I received an invitation to time travel last month and of course I jumped at the chance.
For several years now, Judy Sigmon and I have portrayed 1840s herbalists during the fall festival at Hart Square, Dr. Robert Hart’s complex of log cabins. It’s the largest collection of original historic log buildings in the United States and it’s right here in Catawba County. The festival draws thousands and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
This time the call came from Reggie Thomas, a friend and local photographer who’s been recording the comings and goings at Hart Square for more than 20 years. He and a videographer have been working on a series of DVDs about the village. I’d been in an earlier one, portraying a surveyor’s wife and a churchgoer, but Judy and I hadn’t yet been filmed as the herb ladies.
That Friday morning I turned up in my 19th century outfit—long calico skirts and apron. Judy and I set up a table of fresh herbs, lavender cookies and her special cordial “recipe.” We chatted on camera about medicinal and culinary uses of herbs.
Both of us have grown them for years. She’s the horticulturalist. I’m just a dabbler.
My first encounter with herb growing came in college when I bought a “grow your own” kit for parsley for my dorm windowsill. I’d heard of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Scarborough Fair”—parsley, sage rosemary and thyme. What did those plants actually look like? What did they smell like?
By the time I had my own home I had grown these and more. I quickly found out how slow rosemary grows and how mint can take over your flower beds. I learned parsley is a biennial and that chamomile produces the most delicate white flowers.
The aromatic qualities of herbs appeals as well as their direct connection to our ancestors. One of the first things a pioneer family did was plant a kitchen garden that included herbs not only for cooking but to repel pests, mask unpleasant odors and cure ailments.
How many of us know that sage, the herb used in turkey dressing, can help with digestive discomforts and memory loss?
Parsley, the garnish seen on dinner plates, is a breath freshener. It’s high in Vitamins C and K.
Rosemary, a perennial evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean, is used in meat dishes. It’s an aromatic herb that makes a great air freshener. It has been used to treat skin irritations and digestive problems. Sprigs of rosemary are said to ward off mice and rats.
Thyme is an ingredient in cough remedies, acne treatments and is said to be a mood enhancer. The plant also has antiseptic qualities.
Most years since 2008 Judy and I have showed to talk herbs at the 1782 Kahill-Dellinger House during the Hart Square Festival. The event occurs on the fourth Saturday each October. Some 200 volunteers demonstrate crafts such as spinning, weaving, outdoor cookery, sand casting, distilling, corn grinding and more.
Make plans to go this year. Tickets are sold on Oct. 1 at the Catawba County Museum of History in Newton. Be there early. They sell out quickly.
Information about the Hart Square DVD set is available at http://www.hartsquare.com/gift-shop/
Judy Sigmon (left) and me at Hart Square festival, 2015.