Henriette den Ouden, specialty herbs consultant for the Small Farm Program at University of Maryland Eastern Shore Cooperative Extension, uses the end of a plastic spoon to ease a seedling from a tray. “Never touch the roots,” she warned. The fats from your hands can damage them. (Photo courtesy Henriette den Ouden)

There are several reasons to grow herbs, not the least of which is their beauty in the garden.
Herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are grown for culinary use, as are less familiar choices including cilantro, culantro, pipicha and papala.
Herbs grown for tea include chamomile, calendula, lemon balm, lemongrass, holy basil, bee balm, lavender and ashwanganda.
For skin care, there’s aloe, arnica, calendula, nigella sativa, self heal and St. Johnswort. Or, you can make repellants from holy basil, catnip, lemon balm, citron geranium, mint and marsh rose.
(Editor’s note: While it’s easy to find how-to instructions online, it is also easy to check the basics of drug interactions, side effects and dosages to make sure use of certain herbs is safe for you personally.)
Through the wonders of Zoom, Henriette den Ouden, specialty herbs consultant at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, was able to share videos taken at the Demonstration Garden at UMES as she conducted a workshop on “Growing Herbs at Home” on May 28.
Den Ouden grows herbs and produces herbal teas at Habanera Farm (shop.habanerafarm.com) in Tyaskin, Md.
Den Ouden offered three rules to follow in choosing which herbs to grow:
• Whatever you do, do it so you love it. You can have a formal design or no design at all.
• Make your culinary herb garden close to your kitchen.
• Do not fight nature. Consider where the herbs originated. The accompanying chart may help.
Don’t combine herbs that love humidity with those that like it dry, or sun-lovers with those that grow in the shade.
Soil preparation is important.
Most kitchen herbs like drier, alkaline soil; most medicinal herbs prefer slightly acidic soil.
Use lime for more alkalinity; peat moss for acidity.
Almost all herbs prefer a well-draining soil.
Annual addition of compost helps. For containers, perlite improves water content and drainage.
Never add animal-based manure in the spring, den Ouden said.
Natural soils are loam, clay, sand or a combination of these.
If you are purchasing products, keep in mind these differences: potting soil is soil that maintains the water balance; topsoil is a lower quality garden soil, garden soil is a mixture containing compost and soil.
Seed-starting “soil” is often a soilless mixture just for seeds.
When seedlings start getting bigger, put them in a larger pot — and if you’re going to keep them there, add fertilizer and potting soil.
If you are making your own raised beds, “please go find quality soil to put in them,” den Ouden advised.
The potting medium should be damp before you start planting, “just enough so you feel moisture with your hand.”
There are all sorts of containers available.
Old-fashioned clay pots look beautiful but dry out relatively quickly. “Mother used to put her pots in water once a week, but that’s a lot of work,” she said.
Some containers are self-watering, useful if you’re one of those who might forget to water.
Always use containers with holes in the bottom for drainage.
Before you plant, as with a recipe, it’s important to read the seed package all the way through first.
Understand the light and depth requirements so you know how to cover the seeds with soil. Some seeds require pre-treatment such as scarifying or soaking.
Look for the germination rate. Sometimes it’s as low as 50 percent.
Native plants don’t produce seed to be grown by people but scattered by nature.
For example, horehound has a germination rate of about 30 percent, although this member of the mint family grows wild in disturbed soils and roadsides.
A good quality seed will have a date and lot number. For medicinal herbs, be sure the Latin name is on the package. Some plants have the same common name.
Follow directions for temperature requirement.
If you’re growing inside your home and it cools down to 60 degrees, start seeds on a plant heating pad — one with a thermostat.
“Always press lightly on seeds. If planted outdoors, a dog walking on them helps. It shows the seeds where to grow — which direction is up. Unless it’s a big dog,” she cautioned. If you have a large area, drive over it with something with wheels.
Once your seedlings are up, thin them if needed. Take seedlings outside in flats to acclimate them. Don’t just plant them in outside soil; that’s too much shock.
When transplanting, do not touch the roots, as fats from your hands can damage them.
Do not compact the soil, as roots need open space to grow when this size. Always water a little after transplanting.
What can go wrong? Plenty, but mostly it doesn’t, den Ouden said. If you’ve followed the directions, you will have chosen the right soil, right site, right amount of sun, heat and water.
A mister is better than overhead sprinklers. Ants may destroy seedlings. Animals may dig holes or nibble plants to the ground.
“If you have fungus gnats, they’re totally fatal. If you have it, throw the seeds/seedlings away and start again. It’s not the flies but the eggs under the soil that do the damage,” she added.
This late in the season, you may be better off buying plants from a good nursery or taking cuttings from a friend’s plant.
You can divide a perennial such as oregano or thyme by cutting off a piece with roots and planting it.
Cuttings take a long time, den Ouden cautioned. “It’s not a matter of weeks.”
Once the herbs are growing, then what? To dry them, you can hang stems and flowers upside down in a dry spot with air movement or put flowers on a screen to dry.
Use a fan to remove humidity. You could put them in your attic. Don’t put them in the sun, as they will discolor.
Or, you could buy a food dehydrator, a professional brand with thermostat.
Don’t go above 105 degrees, or they may burn.
For oils, chop herb, put it in a glass container and cover with oil — a good-quality, natural, organic oil that is cold-pressed. Keep it in the sun for about two weeks. Drain through a cotton cloth, add a few drops of vitamin E for preservation. Use as is, or make cream or wax.
For use on your skin, choose oils produced with no chemical process, cold-pressed and preferably organic, den Ouden advised. Examples are olive, avocado, black seed, sunflower or coconut oils.
You can make sun tea by keeping herbs in a glass container in the sun for two hours, then filtering. Note this is not allowed by health departments, so do not sell the tea!
Herbs can be frozen in water as ice cubes, or use (olive) oil instead of water.
A freeze dryer is the best but most expensive way to use herbs. It can also be used for strawberries.
A specialty herb garden is part of the demonstration farm of UMES, but as part of the University of Maryland System, it is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 virus.
Visit umessmallfarm.com for more information.