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Anise oil for bees: they will follow it anywhere

Yesterday a reader, Harold Owen, commented on my post “Five Favorite Plants for the Bee Garden” by saying that anise is an excellent bee attractant. He is absolutely right. I want to thank him for mentioning it because anise is a great bee plant.

I have never grown anise in the garden. But of all the essential oils I have experimented with, anise is the all-time winner for attracting bees. Whenever I have bees that won’t drink their sugar syrup, I place one or two drops of anise oil in the feed. The next morning the feeder is empty. It never fails.

It seems that sometimes in the late fall when it starts getting cold at night, the bees are not motivated to collect their syrup. So I always keep a little bottle of anise oil on hand as a feeding stimulant. They go crazy over it—more than any other scent I know of.

The hands-down favorite

I first learned about this on someone’s blog a number of years ago. At the time I was experimenting with various oils as feeding stimulants, including tea tree, rosemary, thyme, lemon, wintergreen—whatever I could find, but anise was the hands-down favorite (or maybe the feet-down favorite) of all the colonies I tried it on.

Anise is an annual herb native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region. It bears loads of white flowers that attract bees and the seeds are the source of the anise oil. Select a sunny location and plant the seeds in well-drained soil as soon as the ground starts to warm in spring. Because anise has a taproot, it does not transplant well, so plant the seeds in their final location. Water regularly, but sparingly. Plants grow to about two feet high.

Note: Anise (Pimpinella anisum) is sometimes confused with anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) which is an excellent bee plant in its own right. Anise hyssop is neither a true anise nor a true hyssop, but is one of the many species of Agastache. Both Agastache and the true hyssops are in the mint (Lamiaceae) family whereas anise is in the carrot (Apiaceae) family. I have never tried star anise (Illicium verum), so I don’t know if it has the same effect as Pimpinella.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Pimpinella anisum. Hand-colored engraving by James Sowerby 1793.

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Comments

Phillip
Reply

I’m going to pick up some anise oil this week. I began spring feeding my bees only three days ago (from leaky top hive feeders and then jar feeders), and so far it looks like the bees don’t have any interest in the syrup, which has a bit of vanilla mixed in.

Natural nectar sources won’t be available around here for another week or two. I suppose they’ll start taking the syrup down when they really need it?

I’m curious to try out the anise oil. The way you describe it, it sounds irresistible to the bees.

Rusty
Reply

For me the anise oil is like magic. Whenever the bees won’t take syrup I add just a few drops–and down the hatch(es) it goes. I learned this from another beekeeper who said the same thing. I’m interested to see how it works for you. Let me know.

Jeff
Reply

I used the anise oil in syrup trick last year for building up a hive to make splits. Even when the nectar flow was getting started they would gobble down sugar syrup due to the anise oil. As you said too Rusty it seems to be the biggest attractant for the bees.

Stormie
Reply

Searching online for anise oil for my bees, I found star anise and anise seed oils. Do you know if star anise is any different for attracting bees or does it have to be from ‘Pimpinella anisum’?

Rusty
Reply

Stormie,

What is often called “aniseed oil” is Pimpinella anisum. Star anise is an entirely different plant, Illicium verum, and I have no idea if bees have any interest in it or whether it is beneficial or harmful. I would stick with P. anisum for honey bees.

Clifford
Reply

When I was an adolescent my dad would make dough bait for fishing. It had cornmeal and who knows what in it but it had what he called sweet anise in it. He would sit it in the sunshine to dry and firm up. I would eat that concoction until he had to make more. I loved it. I can imagine the bees would like it. I have a couple of hives that are not feeding well on the sugar water. I got them late in the season and the pollen has dried up on them. If they make the winter things have to pick up so I will try this. Thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Clifford,

When I sprinkle a couple of drops in the sugar syrup, they drink it right down.

Jeffrey
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I was thinking of mixing a few drops of tea tree oil, wintergreen oil, spearmint oil, lemongrass oil, and anise oil in a concentrate to add to my sugar syrup to help control any winter mites and to get the bees to continue taking syrup into November. Or would it be better to mix it into a candy board type patty for the colder weather? Also do you think it is okay to mix all these oils together in one batch or should I brake it up into different concentrates. From what I have read it sounds like tea tree, wintergreen and spearmint help control mites and deter hive beetles.

Lemongrass oil and anise are more of an attractant, but all contribute to better health for the bees. Is my interpretation correct? What I’m asking is it safe to feed this combination to my bees all at one time?

Rusty
Reply

Jeffrey,

Lots of issues here. The longer I do this, the less I think that these oils, in the concentrations added to bee feed, have any effect on mites. On the other hand, bees like them and they do contain micronutrients that appear to be beneficial. So certainly there is no harm in trying.

I think it is okay to mix, as long as the total added to the feed is not too high. So if you would normally add, say, 15 drops of one, I would use something like 3+3+3+3+3 in a mixture. On the other hand (and this is just my human bias) I would not want them all mixed together. To me it seems like a lollypop with lime and lemon and cherry and grape all mixed together. But I’m not a bee, so maybe they think differently! You can always experiment: do some one way and some the other way and see which they like the best. Oh yes, then tell me what you found.

Kate Flynn
Reply

Is there a specific brand of anise oil that you could recommend?

Mark Welsch
Reply

What is the best oil, or combination of oils, to attract honey bees to a bait hive?

My mentor tells me the best attractant is very old, very dark, “junk” brood comb. He says the worse it looks to us, the more swarming bees like it.

I want to do some experiments this year with different oils in one bait hive and junk comb in the hive next to it. Would you please suggest the oil(s) I should use, and the exact mixture of those oils I should try?

Rusty
Reply

Mark,

For attracting a swarm, I use lemongrass oil or preferably old brood comb.

Mark Welsch
Reply

Have you tried using both old brood comb and lemon grass oil?

Rusty
Reply

Probably. I don’t remember.

Mark Welsch
Reply

Thanks Rusty!

I’ll test this side by side in one or more locations and report back when a swarm moves into one of them.

Jerry A Barcelow
Reply

In the days before mites an old time beekeeper taught me how to “line” wild bees. Once he had an idea where they were heading he would move in the direction and re-set up his bee box. If there were no flowers attracting honeybees that he could get to come over to his honey comb and sugar water, he would burn a little beeswax and anise. It did draw bees in. So my question, why is oil of anise not used to bait swarm boxes? Lemon grass seems to be what I read to use?

Rusty
Reply

Jerry,

Lemongrass is used because it mimics queen pheromone, but anise does not. Still, if anise works as a swarm attractant for you, by all means use it.

Jerry Barcelow
Reply

Thank you Rusty. I didn’t know why the lemon grass was used.

Donna Clouse
Reply

I am in western Nebraska. trying to learn more!

Thank you.

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