Top 10 herbs for wildlife

Herbs have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and they also attract and provide food for various forms of wildlife.

We caught up with herb expert Jekka McVicar at the Chelsea Flower Show 2009 and asked her recommend her top 10 herbs for wildlife.

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Angelica

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.

Caraway

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.

Borage

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

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.

Nettles

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

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

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.

Valerian

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

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.

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Kate Bradbury

Kate Bradbury says

If you live in the south-east, keep an eye our for unusual looking caterpillars on your fennel plants. The continental swallowtail butterfly can be found on the south coast in very hot summers, and lays eggs on fennel and other umbellifers.

Discover more ideas and inspiration

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