Use Herbs to Attract Birds, Butterflies and Bees

Until last year I never had experienced the joy of seeing a hummingbird in the wild. Now that I have a yard full of herbs in bloom, several of these tiny birds frequently dart back and forth, from bee balm to the pineapple sage, salvia, catnip, larkspur and foxglove.

I have a very old, woody sage plant that according to the experts should have been removed from the yard years ago. This year, deep inside the sage tangle, hidden by leaves and blooms, nested a family of sparrows. The selection of the sage bush for a nest proved to be a tragic mistake as the small , featherless creatures disappeared one by one on four consecutive nights…evidence that my garden has other visitors after dark.

Luckier was the killdeer, the inland plover that looks as if it belongs at the seashore, which nested in the perennial bed, where herbs and flowers grow side by side. While the mother kept vigilant guard, her young ran around the yard for several days, finally leaving to find a new home.

We are also treated to the beauty of the swallowtail butterfly because the swallowtail caterpillar is attracted to the fennel and parsley plants. Last year's parsley was completely devoured by the caterpillars, so this year I edged one entire bed in parsley. Now I have both butterflies and parsley.

The combination of bees and herbs can be traced back through the centuries. In medieval England, ladies embroidered scarves with thyme, representing courage. Embroidered bees hovered over the herbs branches. The scarves were presented to knights as a reward for bravery.

Lemon balm is an herb associated with bees, even its botanical name, "Melissa", comes from the Greek word for bee. The herb is often planted around the hive to prevent swarming and encourage other bees to join the hive.
Lemon balm is said to calm the bees. Honey and lemon balm mixed together as a potion was used in earlier times to promote longevity.

Borage, loved by bees, is almost always in bloom, thanks to the bees that pollinate it. Because of this, the herb is sometimes referred to as bee bread. Other herbs to attract bees are basil, catnip, chamomile, fennel, germander, hyssop, lavender, sage, winter savory and sweet cicely.