“We envision a world in which people of all backgrounds have an understanding of herbs that can be used to heal, feed and nurture us all.”
Herbstalk, a lively and educational fair celebrating herbs and their healing powers, took place on Saturday, June 9, 2012 in Somerville, MA. The event was the first herbal gathering of its kind in the greater Boston area. Its purpose was to gather together the local herbal community for a fun and educational day in which herbal knowledge and inspiration could be shared with each other as well as with the general public in an accessible and inspirational way.
Herbstalk, founded by herbalist Steph Zabel, began with a vision to create an educational event for the general urban-dwelling public, where teachers in the area would come together to give informal classes on useful herbal topics. The Boston area is home to many wonderful herbal practitioners, schools and aspiring herbalists, and Steph wished to gather everyone together for a collaborative and dynamic day. The aim was to offer a gateway into herbalism for people who had little to no herbal knowledge, in order to inspire them to feel more empowered about taking their health into their own hands and to understand how to use herbs in their everyday lives. The event aimed to be a convergence of like-minded people with the purpose of sharing, teaching, learning, and creating community with one another around herbs.
The Event and Participants
Herbstalk’s main focus was on the educational talks that were presented throughout the day, which included a range of 30- to 60-minute long herbal classes. Over 20 herbal classes were offered on topics such as home medicine making, grassroots healthcare, holistic pet care, using herbs for specific ailments, food and nutrition, urban plant identification, and plant spirit medicine. (For the full list of classes that were given and instructor bios, see the Herbstalk website.)
The event also hosted a vibrant herbal marketplace featuring around 30 vendors selling a variety of locally made herbal products. Among those present was fellow Poppy Swapper, Herbal Revolution as well as local businesses such as Soluna Garden Farm, Goldthread Herbal Apothecary, Follow the Honey, Mama Bear Botanicals, Flowerfolk Herbs and Wild Sage Herbals. Other vendors came from all over New England, including Rhode Island, Maine and Western Massachusetts. The marketplace was a lively arena of high quality herbal goods, ranging from medicines, spices and food products to body care items and educational materials.
Many of the local Boston herbal schools and organizations were involved as participants and sponsors of the event: The Boston School of Herbal Studies, The CommonWealth Center for Herbal Medicine, The Gaia School of Healing, The Herbal Academy of New England and The NorthEast Herbal Association were all present and gave their generous support to make Herbstalk a reality.
To round out the festivities, there was a food truck outside the venue that provided delicious food all day, local musicians who played throughout the venue, and film screenings of the Herbal Aide documentary. There was also a children’s educational area with hands-on plant-related activities for the younger crowd, including a visit from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Plantmobile. A raffle prize drawing featured many wonderful products donated by the vendors, and ended up raising $400 that was donated to United Plant Savers.
Little did Herbstalk organizers know that what was first intended to be a modest gathering for Boston-based herbal enthusiasts and laypeople would turn into a large regional event that drew people from all over New England. The original idea to create a small herbal fair resulted in a huge event that grew beyond expectations…
Over the course of the day between 1200 – 1500 people attended Herbstalk, and most of the classes were filled to capacity, with up to 50+ people attending each class. According to feedback from attendees, some of the most popular classes were those that focused on making plant medicines, using herbs for particular ailments (stress, digestive health, first aid), and the plant spirit medicine topics.
The amazing turnout at Herbstalk and overwhelmingly positive response validates what many herbalists have known all along: people are craving holistic health knowledge and want to be more empowered about their own health, to better understand the healing gifts of the plants, and to feel a greater connection to the earth.
As more people decide to take their health into their own hands, events like Herbstalk can be truly empowering catalysts for creating positive change and for offering herbal education to a wide audience. Herbstalk organizers believe that there is a great need for events like this to serve as centers for collaboration, learning, networking and creating community around herbs. And they believe that it is essential that there are herbal gatherings not just for serious students and teachers, but also ones that are geared towards laypeople and herbal beginners.
Plans for future Herbstalk events are currently in the works, and the demand is for it to become an annual event! Next time organizers are aiming for larger classrooms to accommodate an even greater number of attendees, more outdoor classes and plant walks, and a range of workshops suited for beginners as well as for more advanced students.
Now is the time to join the herbal revolution that is growing from the ground up! Stay tuned for the announcement of the second annual Herbstalk and the future of urban herbal gatherings!
Steph Zabel (the woman behind the Herbstalk dream) is an herbalist in Somerville, MA. She has studied, grown, and learned about plants since she was a young girl growing up in South Carolina and Texas. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees in horticulture, plant biology and ethnobotany and has lived in and studied plants in Spain, Mexico, the U.K. and the Caribbean. She is especially interested in how traditional medicinal plants are used in urban areas. Steph is a student of Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbology course, has studied with the Gaia School of Healing and Earth Medicine, and the Boston School of Herbal Studies. Currently she is an advanced student of the CommonWealth Center for Herbal Medicine undertaking clinical herbal studies. She works at the Harvard University Herbaria where she helps curate the botanical collections used for research. In her spare time she runs Flowerfolk, a small business making herbal-based skin and body care products; she also wildcrafts local herbs, teaches small classes, and plans future Herbstalk events. Her passion is to be a voice for the herbs and to help people remember the healing power of plants.
She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org