They look good, work hard, and taste delicious!
In the last few monthly columns I’ve written, we’ve been discussing the benefits of attracting pollinators to the landscape using native trees, shrubs and perennials, and into the vegetable garden with companion plants. Now that the weather has turned and we’ve all got the vim and vigor to get out into the garden, let’s talk about four powerhouse annuals that attract pollinators and beneficial insects, make terrific garden companions, and are edible to boot!
How do Borage jelly, Calendula Paella, Nasturtium salad, and Blueberry-Hyssop ice cream sound? Yum! I asked local herb enthusiast, Marge Koenecke, from Hickory Grove Farm, how she uses these plants. Below are her comments intermingled with my own:
Borage (pictured above) is an annual herb with a true blue flower; easy to start from seed (direct sow), and has a tendency to self-seed.
IN THE GARDEN: plant with tomatoes to attract beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps that will take care of tomato hornworms. Borage also attracts bumblebees, native bees, and honey bees.
IN THE KITCHEN: the edible flower has a cucumber flavor; add to salads; freeze in ice cube trays and add to lemonade.
Calendula, also known as pot marigold, is another self-seeding annual herb for the sunny garden. The pretty yellow and orange blossoms make great cut flowers.
IN THE GARDEN: plant them with cole crops, especially collards. Calendula repel aphids and attract beneficials. At the end of the season, take dried seed heads and scatter seeds to ensure a good crop for next year.
IN THE KITCHEN: Calendula has wonderful healing properties for skin, especially as an oil or salve. It’s often used for insect bites. In addition to its medicinal qualities, the petals are edible and can be added as a flourish to paellas, salads, and used to make flower & herb butter.
Nasturtiums are another annual easy to grow from seed. Soak seeds overnight before planting. They take awhile to germinate - just when you're ready to give up is when they pop up through the ground.
IN THE GARDEN: look for vining varieties of this pollinator plant to interplant with zucchini and other squashes. Nasturtiums deter squash bugs and the moth that lays eggs for the squash vine borer.
IN THE KITCHEN: Both the flowers and leaves are edible and have a mild peppery flavor, so they are fun to add to salads. I even came across a recipe for Nasturtium pesto using the leaves and stems. Need to try that!
Anise hyssop is one of the best pollinator plants for the garden. The bees love this herb! Anise hyssop is not always reliably hardy but usually sows itself around the garden.
IN THE GARDEN: As a member of the mint family, Hyssop has a wonderful fragrance. This quality makes it deer and rabbit resistant. In addition to attracting beneficial insects, it also attracts cabbage moths, so use Anise hyssop as a trap crop, planting it away from cabbage plants.
IN THE KITCHEN: As its name suggests, the flowers have a mild licorice flavor. Use the flowers to toss into salads, make vinegars, herb butters and herbal tea.
This is just a small sampling of the many ways these plants can be used. If you’d like to learn more about how to use these edible pollinator powerhouses, join me and Marge Koenecke in a virtual garden discussion on Wednesday, June 8 at 6:30 pm. Happy gardening!
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!