Saving Bumble Bees | How Herbal Remedies May Help

Bumble bee hoveringMy juice fast is going so well, I really don’t have much to report. Day three went by fine. It’s starting, in fact, to get boring. So, I’d like to switch things up a bit. I’ll report more on my progress over the next coming days. And if you are interested in reading why I juice fast and my progress so far, read my post Juice Fast | Your Reset Button and Juice Fast Report | Day Zero, One and Two.

But today, let’s talk about bees.

A recent article, Herbal Remedies May Aid Bumblebees found in the online magazine Conservation sites new research that suggest compounds found in herbs may reduce the damaging effects of parasites. Eight compounds isolated from common plant species were tested on common eastern bumblebees. Half of the compounds had some effect of reducing the number of parasites in the bees. Anabasine, a compound found in some species found in the tobacco family, was shown to reduce parasites in the bees by 81%.

What does that mean? While the article doesn’t blatantly say it, it means a lack of plant diversity and an increase in monocultures is having a negative effect on bees. While scientific studies such as this provide the concrete evidence we need to fight back against poor agricultural practices, I like to think its common sense to most that limiting the diversity of plants, shrubs and trees is going to be a bad thing for the local fauna.

The good news is you can help. Whether you have a few pots on your balcony or a large, organic farm, you can incorporate flowering plants that attract bees. This doesn’t mean you need to turn acres upon acres into wild fields of flowers (though I’m sure the bees wouldn’t complain) you can still add to plant diversity by incorporating flowering plants into hedgerows, borders, potted plants and so on. Many tobacco species, in fact, are very pretty, adorned with large trumpet flowers that smell heavenly. No smoking required.

See, tobacco can be pretty! Just don’t smoke it please.

So the next time you are ogling a seed catalogue for your veggie patch or small farm, consider selecting a few flowering plants. Some of my favorites are chamomile, calendula, echinacea and borage. Just be sure to avoid invasive plants like butterfly bush!

Top Photo Credit: “Bumble bee hovering” is copyright (c) 2011 Steve Slater and made available under creative commons 2.0

Second Photo Credit: “Heide Gardens Common Tabacco Nicotiana Tobacum” is copyright (c) 2013 Heide Museum of Modern Art and made available under creative commons 2.0


  1. areallysmallfarm February 25, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Nice plug (pun intended) for tobacco! I often plant Nicotiana rustica and N. tabaccum along some of my garden edges for hummingbirds and bees. Around the edges of my corn and squash garden is a wide long strip dedicated to flowers for bees and butterflies. It contains buckwheat, field peas, annual vetch, sunflowers, dill, coriander, poppies, and various species of mustard. There is always a lot of bee and butterfly activity there.

    It was interesting that the article in Conservation Magazine asked if a bee can tell the difference between an alkaloid and an iridoid glycoside. Apparently, larvae of woolly bears do select plants with these compounds to rid themselves of parasites. I would suspect that bees can taste them as well.

    1. humblebeefarms February 25, 2015 at 11:51 am

      Often I think we don’t give enough credit to animals and insects. I agree with you and suspect as well that bees seek out the beneficial plants.

      This past summer my husband I did a 1,000 mile loop in Oregon. One of the B&B’s we stayed in had this amazing garden with towering tobacco plants. The old gentleman who tended the garden (and owned the B&B) said he swiped the seeds from a historic garden. He sent me home with a pod off the plant filled with seeds. I’m saving them for when we move to Oregon. I was pretty astonished at how many bees were hanging out on the plants!