Last Updated on November 4, 2021
Lemongrass oil for bees is regularly promoted as a way of attracting bees to hives. Evidence suggests this works. We will take a closer look at how you can use lemongrass oil to benefit your beekeeping.
What Is Lemongrass
Lemongrass refers to a family of grasses with lemon-scented essential oils. These grasses contain a high concentration of terpenes in their stems which confer a lemon scent.
This is a picture of a very sad lemongrass clump growing in my garden. It got slightly frosted in winter but will recover with some help. I keep this plant for culinary purposes, making gin, and for my method of catching bees.
A Quick Introduction To Terpenes
Terpenes are volatile aromatic essential oil compounds that tend to have a scent that humans and other creatures can detect. Many plants produce these compounds both in their flowers to attract pollinators, and in many cases to defend themselves against insects, other animals, and diseases.
The result is that terpenes have a wide range of biological activities, and are an important part of our experience of this planet.
Some Of The Strongest Human Memories Are Attached To Smells
Think of walking in a pine forest, the sound of the wind in the treetops, and the scent of pines – that is the terpene pinene. Remember the first time you peeled an orange as a child – that strong orange peel smell – that was d-limonene. Freshly cracked pepper on your breakfast eggs -pinene, and caryophyllene. The list of terpenes with interesting scents goes on and on.
Terpenes and The Human Body
Significant amounts of research are being conducted globally finding more and more ways in which various terpenes can benefit human health. These compounds are generally biologically active and can enhance your mood, give feelings of calmness, health, and ability to sleep among other things.
Terpenes and Bees
Bees have an incredible ability to detect various smells. This makes sense as their food source tends to have terpene odor markers to attract the bees. The bee antennae can detect small traces of terpenes and other aromatic compounds. This allows the bees to find flowers easily.
The honeybee has a complex language in the hive. Some of this language comprises dances and vibrations. A lot of that language is however a scent language. Pheremones in honey bee hives are primarily scents of some or other sort, that have a communication effect. If you have been stung by a bee you know the banana smell that is in bee alarm pheromone.
Nasonov Glands and Terpenes
If you have smelt bees fanning to direct a swarm into a box you will have smelt the lemony citrus sort of smell that comes from the Nasonov gland. The Nasonov gland is used for a lot of communication both in swarming, on flowers, and in the hive. Nasonov pheromones contain terpenes. The dominant terpenoid components of Nasanov gland pheromones are geranic and nerolic acid, citral and geraniol.
Lemongrass contains myrcene, limonene, citral, geraniol, citronellol, geranyl acetate, neral, and nerol. There is a bit of overlap here with Nasanov gland pheromones.
Lemongrass Terpenes and Bees
As we can see by comparing the terpenes in Nasanov pheromone and Lemongrass there is some overlap. This has resulted in many people believing that in some way using lemongrass oil is like painting a billboard above a beehive saying “please move in”. There are many swarm attractants marketed that contain lemongrass oil. There are also homemade recipes that you can make which attract bees.
I think it is a bit optimistic to think that bees directly are attracted to Lemongrass oil and read it as one of their own pheromones. I think this would be similar to telling somebody that love is good and hence evil which contains nearly the same letters is the same word. Bees have very precise ratios of components of the volatile compounds they use to communicate which confer specific meanings.
Nevertheless, using lemongrass oil definitely speaks to the bees.
How We Can Use Lemongrass Oil In Beekeeping
The most effective use of lemongrass is as an attractant to bring swarms into catch or bait boxes. If you place a few bait boxes in an area where you expect swarms, you can place a few drops of lemongrass oil in the bait boxes to attract scouts to these boxes. Scouts will find the boxes and then this helps them bring the rest of the swarm. If you put too much lemongrass it will chase the scouts away.
In this regard, I have found that for my trap boxes a recipe that works really well is that I take a few sprigs of lemongrass from my clump. I then run these through a blender. In a separate area, I have a pot of water that is just below boiling. Into this pot, I place a smaller metal vessel (I use a large tin can).
Double Boiler To Prevent Fires
This is a double boiler – you never heat wax directly. The reason for this is that invariably you will get distracted while waiting for it to melt. Then you wander away and come back to your house/shed etc burning down. If you use a double boiler, you use water to limit the temperature to boiling point. This way you cannot heat beeswax to its flash point and it will not catch alight.
We use the double boiler to melt a half-pound of beeswax. If you have a bit of propolis throw this in as well. Right at the end, when everything is melted and mixed, throw the blended lemongrass paste into the mixer. If you do not have a blender, just chop it up finely, or grate it end on.
Bee Attractant Paint For Bait Boxes
Use this mixture of beeswax, propolis, and lemongrass plant matter to paint the inside of your bait boxes. Just a few dabs of paint near the entrance on the inside of the box and a small dab on the landing board.
I have had the experience once when I was putting catch boxes up in Eucalyptus trees that a swarm moved into a box baited like this as I was still attaching it to the tree. Most bizarre. I have spoken to beekeepers who catch thousands of swarms a year with boxes baited in this manner. This lure really works.
We hope this article has helped you understand how lemongrass oil for honey bees is a tool to attract swarms into your trap hives. It is fun to think that we can use plants to talk to insects! Spread widely if you enjoyed the tricks in this article.
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.