A bee on lavender

Top 10 herbs for wildlife

Discover 10 herbs that not only taste great but attract wildlife, too.

Herbs have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years – and they look very attractive in the garden, too. There’s a huge range to choose from, including annual and perennial herbs.

Advertisement

Watch our video guide to planting herbs.

Many herbs also attract and provide food for various forms of wildlife, including bees, butterflies, hoverflies and birds.

We caught up with herb expert Jekka McVicar at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and she recommended her top 10 herbs for wildlife, below.

Want to add more herbs to your plot? Discover six essential perennial herbs to grow and 10 unusual herbs to grow.

Many herbs also attract and provide food for various forms of wildlife, including bees, butterflies, hoverflies and birds.

1

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.

An angelica flower in bud
An angelica flower in bud
2

Borage

Borago officinalis is an attractive plant with hairy leaves that have a slight cucumber flavour; the pretty flowers can be used as a garnish for drinks or salads. Its delicate blue flowers are a magnet for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Blue borage flowers on magenta stems
Blue borage flowers on magenta stems
3

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.

Light-purple lavender flowers
Light-purple lavender flowers
4

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.

A stinging nettle shoot, with deeply toothed leaves
A stinging nettle shoot, with deeply toothed leaves
5

Sage

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

Purple and green sage foliage
Purple and green sage foliage
6

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.

Tiny mauve thyme flowers
Tiny mauve thyme flowers
7

Valerian

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

Pale-pink, tall valerian flowers
Pale-pink, tall valerian flowers
8

Fennel

If left to flower, Foeniculum vulgare, produces attractive yellow blooms that attract hoverflies. The seeds are eaten by birds in autumn and winter.

Tall yellow blooms of fennel
Tall yellow blooms of fennel
9

Wild strawberries

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

Advertisement
Wild strawberry plants bearing flowers and fruit
Wild strawberry plants bearing flowers and fruit
10

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.

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.

Kate Bradbury