The mint family of plants (Lamiaceae) is a large and diverse group that is a favorite among beekeepers. Many members of the family are extremely attractive to pollinators, and if you choose your plants carefully, you can feed your bees and harvest a crop of culinary herbs as well. Plants in the mint family include oregano, motherwort, marjoram, basil, sage, rosemary, peppermint, spearmint, catnip, thyme, lavender, and horehound.
Members of the mint family are distinguished by square stems and leaves in opposite pairs. The flowers are often small in whorled, spike-like clusters, but some species, like Monarda, have large flowers that attract hummingbirds. Many are aromatic and a number of species have colorful or variegated foliage, such as Solenostemon (coleus) and some Salvia.
Just 15 mints of your time: mint plants bees love
In all, there are roughly 7000 species in the mint family divided into 236 genera. In the chart below, I’ve selected 15 genera that are readily available, easy to grow, attractive to pollinators, and widely recognized.
The growth habits and flowering times are approximations and quite variable. The individual species and your local growing conditions will influence the growth habit, the flowering time, the amount of nectar produced, and whether the plants will overwinter.
Here in western Washington, I use oregano as “bait” for photographing a large variety of bees. For sheer number of bees, agastache has been the clear winner. There are plenty more mint plants bees love.
|Agastache||Korean mint||erect & bushy||mid-summer to autumn|
|Ajuga||bugleweed||clump-forming to spreading||spring to early summer|
|Melissa||lemon balm||upright to bushy||summer|
|Mentha||peppermint||low spreading to erect||summer|
|Monarda||bee balm||clump-forming & tall||mid-summer to autumn|
|Nepeta||catmint||erect & branched||summer to autumn|
|Ocimum||basil||erect & bushy||late summer|
|Origanum||oregano||spreading to upright||summer|
|Perovskia||Russian sage||upright to sub-shrub||late summer to early autumn|
|Rosemarinus||rosemary||shrub||mid-spring to early summer|
|Salvia||sage||various (900 species)||late summer|
|Satureja||savory||creeping to upright||summer|
|Thymus||thyme||mounding to spreading||summer|
Honey Bee Suite
To this amazingly diverse list of mints I would add the inconspicuous Lamium purpurea, deadnettle, a winter annual* weed that starts blooming around here in Jan/Feb as soon as there’s any sun. The bees love it. Despite the bland mauve blossoms, the pollen is dayglo orange, so you’ll know if your bees have been in it. It seems to be an important early forage crop. And as a weed, it’s not bad: *it sprouts in November, and dies about the time the soil is warm enough to set out summer garden stuff. I will send you an image if you’d like to show others. Thanks for the list, we’ll use it for the library project!
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