Essential Oils for Honey Bees

Pinterest Hidden Image

In the quest for healthier colonies, the use of essential oils for bees has become a popular practice. These natural oils derived from plants are an important tool in many beekeeping circles. While not a cure for every problem facing our honey bees, the oils are believed to be a positive influence on colony health. Let’s look deeper and consider what some of the most commonly used essential oils in beekeeping can do for your hives.

Honey bees at front of hive with essential oil bottle inset.

Of course, bee health is at the forefront of any hive management technique. Always consider the safety of the bees and yourself when using these powerful substances.

Benefits of Using Essential Oils in Beekeeping

Many studies have suggested that small quantities of essential oils used in bee food or other applications have positive effects on bees. These include:

  • better overall colony health – help prevent nosema (an intestinal disease)
  • possible mite control (tracheal and varroa)
  • aid in new queen introduction
  • use as a swarm lure
  • keep syrup from becoming moldy.

Improve Honey Bee Health

Our bees live in the natural world-where they are exposed to numerous pests, pesticides and harmful environmental factors.

These stresses affect the ability of bees to take care of themselves. They are more likely to succumb to new honey bee pests.

As bee health declines, we see a desire for more natural methods (instead of synthetic chemicals) for use in our beehives.

Mite Control

Essential oils have been used in the control of tracheal mites and varroa mites. Some research shows positive results.

Is using essential oils for mite control a sound- more natural option to hard chemicals? Maybe. But this is only true if the treatment has a good efficacy (meaning it works) and does no other harm to the colony.

Colony with varroa mites in brood before essential oil treatment image.

Queen Introduction

Requeening a hive can be a nervous time. Will the new colony accept her? Or will the $40 you just spent be wasted and a young life cut short?

Some beekeepers use a mild essential oil compound when introducing a new queen into the hive. Hopefully, this helps ease the transition for our winged friends.

Swarm Lure

Honey bees are very “scent” driven. Their ability to find and recognize scents are far superior to our noses. Using essential oils as a bee swarm lure is a very common practice. Lemongrass Oil is the most popular choice.

Keeping Bee Syrup Mold Free

If you understand the importance of feeding bees – when they need it, you have spent some time preparing syrup.

Feeding bees sugar water is not an inexpensive endeavor – you don’t want to waste any. A small amount of essential oils are often added to sugar water to keep it fresh longer.

Recommendations
This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclosure.

Most Common

The most popular essential oils used by beekeepers are:

Thyme & Spearmint

Some of these possibly assist in mite control by confusing the mites or blocking their breathing pores. Both thyme and spearmint have been used in this capacity. Thymol is also active against fungus and somewhat effective in control of tracheal mites.

Lemongrass Essential Oil

The most popular oil used for honey bees is Lemongrass. It is  used as  a treatment for pests, a supplement for health boost or as a bait to lure to attract bees to swarm traps. 

Lemongrass is anti-fungal, anti-viral and antibacterial. It does mimic some common honey bee pheromones. Be careful when using any lemongrass product with weak hives. 

The scent may attract robber bees from stronger hives. The weaker colony may not have enough bees to protect themselves resulting in loss of the hive.

Tea Tree Essential Oil

Tea tree oil can actually be used to keep bees away. However, it is used in some beekeeping essential oils as an additive to sugar water. You will find it in some commercially available supplements.

Wintergreen Oil

Wintergreen essential oil was one of the first oils used to try to curb that advance of varroa mite infestations in beehives. Today, it is not used as much and it is a powerful oil so if you choose to include it in your program – be careful.

Popular Beekeeping Essential Oil Recipes

Here is a collection of some of the most popular essential oil recipes used by beekeepers. However, some of the methods of application and many of the oils are not legally approved for use in beehives. Do your research and make your own mixes at your own risk.

Recipe #1 Bee Health Boost

** Blend well – always shake before use – Use 2 tsp of this concentrate to a quart of sugar water feed

Recipe # 2 Health Boost

Blend thoroughly in a blender (5 min).  Pour into ½ gallon jug and add enough water to make 2 quarts.  

Do NOT heat the essential oils. This will make a concentrate. Use 1 cup of concentrate to 1 gallon of cool sugar water syrup.

Grease Patties and Essential Oils

Grease patties with essential oils on a beehive top bars image.

Grease patties are not as popular as they once were but some beekeepers still use them. A mix of Crisco shortening and sugar -they were originally used to combat tracheal mites.

The addition of essential oils “may” provide some varroa control. Grease patties can be used on hives most of the year.

But, they sure are a mess in hot weather! Therefore, the beekeepers who still use them do so mostly in the Winter. They should not be used when collecting honey for human consumption.

Other Bee Feeding Supplements

If you don’t have the time to make your own essential oil recipes for your bees, you do have a few options that are ready to use.

Honey B Healthy” (HBH) is a popular supplement for improving honey bee colony health. It is a proprietary blend containing essential oils and other ingredients. A small amount of HBH added to sugar water serves as a nutritional boost.

Many beekeepers use a 1:1 sugar water mixture to stimulate brood rearing. This supplement helps keep the syrup fresh.

I have used it for years and cannot say enough good things about the product. You will always find a bottle of Honey B Healthy in my equipment shed.

These products are often added to sugar water, mixed into pollen patties or added to sugar water for spraying directly on the bees.

Other choices include:

Beekeeper feeding essential oils in sugar water to colony image.

How to Use Essential Oils in the Beehive

The most common method of application is adding the oils to the mix when you are making sugar water to feed bees.

Many beekeepers spray some of the recipes (mixed with sugar water) directly on the honey bees. Do this with caution! -don’t chill the bees or spray directly into the cells. I would encourage beginner beekeepers to feed instead.

Pollen Patties With Essential Oils

When used properly, pollen patties that already contain essential oils can be a good choice for the beekeeper.

It is important to keep in mind that pollen patties must be used with EXTREME care in regions that have Small Hive Beetles.

Beetles love pollen patties and can destroy a colony in a short time. Most beekeepers that suffer from beetle problems keep Small Hive Beetle traps in the hive.

You can make your own protein pollen patties. They can be frozen and used as needed. When to use them and how much to use will depend on your location.

Expert Tips

  • Be careful – follow recipes, measure carefully. Essential oils are powerful stuff!
  • It is a well known fact that water and oil doesn’t mix easily. Getting your oils to disperse well in sugar water is made easier by the use of Lecithin Powder (lecithin granules).
  • VERY small amounts – most folks add too much product. Proceed with caution.
  • If you decide to try using essential oils in your beehives, do your research first and don’t trust the opinion of only one source. (Not even if it is me.. LOL)

I always tell the students in my online beekeeping class that controlling mites is one of the most important keys to beekeeping success. And that involves testing for varroa mites so you know what you are dealing with.

Are Essential Oils Safe for Hive Use?

In the struggle to keep hive healthy, the idea of using natural oils in your beekeeping program is appealing. They are natural products so we should have few worries, right?

Not exactly. Even though these oils are natural products-that does not mean they should be used “willy nilly”. They are powerful compounds and can do great harm when used in the wrong way.

We do not have solid evidence that the use of essential oils will handle varroa mite issues. But, they may aid bee health in other ways that helps promote productive hives.

Monitor your hives and if necessary consider some of the other softer varroa mite treatments such as oxalic acid or formic acid.

FAQs

How do you use essential oils for bees?

The most common method of using essential oils in beekeeping is to add them to food. Sugar water formulas and pollen patties are good examples.

Do essential oils hurt bees?

When used in the proper strength and application many oils promote good bee health. But, even natural essential oils can be toxic to bees and other insects. Use with care and follow recipes from reputable beekeepers with experience.

Does peppermint oil harm honey bees?

Peppermint oil has a scent that bees do not prefer. It is sometimes used to discourage bees from an area. It should not harm bees as long as it is used in a diluted form.

Final Thoughts

Many beekeepers are devastated emotionally and financially as they watch colony after colony perish from mites and related health issues. In desperation, some try non-approved methods. Some of these are great ideas that are ahead of their time and some can end in disaster. How should you use essential oils for bees? Very carefully.