Asheville Herb Festival – A Must See Event May 5-7, 2017

| By Tammy Taylor |

Herbs have been part of human culture since the beginning of time. Although they add the characteristic Italian flavor of spaghetti sauce, as well as that nutty-exotic flavor of Indian curry dishes, herbs have long been used for medicinal purposes as well. Humans have been using herbs for medicine for at least 60,000 years. Salicylic acid, for example, is an age-old pain reliever that comes from willow bark. From soothing stomach aches with peppermint to essential oil therapy and bone-regrowth teas, herbs have long been valuable resources for people.

Animals naturally use herbs as well. Case in point, a friend of mine at the Forest Service watched a black snake fighting a copperhead. You’d think the poisonous snake would automatically win, but this wasn’t the case. The black snake left the copperhead, ate the leaves of a particular plant, and then went back into battle. In the end, the black snake won. And the mysterious plant that it ate? You’ll laugh, but it was aptly named broom snakeweed.

Will you find broom snakeweed at the Asheville Herb Festival? Perhaps. But if not, you definitely will find some amazing people and products there. This festival isn’t your local tailgate market, although the friendly atmosphere is the same. Plan on spending a few hours there, to give you time to meet the local business owners and learn about their products or services. From gardening and landscaping resources to herbal medicines and culinary supplies, this festival is one of Asheville’s best kept secrets.

Amy Hamilton, one of the few certified organic venders at the festival, has a passion for education.

Amy Hamilton

Amy Hamilton, of Appalachian Seeds, loves the whole aspect of herbal medicine and preserving the food culture with heirloom seeds. But what are heirlooms, anyway? Basically, seeds or plants that are handed down generation after generation. A good example of this is the Brandywine tomato. On the other end of the spectrum are the hybrid plants, such as Silver Queen, a super sweet corn. If you save seeds from the hybrids to plant next year, they won’t produce as expected because they are crosses of two different subspecies. A friend of mine saved seeds from a giant hybrid tomato, and the next year got only “tommy toes.” With heirlooms, you get the same variety year after year.

“We need the diversity of food that heirlooms represent. At the produce department, you see the same things, so what’s available to us is a very homogenized selection. There are so many varieties, an amazing cornucopia of food available to us and we’re tasting only a tiny fraction of that. So it’s important to keep the heirloom varieties alive and to offer things that can be grown at home to make the most use of garden space. I like to grow things that taste really good and are delicate, and heirlooms are highly adapted for our area,” Amy said.

Well yeah, who wouldn’t like to grow really tasty things that are designed just for our region? If digging up the back yard isn’t really an option for you, Amy suggests joining a co-op or visiting your local tailgate market. You’ll find delicious heirlooms as well as medicinal herbs, and everything is farm fresh.

For a charming education on herbs and heirlooms, be sure to check out the booth for Appalachian Seeds. Amy is a veritable encyclopedia of herbal information.

Cara Steinbuchel, artist, potter, lotion maker, dreamer

Cara Steinbuchel

What started out as a desperate search for a treatment to cure dry, cracked, and bleeding potter’s hands ended up being a gift that Cara Steinbuchel gives back to the community. Cara Mae Skincare offers unique lotions that are vegan, infused with essential oils, and never tested on animals. Furthermore, Cara uses organic ingredients as much as possible, while still keeping the end products affordable.

“Think of lotion as food for your skin,” Cara suggests. Since your skin is your biggest organ, it makes sense to feed it good things. Preservatives that are in commercially prepared lotions can cause skin irritations, and negatively affect the brain and the central nervous system, among other medical concerns.

And that is only the beginning of concerns about synthetic and chemical ingredients. Even the words “fragrance” or “perfume” sound harmless, but are usually made of harsh chemicals linked to cancer. There has to be a better way to smell good, right?

“The answer is in essential oils, because they are a pure, natural fragrance that also offer aromatherapy benefits, and don’t require preservatives,” Cara said. Okay, so take the idea of feeding your skin something fresh, like a salad, and consider how long commercial lotions last. We’re talking years, maybe even a decade. Would you eat a salad that still looked and smelled good even though you knew it was old enough to drive a car? No way!

“The best thing about my job is helping people, getting to meet them and hear their stories. When they tell me that their skin doesn’t crack and bleed anymore, I know I’m in the right place and time.”

With fresh, natural ingredients that not only nurture your hard working hands, but smell amazing as well, it seems the best place and time for you could be at her booth during the festival.

Cedar Cliff Farms: Your local supplier for culinary herbs, as well as heirloom tomato seeds.

Sisters Erica Curtis and Rebecca Caldwell

Sisters Erica Curtis and Rebecca Caldwell grew up helping their grandparents in the garden, where a love of home grown and canned foods was the way of life.

Originating under the tutelage of an older generation, and then emotionally sustaining these sisters through difficult times, their love of gardening evolved from simply providing food to becoming an emotional salve, and finally, a beloved occupation. Viewed in this light, gardening might just be a living entity itself, a concept that isn’t really foreign. After all, even Adam had a job in the Garden of Eden, the caretaker, which implies a lifestyle that is active, productive, and in step with plants because they grow at their own pace. You can help them with proper nourishment, but in the end, they produce on their own timeline.

Lime Basil Pesto
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups fresh lime basil leaves
¼ cup pine nuts (pignolia)
dash salt and pepper
dash of lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Add the garlic to the food processor and mince. Next, add the basil leaves, pine nuts, dash of lemon or lime juice and a dash of salt and pepper to the bowl of the processor. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil through the feed tube until all the ingredients are pureed.
You may need to stop the processor at this point and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula to get everything mixed together. Now add Parmesan cheese and mix it into the rest of the mixture. If the pesto is too thick, add a little more olive oil.
Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use it. This should keep for 2 – 3 days in the fridge but freezes well if you want to keep it longer. This is great on pasta, but it is also great with tortilla chips and salsa.

“Gardening is a long-term commitment for folks, but a much healthier option. People like knowing who they’re buying from, what the conditions were for growing, and if the food is safe. This is the way of the future.”

“Gardening and growing things is a kind of therapy. To start something and watch it grow is only the beginning. Everyone should be able to cook with fresh herbs,” Erica said. Her words and enthusiasm for culinary herbs will be obvious when you meet her at the fair. Like a friend said, her business provides an elegant product at an economical price.

What’s not to love about fresh herbs with your dinner? From locally-grown basil for a big pot of spaghetti sauce, to fresh rosemary for roasted chicken and veggies, you’ll find inspiration for cooking as well as a garden-enriched life with the help of these dynamic, fun sisters.

Their story doesn’t end there. Although culinary herbs are their specialty (try Erica’s delicious recipe for lime basil pesto below), the sisters are evolving the business to include rustic wedding services. Imagine the beauty of a summer wedding in a beautiful barn setting, complete with fairy lights, flower bouquets picked on site and a backdrop setting of gorgeous farm scenery, and you’ll understand why these sisters want to share their Brigadoon with others.

These three spotlights on businesswomen who will be at the Asheville Herb Festival this year are only an appetizer for the many other vendors that will attend. It’s a wonderful event that you’re sure to enjoy. Hope to see you there!


Tammy Taylor is a professional writer who lives in Western North Carolina on a 100-acre family farm with her two children and various farm animals. She feels blessed to still have her parents nearby, as well as her sister and her family.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker