If you live in an area with a lot of bear activity you might be concerned that your herb garden could attract some unwanted visitors to your garden. Bears prefer certain smells over others so I wondered which herbs are actually safe to plant to avoid bear encounters. Do herbs attract bears?
Herbs with a strong scent can attract bears. Since bears have a very acute sense of smell herbs such as mint, sweet vetch, dandelions, and clover can seem attractive and interesting to a bear.
In this article, we’ll talk about how your herb garden might be attracting bears and which herbs to avoid. I’ll also go over some tips you can use to make your herb garden less attractive to bears by masking the herbs’ scent.
Can herbs attract bears?
Herbs with a strong scent and flavor profile can attract bears. Although most bears don’t actively seek out herbs as a food source the intense smell of fresh herbs can be very appealing to bears.
Mint is a herb with one of the strongest scent profiles and is especially attractive to bears. Think of the intense smell of mint you experience when poking your nose into a bushel of mint plants to get a sense of what a bear might be smelling 10 miles away.
This is also why campsites caution against bringing along peppermint toothpaste, peppermint chewing gum, or any other peppermint-flavored foods and drinks.
What herbs attract bears?
Herbs that can attract bears include mint, sweet vetch, dandelions, and clover. Bears also eat other herbs and flowers with weaker scents once they encounter them. These include cow parsnip, horsetail, sorrel, and most vetches.
Herbs that attract bears:
- Mint: There are many variations of mint plants around the world all belonging to the same plant family Lamiaceae. Although their shape and form differ from variety to variety, what they all have in common is a strong scent that carries far and is appealing and interesting to bears.
- Sweet vetch (Hedysarum): As a perennial herb that is found in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America Hedysarum is part of the plant family Fabaceae and might be growing in your garden without you realizing. Anything with a sweet scent such as sweet vetch can increase the odds of a bear stopping by for a meal.
- Dandelions, clover: These two common grass plants are found in most wild meadows and can be used as herbs in certain cuisines. Although you are likely not actively cultivating dandelions and clover they might be attracting bears if you let them grow wild in your garden.
Do bears eat herbs?
Bears are omnivores which means they eat everything from meat and fish to nuts, seeds, and herbs. As a hungry bear will eat almost anything it is especially important to keep bears away from your garden in spring when they emerge from their hibernation.
Although bears prefer some plants over others, a fresh herb garden can be a feast for a hungry bear. However, bears seem to have a specific preference for some herbs over others. While some herbs attract bears with their scent (see above), some herbs attract bears through their taste.
Herbs that bears eat include:
- Cow Parsnip
- Most vetches
While most bears won’t say no to a delicious side dish of herbs the calories contained in them are rarely enough to satisfy a bear’s appetite. As a result, the bear might stick around and look for other edible things in their surroundings.
One of their favorite type of plants are potatoes and root vegetables. These kind of plants are nutritious and calorie-dense and provide a perfect meal for a bear with a growling stomach.
How to keep bears away from your herb garden
In order not to attract a bear to your herbs it is more important to focus on things we can avoid doing than on things we can do. No method will work 100% of the time but avoiding certain attractants in our gardens can minimize the chance of an unwanted bear encounter.
With that said let’s first look at what not to do to keep bears away:
- Don’t grow mint: As mentioned above, mint is one of the strongest smelling herbs and can attract bears from miles away. Avoid growing mint in your herb garden or throwing out fresh mint leaves.
- Don’t compost: While composting is a fantastic way to create your own fertile soil it is also a surefire way to get regular visits from black and brown bears. The same goes for any kind of food waste: don’t leave the garbage outside any longer than necessary.
- Don’t use blood meal, fish fertilizer, or deer repellent: Using blood meal, fish fertilizer or deer repellent in your herb garden will likely attract bears and other wild animals. The strong scent and flavor of animal blood and fish seem like a savory meal to any predator.
Simply avoiding the three thing listed above should help keep most bears away from your herbs or at least will not actively attract them. Now, let’s look at some active measures you can take to deter bears from herbs.
These following methods are all based around masking the appealing scent of herbs:
- Chili pepper spray: One of the most effective ways to mask an herb’s scent is by spraying the plant with pepper spray. Generally, bears prefer sweeter smells and tastes and the harsh scent of pepper can repel them. You can make your own with this simple recipe.
- Apple cider vinegar: Another harsh smell that bears tend to avoid is that of vinegar. While you should not apply apple cider vinegar directly to your herbs you can set up a bucket of vinegar next to your herb garden. You can also soak a towel in apple cider vinegar and hang it next to your herbs to cover the scent.
Lastly, you might have that using coffee grounds can be a good way to keep bears at bay but the opposite is actually the case: the intense smell of coffee can be extremely attractive to bears.
Keeping your herbs and yourself safe from bears can be challenging if you are lucky enough to live in a place on earth where bears still roam freely. Minimizing the chance of encounters with these amazing creatures will not only protect us and our crops but also the bears.
Bears are attracted to anything that smells good. As such herbs such as mint are extremely appealing to bears. Planting herbs can still be done without attracting bears if you follow some of the methods outlined above.
In the end, a balance of mutual respect for nature and our own human interests is at the core of keeping bears at bay. For more information on bears and other wildlife check out westernwildlife.org.
“American black bear” by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0; “Black bear, Blacktail Plateau Drive” by YellowstoneNPS is marked with CC PDM 1.0; “Grizzly Bear in Alaska” by Princess-Lodges is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0