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Why Are Some Herbs Fragrant

We wanted to explain a bit more about which herbs are fragrant and how we can use this to our advantage. From working out where to plant them, to which foods they will go well with. Aroma plays a massive part!

smells from lavender
Pathways cutting through lavender will create a wonderful heady aroma when you brush past.

There are evolutionary reasons behind scent and aroma in plants. There are two main benefits to being fragrant. The first is to attract pollinators to the flowers and the second is to deter pests and bugs from eating the leaves. Often that strong aroma is also linked to a strong flavor, unpleasant to predators, but great for us!

So let’s look more closely at each of these two reasons, and how we can maximize the clues that strong fragrance gives us.

“To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.”

Beverley Nichols

Herbs That Are Fragrant To Attract Pollinators

Having highly scented flowers draws in bees and birds to feed on the nectar within and carry the pollen. Pollen needs to travel between flowers in order for the flowers to reproduce.

Fragrant flowers to attract birds to feed.
Flowers have evolved to allow pollinators to feed from them.

The process of pollination requires both male parts – the stamen and female parts – the stigma, coming into contact with one another. It needs to be from one flower to another, so when the bees land inside the flower and take pollen on their legs, often in big pouches on the hairs. Then they travel to the next flower and rub against the top of the stigma some of the pollen is loosened and fertilizes the female part.

Fertilization means that the plant can produce seeds and live for another year. The more successful an herb is at getting pollinators to the flowers, the more seeds they will be able to produce and the better chance of survival to the next generation.

The bee is not aware of this byproduct to her foraging trips. All she knows is that nectar is food and she needs to bring this back to the hive or eat it herself to survive. Nectar has a sweet, flowery, fragrant smell and the stronger that smell is the more it is attractive.

Think about a Scottish Highland filled with heather and warmth of Autumn sunshine, then think of that fragrant waft that you can almost see it is so thick. That will travel and beekeepers will even be asked to move their hives for different seasons. Lavender fields are also popular spots to move a seasonal hive to.

The best herbs for fragrant flowers will also attract the most bees! So think about a lavender path, Hyssop to fill a space, lemon thyme to hang around a pot, or even allowing mint to flower.

Herbs That Use Aroma As A Deterrent

Some herbs have a gentle scent when we brush past them. Plant lavender or rosemary on the pathway to your front door and you will thank me! What we mean as a deterrent can be a little more pungent than that. Often that fragrant aroma can indicate a bitter taste when eaten.

The defense mechanism of a strong taste will discourage many pests from eating on, think about raw garlic vs roasted garlic. We never have any issues with our bay leaves being attacked by pests! Similarly our Lemon Verbena could be planted in a slug infested spot and go without a second look.

Crumbling herbs can release these aromas and taste and be very useful when we are cooking. Our dishes will be affected with how we prepare the herbs. Whether we crush or chop. Blitz them in a hand mixer or add them to a dish fresh and whole.

Tactical Planting Of Herbs That Are Fragrant

We plant a lot of our herbs in pots. This is so that we can move them to sunny spots or to keep them alive overwinter. However another benefit is that we can enclose ourselves during summer evenings when we want to eat outside.

Herbs like Mint are exceptionally pungent and will deter flying pests from the dinner table. We use Lemon Verbena as one of the closest to a natural citronella and move it to create a natural partition in our garden. Even oregano has a sharp pine scent that is a repellent to bugs.

Burning sage on the log fire can be great for seeing off bugs. As can rosemary and lavender sticks.

An extremely bitter herb like sorrel can also indicate that eating in vast quantities could make you unwell. It contains the same active ingredient as rhubarb. Meaning it can be very beneficial to our health in small portions, but do not get carried away!

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