Twenty-five years of fresh herbs: The Asheville Herb Festival celebrates its silver anniversary

Photo courtesy of the Asheville Herb Festival.
Photo courtesy of the Asheville Herb Festival.

The Asheville Herb Festival — now in its 25th year — started out with just four growers and a handful of people gathered in a parking lot. The sustainable food movement was in its infancy, and the public was just starting to gain an appreciation for the benefits of local food, says festival manager A.D. Reed.  

As the local food movement grew, so did the herb festival. “The next thing you knew, they started getting a regional reputation and had 40 or 50 growers,” Reed explains. People began to pay more attention to the origin of their produce, and bringing herbs to the family garden was a natural next step for many families.

Twenty-five years later, the Asheville Herb Festival is now a fixture of spring in the mountains. Locals and visitors alike mob the tables, eager to meet the growers and take home some herbs for their own garden. Organizers estimate that more than 35,000 people come to the festival each year for what is now a three-day event.

Herbs of all sizes, shapes and smells will line the walkways of the WNC Farmers Market at this year’s festival, scheduled for Friday, May 2, through Sunday, May 4. More than 60 vendors from throughout the region will bring their best plants and herbal products to the fair.

Herbs for tinctures, teas and crafts will be available, as well as  salves, balms, lotions and shampoo. But the real stars are the plants themselves, especially kitchen garden favorites like basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme.

The festival will feature exhibits and presentations by Bee City USA and the Center for Honeybee Research in Asheville. “This year we’re going to have a focus on the interconnectedness of herbs and food and the process of natural growing and pollination,” Reed says. Experts will offer ideas on how to develop bee-friendly gardens and point out useful herbs that can be purchased on the spot.

Attracting bees is one of the many benefits of planting flowering herbs. But if there are unwanted pests you want to keep out of the garden, the herb festival has plants for that too. The Carnivorous Plant Connection booth will feature plants like Venus’ flytraps and pitcher plants that offer sustainable ways to control detrimental insects.

“You can do this the way your great-grandparents did. In a natural way where you don’t need to go buy Roundup, and you don’t have to pollute everything in order to have your garden,” Reed explains.

This traditional approach to gardening can yield delicious results. Reed suggests stocking an herb garden with basic cooking herbs like basil, oregano and tarragon and then branching out from there. More adventurous growers can stop by the fair for unique varieties like purple basil and lemon mint that are sure to spice up the table and bring useful plants into the garden.

The Asheville Herb Festival, hosted by the WNC Chapter of the N.C. Herb Association, will be held Friday, May 2, through Sunday, May 4, at the WNC Farmers Market, 570 Brevard Road. Free parking and admission. Lunch and herbal beverages available for purchase. www.ashevilleherbfestival.com

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