Save the bees and grow medicinal weeds

Written by Alexandra McPhee | 8 April, 2020

There is a common thread that ties together all of the plant world. What is the one thing that all our favourite plants – from medicinal herbs and weeds to fruit crops – have in common? They all rely on pollination! Bees are the unsung heroes of the planet – many domesticated and wild plant species depend on bees and other insect pollinators.

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower, to the female part of the flower. Some plants are able to self-pollinate while others need to be cross-pollinated by wind, insects, birds or animals. In an evolutionary dance, flowers have come to adapt their physical features in order to optimise pollination by bees and insects – rather than to please the human eye!

Pollen and nectar is strategically placed within the flower so that the hairy legs of the bee must brush past the pollen in order to reach the nectar. Once this pollen has been deposited in a new flower, pollination has taken place. Some plants, like the strawberry, require up to twenty visits by a pollinating bee before full fertilisation has taken place! Hint – if your homegrown strawberries always end up small and misshapen, your plant probably hasn’t been fertilised to its full potential.

Avid nature lovers often comment that fewer bees can be seen buzzing around and doing their thing. Bee populations are indeed under strain, what with loss of habitat, residential developments, spraying of pesticides and the threat from parasitic mites. It is estimated that wild bees and other pollinators account for about half of the pollination of commercial crops in the Unites States. Another 2.6 million domesticated bee colonies take a road tour of the peak flowering crops, transported by 18-wheeler trucks to almond farms in California to citrus in Florida and berries in the Southeast of the nation. Here at home, you can also hire a bee colony to help pollinate your crop!

New research is under way to see how our own Australian native bee species can provide back-up support to the honey-bee population undergoing colony collapse. Native bees are excellent pollinators of mango, macadamia and blueberry plants and buzz at just the right frequency to dislodge pollen and fertilise tomato and eggplant flowers.

How can we support both the honey and native bee population? Plant flowers! Many of the medicinal weeds taking over your lawn, are of huge value to bees. Just think of all that dandelion that so persistently grows.

Other medicinal herbs you can plant to support the bees:

  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Hyssop
  • Thyme
  • Borage
  • Mint
  • Lemon balm
  • Rosemary
  • Comfrey
  • Fennel
  • Catmint
  • Dandelion

Aim to grow a variety of different plants with alternating flowering times in order to feed the bees all year round. The other benefits are obvious! Medicine growing in your garden to use in your cooking, potions, sharing with neighbours and friends. Everybody wins, most of all the bees.

Alexandra McPhee

Alexandra (Lexie) McPhee is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni and qualified, practising Naturopath. Her special interests include writing, communication with the natural world, the history of medicinal plant use and creating her own herbal oils and salves. 

Read more by Alexandra McPhee

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