into a glass of tea? If you’re like me, you cherish your herb garden. What’s more, these culinary caches, big or small, can serve more than the chef. They can double as a dinner table for visiting pollinators, too! Many herbs provide nectar or serve as host plants for caterpillars. Support your local bees, butterflies and moths by adding these six herbs to your garden or patio
- Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
A fast-growing plant that adds a touch of delicacy and height to flowerbeds. This perennial herb produces yellow flowers and grows up to 5 feet tall. Avoid planting fennel next to dill, caraway, or coriander (included on this list below) as it can cross-pollinate, likely reducing its seed production. Plant in full sunlight.
Attracts : Black and Anise Swallowtails for both nectar and as a host plant for their caterpillars.
Use it in the kitchen: Fennel’s anise flavor works well in both savory and sweet recipes. A popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, add the feathery fronds to salads and soups for a delicate flavor.
2. Caraway Carum carvi
This biennial herb can grow up to two feet tall. Enjoy its carrot-like foliage during the first growing season. Clusters of tiny white and pinkish flowers resembling Queen Anne’s lace appear in its second year which will attract a number of pollinators. All parts of the caraway herb are edible, and seeds can be harvested once flowers fade in the fall. Plant in full sun.
Attracts: Yellow sulphurs and metalmark butterflies enjoy the nectar. Black swallowtails use caraway as a host plant.
Use it in the kitchen: Add caraway seed to soups and stews for an earthy flavor with a hint of citrus and pepper.
3. Cumin Cuminum cyminum
Dainty white flowers attract small butterflies from this low growing plant. Reaching a height around 15 inches, cumin’s slender branches resemble many of the other herbs listed below. A member of the parsley family, cumin requires the same growing requirements as carrots, cilantro and parsley. Plant in full sun.
Attracts: Blues, hairstreaks, sulphurs and many other small to medium-sized butterflies.
Use it in the kitchen: A key ingredient in Mexican, Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines. An intensely warm, earthy, and also sweet flavor perfect for both savory and dessert dishes.
4. Anise Pimpinella anisum
Anise is a low spreading, bright green bush herb that grows about two feet tall and wide. These feathery plants add an airy presence in the garden and are blanketed in snowy white clusters. Both seeds and leaves are edible. Plant in full sun.
Attracts: Swallowtails, including the two-tailed and pipevine. Black and anise swallowtails use as a host plant.
Use it in the kitchen: Reminiscent of licorice, add anise seeds to breads, cookies, and candy. Leaves make a garnish or crush the leaves and add to any number of recipes.
5. Dill Anethum graveolens
Add contrast and color to your flowerbed with dill. Although delicate looking, dill is a fairly hardy annual that grows quickly and produces showy yellow flowers. This annual herb can grow as tall as five feet and as wide as three feet. Plant in full sun or a location that receives just a bit of afternoon shade during our intense summer days.
Attracts: Anglewings, tortoiseshells and sulphurs. Host plant to black swallowtails.
Use it in the kitchen: Dill’s flavor is a cross between celery and fennel. Commonly used in the pickling process, it can also be used to season a variety of dishes like potatoes, bread, fish, and lamb. You can harvest both the seeds and leaves for cooking.
6. Coriander Coriandrum sativum
Get two herbs for the price of one! Coriander are the seeds from a cilantro plant. Allow your cilantro plant to flower and you’ll soon have clusters of delicate white, pinkish or pale lavender flowers. This annual herb can reach a height of two feet. Plant in part shade as it’s delicate leaves can be scorched by direct sunlight.
Attracts: Small to medium-sized butterflies like sulphurs, metalmarks, blues and hairstreaks.
Use it in the kitchen: Fresh cilantro is often present in Mexican dishes, but pairs well with many recipes. Remove leaves and add to casseroles, sandwiches, and sauces. Coriander seeds are a great addition to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. Collect seeds for cooking or to plant more cilantro.
These plants will make an irresistible herb garden, for you and the pollinators. Just be sure to plant enough; three or more of each plant is recommended. Be careful not to over harvest and don’t be alarmed when you find some midnight snacking has occurred. After all, that’s one of the reasons you planted these beauties. Your herbs will grow back (they’ve evolved to deal with bug predation) and you’ll soon be rewarded with wonderful butterflies and a healthier environment.
Last, but certainly not least, for the health of pollinators and your family, avoid applying chemicals to your herbs. In fact, forgo pesticides and herbicides throughout your landscape; it’s one of the most important steps you can take to protect all those good bugs out there. Want to learn more about natural pest control? Check out this recent Environmental Services blog.
If you’re looking for more ways to attract pollinators to your garden, check out the Plant for Pollinators website or contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department – email below.