HERBalachia: Creative Placemaking in Unicoi County, TN

I didn’t realize it at the time, but when my Papaw took me out in the woods to look for mushrooms or gather plants, I was being given a gift that I would appreciate for many years to come. It is becoming a passion of mine to share this with others.

“My Granny used to tell me what all the plants were used for, but since I was just a kid, I didn’t pay attention. Now I sure wish I had.”  I can’t tell you how many variations of this story I have heard over the years, so apparently I was not the only 7- or 8-year old with a short attention span.

The thought of all the knowledge, history, stories, and herbal remedies being lost due to our apparent disinterest began to bother me a few years ago. It nudged me toward wondering what other reality might still be possible for us here in east Tennessee.  It led me to want help my neighbors to use the herbs growing in our fields and woods. It led me to nibble on chickweed and flirt with stinging nettle.

My first challenge was to figure out how to collect and share the knowledge that is still alive in our community. We needed a school:

HERBalachia welcomed our first class of herbal students in 2017. Fourteen of those 30 students were medical professionals, which indicated to me that herbs appeal to more than gardening hobbyists and flower children.  Since our first year, the school has expanded to include a second training year for health professionals, and this year we will offer our community the Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival on September 7.

The festival, to be held in downtown Erwin, TN, will offer free admission due to support from Central Appalachian Network (CAN) Small Grant Program and Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD).  The grant has enabled us to develop educational tracks on a variety of topics such as herbal propagation, medicinal herb products, building community and resource conservation. The festival will also highlight vendors of local native plants, medicinal varieties, various herbal products and crafts. Children’s hands-on activities such as edible plant identification will also be offered.

Festivals can be a fun time for the community, but Sassafras Moon also has the goal of ‘placemaking’ in Unicoi County. As we highlight the area’s herbal history and botanical resources, some of the unique character of Unicoi County is brought to life again, and we are reminded of our strong connection with nature, still a part of our daily lives here.  

Our ‘festival hub’ creates a physical opportunity to connects the wheel’s various community spokes- local herbalists, growers, educators, non-profits, local government, community elders and students. Creative collaborations of individuals and groups with common interests and goals can be powerful agents for change and growth. We hope this will be one avenue by which we can meet some of our regional challenges of income, health care, and employment.

As we make plans, we look forward  to welcoming herb-lovers as well as the just plain curious to the Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival this year!

Sassafras Moon Herb Festival, will be held Saturday September 7, 2019 in downtown Erwin.  The festival is free to the public and offers three educational tracks: Herbal Propagation/Foraging, Medicinal Herbs, and Community/Conservation.

Sponsorships and Vendor applications are currently being accepted. Learn more about the festival on Facebook page: Sassafras Moon Herb Festival, or at HERBalachia.com

Contact: Michelle Bouton, Michelle@HERBalachia.com.