Sassafras Moon: Appalachian herb festival set for Saturday in downtown Erwin

Sue Guinn Legg • Sep 4, 2019 at 5:22 PM

ERWIN — To help restore and preserve the herbal traditions of the Southern Appalachians, HERBalachia will present a daylong festival Saturday, Sept. 7, in downtown Erwin celebrating the indigenous herbs that grow wild across the region.

Made possible by grant funding from Appalachian Sustainable Development and the Central Appalachian Network, the Sassafras Moon Herbal Festival will offer guests an opportunity to learn how to identify, harvest, grow and use the region’s native plants and roots as it has been done for centuries.

Michelle Bouton, founder of the HERBalachia herb school in Erwin, said the Unicoi County area for many decades was known as “a cradle of herbalism in the United States” because of its vast biodiversity.

“Local Appalachian root diggers’ provided around 75 percent of the crude herbs for medicine trade in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. So many people have stories of their mamaw or papaw taking them into the woods to teach them about herbs, but the information on these plants and their usage is all but forgotten,” she said.

The festival will feature free informational sessions on a variety of herbal topics presented by local experts including HERBalachia instructor Joe Hollis of Mountain Gardens, Jeannie Dunn of Red Moon Herbs, and ginseng specialist Chester Crain. Vendors also will be on hand with a wide variety of native plants, herbal teas, soaps and herb-inspired artwork available for purchase.

The first herbal school in East Tennessee, HERBalachia opened in Erwin in 2016 to help keep the region’s herbal traditions from dying out, to provide local residents with knowledge to put the plants that grow in their backyards to use and to boost health and prevent disease as it has been done for hundreds of years.

Classes will include plant identification walks in local fields and woods and hands-on medicine making in which students learn how to stock their own homegrown apothecary with herbal tinctures, teas, salves, lotions and syrups.

Due to a high level of interest among local health care providers, the school also partners with East Tennessee State University College of Nursing to provide a series of advanced classes for continuing education credits.

Festival hours will be from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. More information about the festival and HERBalachia is available online at HERBalachia.com and the HERBalachia Facebook page, or may be obtained by contacting Bouton at ​​michellebouton@HERBalachia.com or 423-612-7494.