Find out how your home-grown herbs can be used to keep the bugs away, flavor meals and more

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Tending to all things garden and gifts is Marcia Hawkins co-owner of Uncle John’s Home and Garden. (Photography by Benjamin Margalit/Margalit Studio)

By Ken McEntee

Depending on whom you’re talking to, the best thing about herbs may be their air-sweetening fragrance, the flavors they add to food, the colorful accents they contribute to a landscape or garden, or their medicinal and healing qualities.

“Herbs are fun to grow and fun to use,” says Marcia Hawkins, co-owner of Uncle John’s Home & Garden, and daughter-in-law of founder Uncle John Hawkins. “There are so many practical things you can do with them.”

On Saturday, May 19, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Uncle John’s will host an informal discussion about herbs, with a focus on making herbed honey.

“Using different herbs like lavender, lemon balm and many others, you can flavor honeys of all kinds in different ways,” Marcia says. “It’s fun and very easy to do.”

Basically, it’s done by slightly bruising the leaves of an herb using mortar and pestle, placing them in the bottom of a container and pouring approximately a cup of honey over them. Seal about a week, and the honey will have absorbed the flavor of the herb. You might enjoy a spoonful from the jar, stir it into tea, or tie a bow around the jar to make a homemade gift.

“It’s beneficial to use local honey,” Marcia suggests. “Local honey is thought to help relieve allergies. We carry Hilary’s Honey, which is from right here in Olmsted Falls. A lot of the honey you get in the supermarket isn’t 100 percent honey, let alone local. This is the real deal.”

Speaking of honey, Uncle John’s carries a variety of plants that will attract bees and butterflies to pollinate your garden.

Uncle John’s also sells a large selection of herbs, Marcia notes.

“We lay them out beautifully so it’s easy to shop,” Marcia says. “We have everything from sage to lemon balm to many varieties of mint and thyme. You can grow your own stevia, a natural sweetener that can be stirred into tea and other beverages.”

Many people may love the aroma of mint, but many pests do not. That’s why potted mint plants located on decks and patios, or near entrances to your home, may help to keep mosquitoes and other insects away. Mint leaves also can be used to make a great, non-chemical insect repellent.

Growing your own fruits and vegetables can be fun and healthy, Marcia suggests. If you like spice, you’ll be happy to learn how easy it is to grow mega-hot ghost peppers.

“Peppers are one of the easiest things to grow at home,” Marcia adds. “Ghost peppers can be grilled and stuffed or added to salsas and dips to turn up the heat.”

If you don’t want to make it yourself, Uncle John’s Gift Shop carries ghost pepper salsa and queso.

Another gift shop favorite is Stonewall Kitchen’s gourmet bacon ketchup, a tangy condiment that contains meaty pieces of bacon. The unique and popular product will be featured on hamburger sliders during a special tasting on Saturday, May 26, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

While you’re there, be sure to pick up all of the seeds and plants you’ll need for a summer’s worth of growing. During a recent visit to Uncle John’s, a contingent of Amish gardeners were on hand purchasing plants for the upcoming growing season.

Home gardeners who want to grow vibrant, healthy flowers and vegetables may do well to imitate what many successful professional garden centers in four states do: buy their plants from Uncle John’s.

Uncle John’s Home and Garden is located at 8579 Columbia Road in Olmsted Falls. For more information, you can call 440-235-3252 or visit