The Swannanoa Journal: Chestnut Herbal School

Makenzie Ray Peterson talks about roots herbalism at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine near Asheville.

In partnership with Warren Wilson College’s Environmental Leadership Center, Xpress presents The Swannanoa Journal, short audio essays on regional environmental sustainability issues, written and recorded by WWC students.

Growing up, I didn’t know a lot about plants, but I did know they’re magic. We had vines spilling out of hanging pots in the corners of every room. The plants were a safe place, as if I knew they could take care of me. Once there appeared a small pot beside the window. It cradled one fat green spike reminding me of a dinosaur’s back. Soon it sprouted more spikes until it looked like a thick green flower. I thought it seemed crowded in the small pot, but my mom said those little green spikes were happy that way. I imagined each tendril was spooning the next and whispering to its friends at night when I couldn’t hear.

One afternoon I reached for something on the counter and slid my finger against a still-hot pan on the stove. I cried out and saw my skin turn pink on the spot. My mother went to our little green plant and snapped off a tip. She said it didn’t mind, and pressed its cool jelly center to the burn. Instantly it was soothed, and I knew that the plant was my friend.

This is shared knowledge at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine near Asheville, North Carolina. They offer classes in the tradition of Roots Herbalism—in a hands-on, personal, down-in-the-dirt kind of way. They believe it is important to remember and respect the knowledge of our ancestors while also recognizing that which we have gained through scientific exploration. They teach almost all classes outdoors, creating what they hope will be life-long relationships with the fauna. The school director and primary instructor, Juliet Blankespoor, has been sharing her passion for plants by teaching herbal medicine and botany for over 18 years. She notes, “One of my favorite aspects of the school is watching people become more comfortable in nature and more tuned in to their surroundings, including the plants.”

The school strives to be guided by the wisdom that all life is sacred, teaching ethical gathering techniques and sustainable wild-crafting. Students will learn medicinal uses for the plants they study; gain skills in concocting teas, tinctures, and oils; and leave the program with a full natural medicine chest created by their own hands from fresh bioregional and organically grown herbs.

The school is located in a fields-and-forest area where they grow more than 75 species of medicinal herbs. Blankespoor believes that growing and gathering food and medicine is empowering, revolutionary, and highly entertaining. She remarks, “When we can step outside of the human realm and focus on the elements, and other life forms, we sense ourselves as part of something grand.”

The Chestnut School offers experience in plant ecology and identification, wild foods, organic gardening, and permaculture. Their programs include days spent in the diverse gardens and fields that surround the school along with camping field trips in the beautiful forests and many ecosystems of Southern Appalachia. By creating better relationships between humans and plants, they strive to support people in getting to know and care for the Earth once more. As Blankespoor put it, “It is quite simple. People will protect what they love.”

For more information on the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, visit their website at

Click here for more from the Fall Semester 2011 Swannanoa Journal.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Webmaster
Mountain Xpress Webmaster Follow me @MXWebTeam

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.