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Herbs for wildlife

Jekka McVicar's 10 herbs for wildlife

Jekka McVicar's organic herb garden achieved a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show 2009. We caught up with her at the show to discover her top 10 herbs for attracting wildlife.

Herbs have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. But they also attract and provide food for various forms of wildlife. Many herbs are easy to grow and have great ornamental value.

Angelica, photographed at Jekka McVicar's herb garden by Kate Bradbury.


Angelica archangelica is a tall, shade-loving herb most commonly used for making candied stems to decorate cakes. Early flowering and rich in nectar, angelica is a vital food source for early bees and hoverflies. Birds also eat its seeds in autumn.


Carum carvi is a hardy biennial with feathery bright green leaves. It produces tiny clusters of creamy white flowers in early summer that attract a range of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.


Borago officinalis is an attractive plant with hairy leaves that have a slight cucumber flavour. Its delicate blue flowers are a magnet for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Lavender in flower


Lavandula angustifolia is one of the best plants to grow for attracting bees and butterflies. There are hundreds of species and cultivars to choose from, producing attractive scented blooms from May-September.

Nettle leaves


The stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, is one of the most important native wildlife plants in the UK. It supports more than 40 species of insect, including larvae of the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies.

Sage leaves


Sage, Salvia officinalis, is best known for the distinctive flavour of its leaves. But if left to flower, its tiny blue blooms provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies.

Thyme leaves


Thymus vulgaris is a sun-loving hardy perennial, used for adding flavour to stews, salad and sauces. Its mauve-coloured flowers attract bees and butterflies.


A tall-growing hardy perennial, Valeriana officinalis produces clusters of sweetly scented pale pink flowers from mid- to late-summer. Its blooms provides a source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Fennel, photographed at Jekka McVicar's herb garden by Kate Bradbury at the Chelsea Flower Show 2009.


If left to flower, fennel produces attractive yellow blooms that attract hoverflies. Seeds are eaten by birds in autumn and winter.

Wild strawberries

The wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca, produces white flowers, favoured by bees. The small, sweet fruits are eaten by birds in summer.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: Herbs for wildlife
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Froginhood 24/11/2011 at 15:28

Where can I buy seeds or plants ?

louroff 24/11/2011 at 15:28

I have seven already , must get the other three: angelica , caraway and fennel.

triciabobby77 24/11/2011 at 15:28

I'm including a herb garden into my new plot and will take this info onboard. Don't think I'll grow the nettles deliberately. Will certainly try angelica, caraway and fennel. thanks

lisa v 18/04/2012 at 11:57

chive flowers are also apparently very good as well

Botticelliwoman 19/04/2012 at 08:05

be careful with the fennel, it can self-seed all over the place and become a bit of a thug

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