bee forage

Red deadnettle: a beautiful early bloomer for hungry bees

Red deadnettle blooms early and provides both pollen and nectar.

Red deadnettle is known as purple deadnettle or purple archangel because the flowers are purple and the upper leaves turn shades of red wine.

Inside: Bees flock to red deadnettle for super-early spring loads of pollen and nectar.

Another mint family plant for pollinators

After yesterday’s post about mint varieties that are bee favorites, two beekeepers recommended I include red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum). I agree that it is an excellent early forage plant for bees, but I did not include it because it is considered invasive in North America and is a problem plant in some areas.

Bee with red pollen.
Bee with red pollen. Kelley Bees.

Red deadnettle is often referred to as purple deadnettle or purple archangel. The “purple” comes from the flower color, whereas the “red” comes from the color of the upper leaves. “Deadnettle” refers to the fact that, unlike a true nettle, it does not sting. In other words, it is “dead.”

The plant is originally from Europe and Asia. It has naturalized across North America, where it enjoys roadsides, gardens, fence lines, and fields. However, it has found favor with many gardeners because it will thrive in disturbed areas that support little greenery. Not only is it easy to grow, but it sports attractive flowers that lure pollinators.

Red deadnettle flowers throughout the year

The plant can produce flowers almost any time of year, including the winter in mild years. Because it is one of the first plants to bloom, it can be an important food source for bees, producing both nectar and pollen. The pollen is an unmistakable bright red color.

This annual plant can reach 18 inches high, although it usually peaks at about 12 inches. It is found along roadsides, in cultivated fields, in lawns, and in other disturbed areas. The plant is edible and known to be high in antioxidants, although I’ve heard the taste is only so-so.

Honey Bee Suite

Red deadnettle in flower.
Red deadnettle in flower.
Red deadnettle. Photo by Phil Sellens.
Red deadnettle. Photo by Phil Sellens.


  • I have a bunch of purple deadnetle in my front display. Are they beneficial to the bees? I want to know if I can remove them or should I keep them to help the bees?

    • Wendessa,

      Red deadnettle is actually purple, which is probably what you have. The flowers are purple and the leaves are reddish purple. They are excellent for many species of bees.

  • I keep a daily journal so I was comparing what colors of pollen were coming in today compared with a year ago. A bee landed with the brightest red pollen I’d never seen before. I have a color pollen chart so I took a look. Purple dead nettle. A mint. It has a strange growing season. A winter annual. I know that I’d seen it but never paid any attention to it. Of course I will now.

  • Hey Rusty! “Gill over the ground” grows similar to purple deadnettles here 100 miles north of NYC. I think maybe it’s been a mistake to say honey bees forage on them. I haven’t seen it at all?

    • Mike,

      I see honey bees on red deadnettle but not on gill-over-the-ground. Gill seems to be a favorite of bumble bees in this area.

    • Mike,

      It could be due to what else is in flower. The honey bees will go to what they like best first, so with a different selection, there will be a different order of preference.

  • Yes the difference between there and here that causes honey bees to go for red deadnettles there and not here, could very well be because of the million+ “Gill over the ground” blooms that have been here and not there during the time of the deadnettles. Good answer by you!

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