This week is National Pollinator Week. To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators. Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants. It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables. There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks. Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower. Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.
To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife Federation, U.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.
Monday June 20, Cilantro
Tuesday June 21, Dill
Wednesday June 22, Sage
Thursday June 23, Chives
Friday June 24, Basil
Basil is a member of the mint family but should be treated like a tomato plant. It thrives in warm weather, full sun, with plenty of air circulation and moisture. Basil comes in a variety of scents and shapes from cinnamon, anise, lemon, and lime scents to green or purple colored leaves to large or small plants. Some plants will produce small, white flowers while others produce showy purple flowers.
Easy to grow from seed, basil can be grown with other vegetables in the garden bed, in the ornamental bed with perennials and annuals, or in containers. Here in Virginia, basil is treated like an annual and will turn black with October’s frost. Basil’s purpose in life is to produce flowers, which you want for pollinators, but you don’t want if you plan to use the foliage in the kitchen. Instead of nipping the tips to prevent flowers, cut stems of leaves at a time. When there are six to eight pairs of leaves on the plant, cut the plant back and the remaining stems will re-grow and branch out, making the plant bushier. Strip the leaves off your cut stems and wash. Use the fresh leaves in cooking or preserve in a vinegar (for salads), pesto or pasta sauce, or in ice or oil in the freezer. Usually the flavor in dried leaves is greatly reduced but you can hang the stems upside down to dry, then mince and store in a glass container. Always plant enough basil to allow some plants to flower and set seed. The flowers will attract pollinators; the seed will attract birds.
I grow lemon, lime, sweet, and Thai basil from seed. Every summer I harvest some plants to cook white fish with the lemon basil leaves; stir minced lime leaves into fruit salads; add the sweet basil to pasta sauce; and cut the Thai basil leaves into ribbons for chicken stir fry dishes. I leave some plants to nature; I am sure the bees, butterflies, and birds appreciate the basil in my garden.