The buzzing of pollinators in a garden—it’s a sound every gardener loves to hear in the spring. It means healthy plants and vegetables will soon arrive, and our little bee friends are helping us along the way. Bees are essential to any homestead. In fact, they are like tiny herbalists that create natural concoctions that benefit us. They give us honey, which is antiseptic, antibacterial, and has healing properties. They give us beeswax to make our own salves and ointments. They give us propolis to help with colds and allergies. And more than anything, they pollinate our plants, gardens, and orchards. We couldn’t do what we do without bees. And it’s not just honeybees. There are other pollinators like carpenter bees and bumblebees.
If you’re on the herbalism journey on your homestead, you may be wondering how in the world we can help pollinators herbally. From planting herbs that attract pollinators and enhance honey flavor, to using herbal cleaners in our bee hives, we can absolutely utilize herbs in our homestead apiaries. Here’s how…
We can start by attracting pollinators and offering attractant herbs to our bee hives. There are a lot of different herbs that will attract pollinators to your homestead. And if you already have beehives, planting these herbs will help ensure that your bees have enough to forage during the warm months.
Herbs That Attract Pollinators
- Lemon Balm
- Red Clover
- Bee Balm
Preparing and Cleaning Your Hive Boxes
When preparing to take on a new hive, or just generally cleaning out your boxes from an old hive, there are a few herbs you can use to promote general health and keep pests, like ants, away from the hive.
Wash down the hive with the herbal solution recipe below, then rub down the inside of the hive with sprigs of rosemary, thyme, catnip, and mint. You can even lay these herbs on the inside top cover of your hive to deter insect pests.
New Hive Cleaner
Use this cleaner to clean out a new bee hive before adding your bees.
- Distilled water
- Witch hazel
- Add handfuls of fresh herbs (or a tbsp each of dried herbs) to a 16-oz glass spray bottle.
- Fill bottle three-quarters of the way with distilled water, and fill the remainder with witch hazel.
- Allow bottle to set for six hours before using.
- Shake well, then spray inside of hive thoroughly while cleaning. Wipe well.
Encouraging New or Weak Bee Hives
When taking on a new hive that could be stressed, or when dealing with a weak bee hive, offering your bees an herbal tea will help boost energy and general health. This is also a great tea to give during harsh weather (drought or excessive rain), or before the winter months set in.
Herbal Bee Tea
The herbs in this bee tea solution offer so many benefits and good food for your bees. It’s a mixture that can be kept on hand (dried) and made up quickly when needed to stimulate the bees’ immune systems and metabolism. To strengthen a weak, new, or swarm hive, offer it to your bees every day for 1–2 weeks. If the bees don’t take the tea, stop offering it. It means they have enough to forage or simply aren’t interested or in need.
1 tbsp each:
- Stinging Nettle
- Lemon Balm
- 1 1/2 tbsp sage
- 4 cups distilled water
- 1/2 cup raw honey
- Make your dried tea mixture by mixing all of the herbs in a large mason jar or storage jar. Cap tightly, label, and store in your pantry until ready to use.
- When ready to use, bring 4 cups of distilled water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 3–4 tsp of dried tea to hot water. Allow to steep for 5–7 minutes.
- Add honey once mixture is lukewarm. Mix well.
- Pour tea into a glass jar and add to the feeder area of your hive (entrance feeders work well). Remove the tea after 24 hours, as your tea will lose its medicinal potency after sitting for 12–24 hours.
- Offer for general bee health every 1–2 months.
Encouraging Herbal Foraging
It’s hard to think that we could spend time and money on our bee hives, only to have them killed off because a neighbor or local industrial farm has sprayed chemicals on their property. For this reason, we need to encourage our bees to forage on our homestead. This is accomplished by planting various herbs, vegetables, and flowers right around the hives themselves. This is why many homesteaders and farmers place their hives directly in their gardens—not only because it helps the homesteader pollinate their garden, but because it helps the bees stay close to home.
Choose herbs from the list mentioned in this section to encourage bees to stay close by. If given enough plants, they will forage around home first. This also helps to ensure a healthy hive by offering plenty of plants during the spring and summer. Plant perennials (like echinacea, lemon balm, yarrow, and sage) that come back bigger and stronger each year so that your pollinators can get started as soon as possible each spring.
Herbal Honey Enhancers
Try planting these herbs nearby to enhance honey color and flavor:
- Anise-hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)—Bees feast on hyssop and it can be one of the top nectar producers for bees.
- Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)—Produces a white to amber honey, enhances overall bee health.
- Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)—Gives honey an aromatic scent and flavor.
- Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)—Gives honey a minty fresh flavor.
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)—Offers a slight herbal taste and honey of a dark amber color.
All in all, bees and herbs go hand in hand. Herbs are so aromatic and delicious, and bees thing so too! Not only can they help you, the homesteader, but they can also help the original homestead herbalists—the bees!
You can learn more about herbalism in my book, The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion, where I talk about growing, harvest, preserving, and using herbs on your homestead, in your home, and for your family and livestock.