The Patio-Pot Solution

The Patio-Pot Solution

Want to help save the butterflies? Food writer Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl on how something as simple as planting a patch of herbs can support these pollinators.

Even though I know that panic is the single most useless human state, I am in a full-fledged panic about the future of butterflies. I panic because the bad news about butterflies, as well as bees and other pollinator insects, keeps on coming. These pollen-carrying, nectar-drinking necessities to the survival of every fruit, every flower, and nearly all plants are in danger.

While researchers continue to investigate the rise in pollinator deaths, many experts have linked it to the widespread use of systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids. Neonics work their way into a plant’s every cell, contaminating the pollen and nectar, which then harms the insects.

No insects would mean no birds (who eat insects) and no plants (which are pollinated and perpetuated by insects). And this is when I start to panic.

It is exactly at this moment that I remember that most anything can be accomplished if you break it into small, doable chunks. And the least you can do is often an excellent first step.

When it comes to the pollinator crisis, the first thing is to realize that it’s also a flower crisis: There are not enough poison-free flowers available for butterflies and cohorts.

And guess what? We eat flowering plants, too.

So, do this: Get a pot and find a sunny place on your patio, deck, wherever. If you have just a little room, plant oregano, and let it flower. If you have more space, plant mint and oregano together. If you have even more elbowroom for a garden, add sunflowers, calico asters, and marigolds. You have now made a pollinator salad bar.

To sweeten the deal, once your plants get going, there will be plenty for both you and your butterflies. Clip off the branches and try these uses:

  • Fresh mojitos. To make a classic mojito, muddle a handful of mint leaves with sugar and fresh lime juice, then add rum and soda water. A nonalcoholic version is just as good: Just substitute bubbly water.
  • Mint and feta cheese are one of those combinations that go beautifully with so many spring salads: mint and feta with watermelon, with tomatoes, with thinly sliced radishes, with fava beans, with beets, and on and on.
  • Chimichurri sauce. The Argentinean herb sauce is glorious on steak, sandwiches, or a frittata. Blend 1 cup each fresh parsley and oregano, 3 garlic cloves, ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup red-wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper.
  • Oregano chicken. In summer, make a chicken marinade with olive oil, lots of fresh oregano leaves, garlic, and lemon juice and slices. If you have a whole chicken, stuff the bird with lots of oregano.
  • Yogurt-mint sauce or salad. Plain yogurt with mint is a staple in both Greek and Indian cuisines; in India, that’s a basic raita. Combine the two with salt, pepper, and perhaps a little fresh garlic or lemon juice.
  • Mint pesto. It’s traditional in England to pair mint sauce with lamb. Try a mint pesto made with fresh mint, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, toasted almonds, and, if you want, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Oregano and mint are also full of antioxidants, vitamin K, minerals, and, like all plant leaves, fiber.

There. I feel better. I have stopped panicking, now that I remembered that the least I can do is actually quite a lot. And I’ll get mojitos and more all summer, plus healthy food for some winged neighbors who dearly need it.

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Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a James Beard Award–winning food and wine writer.

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