Sassafrass Moon Festival – Celebrating East Tennessee’s Herbal Heritage
Michelle Bouton, HERBalachia/Sassafrass Moon Herbal Festival
On a sunny, breezy mountain day in September, the town of Erwin TN welcomed the first Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival with open arms. Vendors, presenters, volunteers, HERBalachia alumni, and guests spent the day learning from local experts, shopping herbal products, tasting teas, trying on ‘fairy crowns’ and meeting new members of the growing herbal community of east TN.
Our 38 vendors from TN, NC, and VA set up in the parking lot of the Unicoi County Public Library, with booths ranging from live plants to herbal-dyed clothing to herbal products of every imaginable source and craft: soaps, hair rinse, imaginative Fire Cider (cacao cider, anyone?), compost, “granny’s mountain tonic”, and all things in between. The event’s most common compliment was on the friendliness and depth of knowledge our festival team presented.
As the opening day flurry settled, our presenters began offering their classes in three public venues: Union Street taproom (which featured local herbal-infused cider and beer, specially made for the occasion), Erwin Outdoor Supply (which also hosts our wild foods foraging club), and the Unicoi County Public Library. Nine classes were offered, with Joe Hollis’s talk on “Herbalism in the Southern Appalachian: Our History and Our Future” as the most popular, with over 70 people attending.
The main festival tent, staffed by HERBalachia alumni and local gardener club volunteers, continued to welcome and assist guests throughout the day. The tent featured a ‘Tea Tasting Garden’ hosted by our local Master Gardeners group, featuring 5 herbal teas offered free of charge as well as a shaded seating area to gather, chat, and relax. HERBalachia featured a ‘Fan-Raiser’, with donation toward an herbal hand fan being the ticket for our door prize giveaway (19 gift baskets from our vendors). We also hosted a free photo booth with 5 floral fairy crowns commissioned by local artists available for guests to try on and have their photo taken; this was hosted by a local arts non-profit. The final feature in this area was a kids’ zone, with nature toys and games provided by Seedkeeper Forest School, a preschool run by one of our HERBalachia alumni.
My greatest delight, amidst the hectic fun, was seeing the joy and recognition in our guests faces as they connected with family traditions and history through herbs. We heard so many stories of people being taken out into the woods by their grandparents and being taught about the herbs, a time long ago and all but forgotten. They expressed great appreciation for our effort in preserving and reviving these traditions, and were glad to be included in its continuation. I feel this is the best ‘Placemaking’ response we could have asked for, and I am terribly excited to see where this event leads us in the future.