Category Archives: Sow & Grow

Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference

A celebration of diversity and earth-based healing

by Banta Whitner

If you long to renew your spirit, remember your roots and explore the teachings of the Wise Woman tradition, you can experience all this and more at the 12th annual Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference. From October 12–14, more than one thousand women will gather on the banks of Lake Eden in Black Mountain, NC, making this one of the largest and most popular herbal conferences in the country.

“The growth of the conference speaks to women’s desire to be proactive about natural health and wellness—their family’s, the Earth’s and their own,” says Corinna Wood, conference founder, herbalist and teacher. Participants can choose from more than 70 classes and workshops, including medicine making, plant walks, nutrition and self-empowerment, sacred sexuality and holistic health.

“The Wise Woman tradition tells us that compassion, simple ritual and common herbs heal the whole person and maintain health, wholeness and holiness.”
~Susun Weed

Wood will co-lead the opening ceremony on Friday evening with singer-activist Amikaeyla Gaston of the World Trust Organization and featured presenter of “Healer Heal Thyself: A deeper look into racism and bias in ourselves and the world.” This intensive workshop invites the conference community into a deeper mutual understanding of racial oppression and internalized privilege. The dialogue continues in “Unity Village,” a gathering place for women of color, as well as a vibrant opportunity for dialogue and bridge building among all women.

The Wise Woman tradition

The Wise Woman tradition embraces simple living, earth-based healing, the medicinal properties of native plants and the cyclical seasons of nature. According to internationally acclaimed herbalist Susun Weed, it is the oldest tradition of healing on our planet, yet is rarely written or talked about. “The Wise Woman tradition tells us that compassion, simple ritual and common herbs heal the whole person,” says Weed, “and maintain health, wholeness and holiness.”

Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference

Rebecca Word, naturopathic doctor and teacher at the conference, appreciates this yearly opportunity to immerse herself in the Wise Woman tradition. “The SEWW weekend is a time to step outside my everyday roles and into something calm, meaningful and deeply nourishing,” says Word, who joins an impressive faculty lineup that includes Sarah Thomas, Pam Montgomery, ALisa Starkweather, Amy Jo Goddard, Jody Noe, Marsia “Mother Turtle” Shuron Harris, Suki Roth, Lucretia Van Dyke and Kathleen Maier.

Kathleen is director of Sacred Plant Traditions in Charlottesville, VA. “We need to enter another dimension, another language. We need to transcend words,” she says of her class on the meaning of ceremony. “‘Anthropologists call this the liminal place—crossing a threshold into sacred space.”

In addition to a full class schedule, the conference offers dance and drumming, story-telling and music. Chloe and Leah, the visionary musical duo Rising Appalachia, will raise their voices in songs steeped in world culture and a passion for social justice.

Who will attend?

Women of all ages, beginning and practicing herbalists, health professionals, wildcrafters, gardeners and students of the Wise Woman tradition are all invited. Non-class activities are open to all attendees and include yoga, movement and film, along with interactive social events. Special programs for young women ages ten to 17 encourage the development of a strong self-image and an interactive relationship with the Earth.

Conference attendance is limited to women and girls (boys up to age nine may attend). Childcare is available during class sessions. Accommodations range from tent camping to indoor cabin lodging. Weekend meal tickets provide admission to communal meals featuring locally sourced organic offerings. At the Food Pavilion, vendors provide alternatives to the scheduled meals. For conference details, pricing and online registration, visit

Banta Whitner is a founding member of the Plough to Pantry editorial council. Holistic psychotherapist, organic gardener and writer, Banta blogs at

A seed in profile: Garlic

Story by Chris Smith | Photos by Joye Ardyn Durham

Squash, tomatoes and beans each boast a panoply of colors and flavors. Even if we don’t grow and enjoy them personally, most of us know something about their variety. But garlic surprises people. As a culinary necessity, we may experience garlic largely through a few cultivars of artichoke garlic grown in China, Korea or ‘locally’ in California. But there are many hundreds of named cultivars out there and getting to know their subtle differences is a joy.

In southern Appalachia, we may not manage production on the scale of California, but we can grow some mighty fine garlic.

The first distinction for the budding garlic grower is the choice between softneck and hardneck garlic. In general, softnecks have more cloves per bulb, store for longer and have a greater tolerance for heat. Hardnecks are easier to peel, carry more complex flavors and send out an edible ‘scape’ in late spring. Both thrive in our region.

Right now, during the fall season, is the best time to purchase and plant seed garlic. Seed garlic refers to garlic cloves that have been tested for common diseases and have not been sprayed with sprouting inhibitors. Once planted, each clove will grow into a garlic plant and form a new bulb.

Seed garlic or garlic seed?

A clove is not a seed. There have been no flowers, no pollination, no mixing of genes. Rather, growing garlic is a form of clonal propagation (much like growing potatoes). The new garlic bulb that we harvest in summer is an identical genetic match to the clove we planted the fall before.

A Seed in Profile Garlic

Garlic seed is a rare thing. Selective breeding over thousands of years to grow garlic without a flower (leading to larger bulbs) has led to garlic’s ubiquitous infertility. The advantages of cross-pollination and varietal improvement are all but lost to garlic (note: current projects are in the process of re-breeding seed garlic).

In southern Appalachia, we may not manage production on the scale of California, but we can grow some mighty fine garlic. Garlic expresses strong phenotypical traits. In other words, genetically identical garlics will show different skin color, clove size and taste characteristics based on environmental conditions (a major reason why there are so many named cultivars).

WNC Garlic Fest

If Gilroy, CA, can have a garlic festival, then certainly Asheville deserves one, too. October 1, 2016, marks the third annual WNC Garlic Fest, organized by Sow True Seed. WNC Garlic Fest is a celebration of all things garlic, with local vendors offering a wide selection of surprising garlicky delights.

Enjoy delights from local vendors such as garlic ice cream, a garlic ganache and garlic caramel vinaigrette (just to name a few). There will be garlic farmers, garlic fanatics and free garlic growing workshops.

WNC Garlic Fest aims to bring the awesome and varied world of garlic to the awesome people of our region. Please accept this invite to join us for a free garlic-centric, smelly but wonderful experience! Vampires welcome, if they dare!

Learn more at or at Plough to Pantry‘s event listing.

Sow True Seed garlic varieties

German Red: a staff favorite hardneck variety with beautiful purple-red skin coloration, great flavor and excellent productivity.

Incellium: a Slow Foods Ark of Taste variety with complex flavors, large cloves and good storage.

Elephant Garlic: not a ‘true garlic’ but actually a bulbing leek. Mild garlic flavor with massive cloves.

More varieties and growing information at

Chris Smith is community coordinator for Sow True Seed. On his one-half acre homestead, he experiments with landraces, selective seed saving, crop trials and seed grow outs.

Wild edibles: two orange edibles of summer

Above: Allison Porter with Chicken of the Woods (photo by Alan Muskat)
by Roger Klinger

Summer descends upon us with beautiful, long days of sunshine and abundant harvests. The mountains are bursting with flowers and along the roadside, carpets of wild orange daylilies bloom in profusion.

Daylilies are tough and hardy in addition to providing a delicious forest feast. They reproduce easily and are adaptable to a wide variety of soils and light. In Chinese literature, daylilies are compared with the symbol for “forget worry,” which is a perfect metaphor for summer’s bliss and also indicates how easy these flowers are to grow and cultivate.

Wild Edibles
Daylily (photo by Sue Wasserman)

“Wild daylilies exist in such incredible abundance that one could feed the whole county easily,” says Alan Muskat, founder of No Taste Like Home and Asheville’s Wild Food Adventures programs.

Daylilies’ genus, Hemerocallis, comes from the Greek words “hemera and kalos” which translates to “beautiful day.” Common names include “ditch lily,” “outhouse lily” and “washhouse lily” as they thrive in roadside ditches and, for decades, many people would plant them near their outhouses.

The flowers and buds of common orange daylilies are edible and tasty! The young flower buds can be prepared like string beans and the flowers can be added to salads in small quantities. Flowers can be stuffed with goat cheese and sautéed or frittered and served with maple syrup. Young daylily shoots can be cut and trimmed, peeled lightly and served steamed like asparagus. My favorite method of preparation is to peel the young shoots and sauté them in garlic with a splash of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. The small tubers are also edible but one must be careful as they have poisonous lookalikes in early spring, such as daffodil and iris, which are toxic—but it is easy to tell the difference once the plant begins to flower.

“Some people do experience mild gastrointestinal distress from eating daylilies,” warns Marc Williams, a local ethnobotanist. So, as with all foods, wild or commercially grown, it is always best to begin experimentation with small quantities. Only the wild orange daylilies are known to be edible as the jury is still out in regards to edibility for the thousands of hybridized varieties dwelling in our gardens.

Daylilies and chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms are two of the best wild edibles our region has to offer.

From early summer into fall, the forests of the Blue Ridge also yield another tasty treat: chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). These beautiful bright yellowish orange mushrooms grow in abundance on trees and have pores instead of gills.

A stunningly beautiful mushroom, chicken-of-the-woods is a variety relatively easy to identify with layers of brilliant orange and yellow rosettes. Many years ago, I found more than 40 pounds of them growing on a single fallen log.

Wild Edibles
Chicken of the Woods (photo by Sharon Mammoser)

The flesh is meaty and dense, and they are outstanding when sautéed in garlic and butter. In general, I trim only the softer, fresh, outer portions of the mushrooms as they can become woody and tough towards the center.

Daylilies and chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms are two of the best wild edibles our region has to offer. So enjoy these orange splendors of both forest and field, celebrating the diverse bounty nature so freely provides us all.

Roger Klinger is a naturalist, ethnobotanist, counselor and artist who writes extensively on wild edibles and medicinal plants.

For the love of heirloom tomatoes

Story by Banta Whitner | Illustrations by Linda Santell and photo by Sarah Jones

Heirloom TomatoesYou plant the seedlings and hover over them like a worried parent. You fret during the rainy stretches and pray it doesn’t hail. You pick off the hornworms and douse the leaves with compost tea. Miraculously, you dodge the blight.

Heirloom TomatoesFinally, with a deft twist of your wrist, the first lumpy Cherokee Purple tomato of the season drops into your waiting hand. Sun-warmed and luscious, it’s love at first bite. But why do these homely heirlooms enchant us?

“People want to eat food that reminds them of when they were young,” says Amy Hamilton, owner of Appalachian Seeds Farm and Nursery. “They love to hear the stories about the heirloom varieties, and they love to tell their own stories as a way of remembering.”

Tina Masciarelli of Waynesville is a writer and biointensive gardener. “I first started growing heirloom tomatoes as an homage to my grandmother,” she recalls. “Running barefoot to pick a perfectly ripe tomato to slice and enjoy on a freshly baked biscuit was a breakfast staple for us growing up.”

Heirloom tomatoes have history. Their lore and heritage go back at least 50 years, and many varieties are centuries old, their seeds handed down over many generations. The Cherokee Purple likely comes from the Cherokee Indians of Tennessee, who shared seed with their white neighbors. The 1930s-era “Mortgage Lifter” was developed by West Virginian M.C. Byles (Radiator Charlie), whose farmstand sales paid off his mortgage.

“People want to eat food that reminds them of when they were young…They love to hear the stories about the heirloom varieties, and they love to tell their own stories as a way of remembering.”

Nostalgia is a powerful draw. So are the complex tastes of heirlooms, from sweet to citrusy, tangy and surprising.

“I grow heirloom tomatoes because I have yet to find a hybrid that rivals their flavor,” says Melissa Rebholz, owner of River House Farm in Greeneville, TN. “My dad picked one and bit into it, then ate it like an apple,” Rebholz adds. “When a meat-and-potatoes guy is eating raw tomatoes in the field, you know they’re good!”

Love apples

When farmers in the 1700s began growing tomatoes as a cash crop, consumers hung back at first, believing the fruit known as “love apples” to be a poisonous member of the nightshade family. Legend has it that a soldier in George Washington’s army committed suicide after he realized that he’d unwittingly served tomatoes to the general.

For the next 200 years we embraced countless varieties of tomatoes for their extravagant diversity of color, size, shape, texture and flavor. Then, after WWII, commercial agriculture introduced hybrid tomatoes, bred for increased yield, disease resistance, ease of shipping and consistency in size and color.

But these conveniences came at a cost. Writer and gardener Paul Theroux once famously described the industrial hybrid tomato as a “bright, gassed, ripened-in-the-truck ball of tasteless pith.”

The recent rekindling of our passion for heirlooms parallels burgeoning trends toward organic farming and gardening, and support of the local economy. Carol Koury, founder of Asheville-based Sow True Seed, says, “Old-fashioned tomatoes just taste better than those commercial hybrids, and more and more people care about the quality of our food, where it comes from and
how it is grown.”

Becki Janes, owner of Becki’s Bounty in Black Mountain, agrees. “I grow heirloom tomatoes for four basic reasons: taste, tradition, economy and challenge.” The seeds are open-pollinated and true to Heirloom Tomatoestype, easy to save and share and replant the next year.

“The challenges to growing heirlooms are their susceptibility to blight, their tendency toward low yield, and their poor shelf life,” says Steve King of King Harvest Farm in Canton, NC. “They are always best when picked ripe and eaten fresh.”

While more vulnerable to disease than hybrid varieties, heirlooms are well worth the extra care, home and market growers insist. “Growing heirlooms is like gambling,” says Rebholz. “You don’t always know what’s going to happen, but when you win big, it’s amazing.”Heirloom Tomatoes

Banta Whitner is a founding member of the Plough to Pantry editorial council.

Putting down roots: Cultivating soil and community in west Asheville

above: Natalie Pollard, owner, Villagers by Olivia Siegel
by Ashley English

If it were possible to summarize a person in a mere two words, “intrepid and observant” might best describe Natalie Pollard. The owner of Villagers, an urban homesteading supply store in west Asheville, she’s equally bold and attentive in her approach to all arenas of life, be it plants, landscapes and cultures (she’s traveled to more than 30 countries), or the patrons of her own store.

Backgrounds in art and landscape architecture (fields of study in which she holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively), coupled with a profound and abiding interest in the way individuals interact with and react to their environments, provided the staging ground for Villagers’ creation. Hard work, coupled with acute vision and an understanding of what her community needed—and at the time was lacking—have translated into a thriving, vibrant business.

“I like that it is known as an approachable place, where customers can gain access to knowledge and the supplies they need to make more conscious consumer choices.”

~Natalie Pollard, owner, Villagers

A San Francisco Bay area native, Pollard has called western North Carolina home since 2010. Originally drawn to the area for its storied history in herbalism and plant studies as well the fact that her parents had recently relocated to the Charlotte area, she completed a yearlong course in herbalism from Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Although most attracted to the vast landscapes of the ocean and desert offered in her home state, preferring the “expansive, open horizons and dwarfing scale of those places,” Pollard wasn’t quite ready to leave the area upon completion of her herbal certificate. After cobbling together employment from a variety of part-time jobs, a desire for more directed, meaningful work led to her opening Villagers in October 2012.

Whether seeking out a source of organic chicken feed, cultures for making yogurt or fermenting vegetables, or heirloom-worthy garden tools, Villagers offers a wide selection of items falling under the far-reaching umbrella of “urban homesteading.” Furthermore, the store maintains a regular roster of classes, ranging from creating a home apothecary, to identifying birdcalls, to woodcarving, and beyond.

True to Pollard’s original vision of cultivating community, Villagers has developed a well-deserved reputation as a community nerve center. “I am most proud that the shop has become an established resource in Asheville, as a hub for sharing information and ideas, and for supporting the knowledgeable community that inspired me to open it in the first place,” she says. “I like that it is known as an approachable place, where customers can gain access to knowledge and the supplies they need to make more conscious consumer choices.”

Villagers is located at 278 Haywood Road in west Asheville. Visit the online store and learn about classes at