Last week my friend and I drove to Asheville for a great adventure!
Our first stop was Pangaea Plants, LLC. It is about an hour outside of Asheville, and the farm is owned and run by Gabriel Noard. His farm is biodynamic certified, organic certified and GAP (Good Agriculture Practice) certified. He grows mostly herbs and some gourmet vegetables.
The land he farms on is absolutely beautiful! His field is surrounded by mountains and truly breathtaking.
He showed us some neat places like this pile of worm compost. Gardeners’ gold!
Red Amaranth drying in a covered hoop house.
And his new harvester from Harvester Concepts, Ltd. Everything was adjustable to accommodate herbs needing to be cut at different heights.
The wheels turn the barrel which pushes the herb against the blade, the herb is cut and falls onto the conveyer belt and into a tarp. I was very impressed by the functionality.
Then he showed us the herb dryer he built recently out of a shipping container. It has exhaust fans and a heat pump with a programmable thermostat to be able to manipulate the drying temperature for different plants.
He gave us hats and gloves, and we took off our shoes, put on booties and then we were able to peak inside. There are also more pictures of the herb dryer on his Facebook page Pangaea Plants, so you should check it out. It was an amazing visit.
After we left his farm, we found a small town to stop and eat our packed lunches. This is Maisie, my friend and traveling buddy. She is a Master Gardener and director of the Medicinal Herb Garden at UGArden. We have a great time traveling together!
The next stop was the BioNetwork Natural Products Lab . We met with Marie Knight, the lab coordinator. She was amazing to talk to and very knowledgeable, and did a great job giving us a tour of their labs.
They have done a lot of different things over the years, but most recently they do a lot of hops and beer testing and they have a test kitchen that acts as a go-between for a kitchen producer and manufacturing on a large scale. They have lab space that people can rent out to do analytical testing, or they will run samples for a fee and help with method development. They also offer a lot of classes and she said her favorite thing about her job is to show people that analytical chemistry isn’t scary and can be a lot of fun. I love that attitude and feel the same way! It was a pleasure to talk to her.
The next place we stopped was the United States Botanical Safety Laboratory. They are a non-profit North Carolina based botanical testing and formulation service. They help validate and authenticate the quality of herbal ingredients that are going into manufactured products by helping test for things like microbial contamination, heavy metals and pesticides and testing for beneficial compounds and helping with product development.
After we left the USBSL we checked into our hotel and walked around Downtown Asheville. It was so much fun! We went to a Caribbean/Mexican restaurant for dinner.
Then Maisie treated me to a chocolate drink called the ‘liquid truffle’. So. Yummy.
The next morning we found a great restaurant called Green Sage where I got smoked salmon and avocado sandwich on gluten free bread. They also had filtered water which I got unnecessarily excited about. I am spoiled by my great water filter at home, and finding good water on the road is always a challenge.
After breakfast we checked out of our hotel and went to the North Carolina State University Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center. Margaret Bloomquist was our lovely tour guide!
I got to share with Margaret about my research.
Then she took us around the farm and showed us their forest medicinal garden where they do research on growing forest medicinal herbs like black and blue cohosh, ginseng, bloodroot, goldenseal, etc…
Then she took us to the hops yard. There is a big interest in finding hops varieties that grow well in the southeast for the craft beer industry. So, they are growing many different cultivars and comparing disease resistance, yield, vigor, etc. There is one plant per trellis, each trellis is attached to a cable on top that is controlled on the side by a wench so they can lower the trellis to take data and crank them back up.
The flower of the hops plant looks like a papery cone and is called a strobile. The flavor of hops is bitter and aromatic. The active ingredient in the flower is lupulin, which is the yellow substance at the base of the bracts. I personally am not a big fan of beer, but I love drinking hops tea, especially when it is combined with chamomile as a calming and sedating tea. Margaret shared that she makes a sachet of dried hops and lavender for her daughter to put under her pillow at night. I think I might have to try that.
The Margaret took us to their Chinese medicinal herb plots. These plants do best under shade so they were planted under a shade structure. They have wild yam, shizandra, and many more!
We had such a great time with Margaret and learned so much!
The next stop was the North Carolina Arboretum.
They had remarkable lego structures around the building. My favorite was this humming bird.
We ate a picnic lunch and walked around the arboretum and then went to see Joe-Ann McCoy. She is the director of the NC Arboretum Germplasm collection. Their mission is to preserve native seed and do nutrition and propagation research of these native populations.
We went there to get a tour of the NC Arboretum Germplasm and hear about her work, but we ended up talking about my research the whole time! I got to show her some pressed plant samples of my holy basil, smell my essential oils and show her pictures of harvesting and processing the holy basil. She was so kind, and asked lots of questions and gave me some great feedback. I appreciate her spending the whole appointment listening to me and I hope to go back sometime to be able to learn more about what she does!
The exciting moment of the trip was when she walked us out to our car, I pulled something out of the trunk to show her and I locked the keys in the trunk! She was great and immediately called someone she knew to help us get it unlocked. We were on our way within 20 minutes to our last appointment.
Our final stop was to see Jeannie Dunn at Red Moon Herbs. She showed us around, shared her story about how she came to be owner of Red Moon Herbs. It was apparent she strives for excellence in her business and does her best to source quality ingredients for all of her remedies. This business if a labor of love for her and I loved hearing about it!
She even brewed up some of this tea blend and talked about how she is trying to source more of her ingredients locally. The tea was delicious and then she sent Maisie and I both home with a goody bag that included a bag of tea, local soap, fire cider, and some soap nuts.
She also was really interested in my research and helped me with a new side project I am working on. If anyone is looking for a good source of bulk herbs, tinctures and salves please check out her website, Red Moon Herbs!
After our last stop with Jeannie we hit the road to head home. It was a whirlwind trip and I was amazed by the generosity, strength and diversity of the people we met. It was enlightening to see how a passion for herbs can take many different forms. From growers and people that sell herbal products to researchers and analytical chemists, there is a place for everyone in the herbal community.
To be honest, I don’t know yet where I fit into this community, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn about the possibilities :)!
I found people and businesses that I want to support, my perspective about what is possible was broadened and I learned more than I could have imagined. Thank you all for a great trip!