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do deer eat herbs

Do Deer Eat Herbs?

Having deer in your garden can be both wonderful and annoying, especially when you are trying to start your herb garden. I wanted to make sure my herbs were safe from deer before planting them outside so I did some research to figure out: do deer eat herbs?

Deer eat herbs that do not exhibit a strong scent such as parsley, dill, coriander, marjoram, and chives. Strongly scented herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme are safe from deer.

In this article, I’ll explain if and which herbs deer eat and which they don’t. I’ll also go over several tips I have discovered on how to keep your herbs safe from deer and have them not be eaten.

What herbs do deer eat?

Deer eat mild herbs like parsley, dill, coriander, marjoram, and chives. Deer tend to eat with their noses first. This means they smell everything that looks like a potential food source and then let their olfactory sense decide whether to eat or not to eat (that is the question).

Since we have noses too, we can use this information to protect our herbs from predatorial deer. A simple test to check whether a deer would eat a certain herb is to smell the leaves.

Do they smell rich, strong, and flavorful? Then a deer will likely stay away. Do they barely smell like anything? Then be aware!

Here are some herbs deer commonly like to eat:

  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Coriander
  • Marjoram
  • Chives

These herbs are rather mild in scent and flavor compared to Mediterranean herbs like basil and oregano. For the most part, their smooth foliage also appeals to a deer’s kinesthetic sense. If you’d still like to plant parsley, dill, coriander, marjoram, and chives, follow some of the tips below to prevent deer from eating these types of herbs.

What herbs do deer not eat?

Deer will not eat herbs with strong scents such as basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, or lavender. In fact, these herbs can even be used to keep deer at bay.

Deer & Herbs

While deer use their sense of smell first to determine the edibility of a herb – and thus avoid heavily fragranced foliage – they will also test the plant texture with the tongue before chowing down.

As such they avoid plants with fuzzy or hairy foliage. To test this simply brush the tip of your fingers over the herb’s leaves and them and check if you notice any fuzziness. If what you feel is smooth like a baby butt, it’s a deer’s delight.

With smooth foliages and a strong scent these following herb are frequently consumed by deer:

  • Basil: Basil is one of the most well-known natural deer repellents. And if it should fail at keeping deer away it will surely not be eaten by them. The smell of basil is too overpowering for a deer’s nose.
  • Lavender: Because of its strong fragrance deer will not even touch lavender. Hence, it can also be used effectively to “fence in” your herb garden and shield it from deer.
  • Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme: Just like basil and lavender these herbs exhibit heavy fragrances and have a strong flavor profile. Most deer – unless almost starving – will not touch oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.

How to keep deer from eating your herbs

Keeping your herbs alive and the deer away can be a difficult task if you happen to live in an area with a high deer population. Luckily, there are several things you can do to keep deer at bay.

For clarity’s sake, I’ll divide the methods of keeping deer from eating your herbs into two categories: those repellents that can be applied to the plants directly and those that can be set up independently.

First, let’s talk about what you can apply directly to or next to your herbs to prevent deer from eating them:

  • Coffee grounds: Coffee grounds are frequently taunted as one of the best methods for protecting plants from deer. The reason is the intense smell of coffee beans. Just like chili this pungent scent causes deer to avoid your garden.
  • Garlic: Another less smelly method is to use crushed garlic. Simply put some crushed cloves next to your herbs and the deer will stay away. The odor of garlic will usually be less intrusive than wet coffee grounds to humans.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar is a great natural way to keep most animals away from herbs. You can use organic apple cider vinegar, just be careful not to apply it directly to the leaves of your herbs since the acid will damage them.
  • Chilli Pepper Spray: Homemade pepper spray with cayenne pepper is probably my favorite way of keeping unwanted visitors away from herbs. It can be applied directly to the herbs without damaging the plant and will not only keep deer away but even bears tend to avoid its scent.

Next, let’s look at how we can keep deer out of your herb garden entirely. These methods revolve around the same principles and all include either unexpected sounds or movement:

  • Windchimes: Using windchimes in your herb garden is a fantastically easy way of scaring deer away. The sudden and unexpected noises caused by gusts of wind will usually have deer retreat at the slightest breeze.
Homemade windchimes keep deer away
  • Reflectors: The best way to use reflectors to keep deer from eating your herbs is to hang them somewhere they are frequently moved by the wind. This way light reflections will appear at random and indicate movement and potential danger to a deer.
  • Moving Objects: Other moving objects you can place close to your herbs should also do a fine job at keeping deer away. You could experiment with motion sensors and other tech gadgets if you’re feeling fancy.


Deer like to eat herbs just as much as the next herbivore. However, they tend to single out herbs with a lighter fragrance. Strong scents are usually a turn off to a deer’s nose.

It is important to keep in mind that the eating of deer may vary by region and herd behavior. But following some of the methods I’ve outlined above should give you a fair chance to protect yor herbs from hungry deer mouths.

“Deer” by thriol is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0; “Deer” by Tjflex2 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; “Windchimes” by SurFeRGiRL30 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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