Origins and History
By Jeanine Davis, Board of Directors Advisor
Herbs were extremely popular in the U.S. in the 1980’s. Every cooking and gardening show and magazine had a section devoted just to herbs. In North Carolina, greenhouses and small nurseries popped up around the state to satisfy a growing demand for fresh culinary herbs and herb plants and cottage businesses made and sold an array of herbal products including potpourri, tussie-mussies, wreaths, soaps, and vinegars. In 1985, Ross Williams, a marketing specialist with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, recognized the many opportunities that herbs presented and called a meeting of ten people with herb businesses to discuss starting a new commodity group. They became the steering committee that organized and launched the North Carolina Herb Association (NCHA).
The first annual meeting of the association was held in February 1986 at the Greensboro Agricultural Center. There were 240 people in attendance for a day full of presentations on how to grow and use herbs and discussions on the future direction of the association. It was there that the first Board of Directors was elected. That board was an ambitious and enthusiastic group and quickly organized the first Herb Day at the state Farmers’ Market in Raleigh. That event was held two weekends per year for many years. In 1987, the association became an “official” non-profit organization and the membership adopted bylaws and articles of incorporation were filed.
The winter conference was the signature event of the organization and was held in a different city every year.
The 17th annual conference was the last when a poor economy and predictions of a severe winter resulted in the cancellation of the 2003 event. The first Wild Herb Weekend was held at the Valle Crucis Conference Center outside Boone in July of 1988 and continues to the present day. In 1990, members in the western part of the state started an herb festival to compliment the Herb Day held in Raleigh. Although the Raleigh one died out, the Asheville Herb Festival continues today as a mostly independent event. For a period of time, there also were regional chapters in the mountain, piedmont, and coastal regions of the state.
The N.C. Herb Association is an official state commodity group, with advisors from NC State University and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Its purpose is to promote the production, marketing, and use of herbs and herb related products through education and research. It does this by sponsoring conferences and festivals, issuing a newsletter, maintaining a website, and partnering with other organizations to promote and encourage high standards of conduct and quality of products within the industry.
The association has changed in many ways over the past 25 years, but the mission remains the same. Current members are passionate about herbs and joyfully share their knowledge about how to identify, grow, use, respect, study, and celebrate herbs of all kinds. As a commodity group, NCHA is unique because over half of the members are not business owners or commercial producers, but fondly referred to as “herb enthusiasts”. The close interaction of business owners, scientists, educators, and hobbyists is beneficial to all. If you love herbs, consider joining the NC Herb Association and helping make the next 25 years even better!
Jeanine M. Davis is an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist with North Carolina State University and long-time advisor to the North Carolina Herb Association.