2023 Plant Talk 11: Plants for Crafts


Plant Talk 11 Plants for Crafts

Wowsers has it been hard to get this class out this year! It has been mostly done for a week or so but wow have the lasts edits and details dragged themselves out for me… Wish it was possible to sum up the wonderment that the last week has been currently. Certainly a highlight was visiting with and working in the gardens of some friends that are of the Aniyvwiya “Cherokee”… More challenging have been various technical issues with my computer but alas that is the give and take of life…

To the subject at hand of crafting in particular it has looked like making bouquets, yummy food with heirloom ingredients and overall trying to embody the material below that has been so diligently crafted for you. Today is also the 14th memorial of Frank Cook passing away and i will be making a Elderberry, Goldenrod, Ginger mead to honor him later today…

What’s Blooming

Some herbaceous wildflowers blooming currently around southern Appalachia:

Angelica (Angelica spp.), Bee Balm (Monarda spp.), Bluebeard (Caryopteris spp.), Butterflybush (Buddleja spp.), Canna Lily (Canna spp.), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Green Carpetweed (Mollugo verticillata), Clovers (Trifolium spp.), Corn (Zea mays), Crown Vetch (Securigera varia syn Coronilla v.), Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Dodders (Cuscuta spp.), Foxtail Millet (Setaria italica), Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.), Groundnut (Apios spp.), Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata), Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum syn. Reynoutria japonica), Jewelweed (Impatiens spp.), Meadowbeauty (Rhexia spp.), Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens), Morninglory (Convolvulus spp.), Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.), Passionflower (Passiflora spp.), Phlox spp. Rose Gentian (Sabatia spp.), Spider Plant (Cleome sp.), Tobaccos (Nicotiana spp.)Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) and Windflower (Anemone spp.).

The Asteraceae particularly are starting to do the lion’s share of the blooming…

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Chickory (Cichorium intybus), Compass Plants (Silphium spp.), Goldenrods (Solidago spp.), Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum syn. Cacalia spp.), Rattlesnake Root, White Lettuce (Prenanthes spp. syn Nabalus), Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium spp.), Marigolds (Tagetes spp.), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia sp.), Sochane (Rudbeckia laciniata), Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), Tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.), Wild Lettuce (Lactuca spp.), Wingstem (Verbesina spp. syn Actinomeris), and Zinnia spp.

Here’s a link to a photo album of many of these plants and more.


Food Ready For Harvest

Tree and shrub fruits coming on include Apples (Malus spp.), Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), Blackberries (Rubus spp.), Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and Pears (Pyrus spp.)

Veggies from the garden in abundance include many members of the Brassicaceae, Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae. We have had a particularly pest free season in the garden this year which makes me wonder… Unusual winter weather is one potential factor.

The Pepperetum this year might be the best one ever. Close to 20 varieties and almost all of them are doing fabulously! Some include Ancho, Fish, Bishop’s Cap, Habanero, Hot Banana, Ghost, Jalapeño, Serrano and Shishito. Peppers have such a great literature all to themselves (DeWitt, 2020; DeWitt & Bosland, 2014; DeWitt & Lamson, 2015; Pickersgill, 1969; Presilla, 2017).

Soon it will be time to make copious amounts of hot sauce which will probably incorporate the peppers from other folks in the community as well. Fire Cider will certainly follow suit as well (Gladstar, 2019).

What about you!?! What’s blooming and/or ready for harvest? What food projects do you have in mind? With the future challenges that face us near and far… Now is the time to be a botanical rock star!!!       

Temperate Plants for Crafts

This class is largely based on my graduate research, like many classes before. Therefore, the focus is mostly on the craft plants of Appalachia. The hope is that over time, further research by me and commentary by others may flesh out especially useful craft plants of other places as well. Much overlap for other temperate areas will already be apparent too…Without further adieu….  

The rich craft tradition of Appalachia was surveyed quite thoroughly by the 1930s (Eaton, 1973). Crafts originally provided a means to the end of functional necessity. With modernization, crafts became a commodity that allowed people to celebrate the days of old. The push to make crafts into a large scale business sometimes had deleterious consequences (Becker, 1998). Many women and children were exploited to perform repetitive tasks for little compensation. Unfortunately, many people are still abused in such a way in various areas of the world to this day… Fairly recently came across a mildly successful story of women in Ghana making baskets that generate millions of dollars though the sharing of the profits is still far from adequate given the basic needs that at the time remained unfulfilled to make them more comfortable while working.

Crafts are still a source of pride for people in the Appalachian mountains and supply one of the few remaining manufacturing industries. Homemade crafts provide a greater sense of place for residents. A renaissance of crafts at the home level might reduce dependence on cheaply made products from afar, which often depend on exploited labor as mentioned above.

This class describes a vast array of plants that have been used for various crafts in Appalachia. One goal of such a list is to encourage a further resurgence in Appalachian crafting as an industry but also in the home. The knowledge of what part of the plant to use, how to prepare it and time to harvest it are all essential details that can be found in the multitude of resources that are cited herein.

The diversity of craft industries traditionally practiced in Appalachia is extensive. A short list includes textiles, basketry, toys, musical instruments, furniture, kitchen implements, pottery and other assorted knickknacks. Many types of dyes have been used to color textiles and wood products as well.

Important centers for the pursuit of crafts in Appalachia include Berea College, John C. Campbell Folk School, Penland School for Crafts, The Crossnore School, Pine Mountain Settlement School, and various other places around Asheville NC (Eaton, 1973). The Biltmore Estate near Asheville was a particularly strong supporter of the crafts movement in times past. The Southern Highland Craft Guild has served as one of the main organizations for jurying art work and presenting a quality product to the public. The Appalachian Regional Commission  is a traditionally strong supporter of the development of crafts (ARC Tourism Council, 2003; Bradshaw, 2014). The U.S. Forest Service has also provided support for the development of craft industry (Nelson & Williamson, 1970). The Center for Craft Creativity and Design often in collaboration with Warren Wilson College is another good resource. Warren Wilson also had for five years a Master’s degree program in craft.


The manufacture of textiles has a long tradition in Appalachia. The typical plants that provided the fiber since colonization include Cotton (Gossypium spp.) and Flax (Linum usitatissimum). Though important to mention that native species of Cotton grow in the Americas and have rich traditions in those areas as well.

Wool from animals was also commonly used. Appalachians of European descent used spinning wheels and looms. Indigenous people in the area originally did much of their weaving by hand to process fiber into textiles. A full spectrum of old school to more recent innovations are now used in the Asheville textile scene in particular. Alyssa Sacora of the Patchwork Underground is certainly one of my all-time faves!

Other plants of the Appalachian region that have a tradition of fiber use include Basswoods (Tilia spp.), Cattails (Typha spp.), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), Tulip Magnolia (Liriodendron tulipifera), and Yuccas (Yucca spp.) (Tim Manney, personal communication, October, 2009 and Doug Elliott personal conversation November, 2015). A couple Rushes (Juncus effusus and J. tenuis) are documented for use as string by the Cherokee (Moerman, 1998).

Dogbanes (Apocynum spp.) and Milkweeds in particular have documented use across quite a number of taxa by the Cherokee and many other Indigenous groups in the Americas i.e. Asclepias perennis, A. quadrifolia, A. syriaca and A. tuberosa (Hamel, 1975).

Hemp (Cannabis sativa) certainly had a role as an Appalachian fiber plant and my hope is to dig deeper into that for the class next year (Billings & Blee, 2000; Harris, 2021; Hopkins, 1951).


The history of natural dyes is a fascinating one (S. Robinson, 1969). Many dyes need a substance called a mordant to act effectively. Mordants serve to prepare the material to take color and also help ensure color fastness. Color fastness applies to durability both due to the effects of washing and exposure to light. Some dyes are more color fast to light while others are more color fast to washing (Nicholson & Clovis, 1967). The use of different mordants also may give alternate colors from the same plant (Cannon & Cannon, 2003). Here is a neat article about the ancient dye process in Britain including elements regarding mordants and colorfastness.

Dyes that don’t need fixing, especially through toxic metal mordants such as chrome and tin, represent a potentially more sustainable alternative. These dyes require less foreign ingredients and have less chance of negative health effects. However, the dyes are often expected to first function well and hold their color if they are to be considered fully sustainable. Some mordants such as tannins, iron, vinegar and even urine offer less toxic alternatives to heavy metals. A couple specific resources that i am familiar with are available to explore the chemistry of natural dyes specifically (Epp, 1995a, 1995b). Rebecca Desnos is one artisan with a great presence regarding plant dyes online. Further online resources for supplies and education include www.stonycreekcolors.com, www.botanicalcolors.com, www.maiwa.com and here in Asheville https://localcloth.wildapricot.org.


The most important traditional dye sources in Appalachia were Indigo and Madder (Eaton, 1973). Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria and spp.) was combined with straw and sumac (Rhus) to make a dye cake for the color blue (Eaton, 1973). The cake was kept in an iron pot that was used continuously sometimes for decades. This process did not require a mordant. Indigo is also one of the most famous dye stuffs in the world (Alvarez, 2012; Balfour-Paul, 2000; Choi, 2021; Gerber, 1977; Van Stralen, 1993). It bears mentioning that other plant species are also called Indigo from the Baptisia genus. At Warren Wilson and in the dye gardens of others in southern Appalachia a type of Asian Indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) is often grown to get a blue effect in dyeing. Woad (Isatis tinctoria) is a tradional blue dye of Europe though it bears mentioning that it is often an exotic invasive in North America.

Madder (Rubia tinctorum) has a tradition of use by the Egyptians and the Spanish Moors and then was introduced to the rest of the world by Holland. It produces various shades of red. Combined with Black Oak (quercitron) it produces a bright orange. It works on wool or cotton but both materials must be mordanted first. A wild type of madder is said to be native to Appalachia (Eaton, 1973). This is probably a plant in the Galium genus. Madder is another famous dyestuff worldwide with its very own literature (Chenciner, 2000; Greenfield, 2005; Murphy, 2005; Van Stralen, 1993).

Several areas of the world have specific resources in regards to natural dyes. One includes information for Japan (Nakano & Stephan, 1982). Another includes dyes from Hawaii (Krohn-Ching, 1980). While another is specific for the plants of the Northwest U.S. (Green, 1975). Australia and New Zealand have one as well (Lloyd, 1971). Florida is yet another example (Smith, 1993).


The traditions related to Andean textiles have been studied more than a lot of other cultures (Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, 2013; Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Franquemont, & Coca, 2013; D. Y. Arnold & Espejo, 2015; Callañaupa, 2005; d’Harcourt, 2002; Doig & Castro, 2005; Dransart & Wolfe, 2011; Heckman, 2003; Joslyn, 2013; Makowski, 2006; Mayolo, 1989; Meisch, 1997; Phipps, 2013; Rowe, Miller, & Meisch, 2007; Silverman, 2008; Simmons, 2014; Stone-Miller, 1995; Tidball, 1968; Young-Sánchez & Simpson, 2006, 2006; Zorn, 2004).

Natural dyes are sometimes described as not holding their color as well as artificial ones (Dalby, 1985). However, when natural dyes fade, they retain the shade of the original color and a muted softness that many have found appealing (Eaton, 1973). Novel dye stuffs that don’t require mordants have at times been listed (Samuel & Higgins, 1976).

Dyes from lichens in the Peltigera, Usnea, Rocella, Cladonia and Urcealaria genera have also been recorded (Krochmal & Krochmal, 1974). A few references for using  lichens specifically do exist as well (Bolton, 1972; K. D. Casselman, 1994, 2001; K. L. Casselman, 2001a, 2001b; Gordon, 1980; Lindsay, 1855; McClure, 1992; McGrath, 1977). Very much bears mentioning though that Lichens grow slow and my entreaty to you is to never pick them living off where they grow. Windfalls after storms are a potential sustainable source for experimentation within moderation.

Some sources refer to dyes from Mushrooms too (Bessette & Bessette, 2001; M. Rice, 2007; M. C. Rice & Beebee, 1980).

Several details are important to the dyeing process. Parts used may include roots, stems, leaves, fruit, bark, seeds or the whole plant. The time of year when the products are gathered is sometimes important. Some materials must be used at once, whereas others may be dried and stored. Wood ashes are sometimes also employed in the process.

Different dyes and different processes are appropriate for different fibers. Indigo and Madder are suitable for both wools and cotton. Wool is easier to dye than cotton and both are easier to dye than anything else (Leechman, 1943). However, other natural fabrics may be dyed including Jute (Corchorus spp.), Linen and Silk. Synthetic fibers will not accept natural dyes (Samuel & Higgins, 1976). All fabrics need to be washed prior to dyeing. Dharma Trading Company is a good source for pre scoured cloths.

Common names of dyestuffs that were cited by Eaton (1973) and not recognized by me or questionable on identity include Common dock (Rumex or Arctium?), Gorse bark (Ulex europaeus?), Bog myrtle (Myrica  or  Morella?), Iron wood (Carpinus?), Kidney vetch, Meadow rue (Thalictrum?), Saw-wort, Stone crottle and Fustic (Maclura tinctoria?). Natural dyer Jenny Liles (1990) recorded many common names and traditional dye recipes from the past that might be of interest to historical period researchers. Types of dye stuffs, dye recipes and weaving patterns from the early 1800s have been collected by researchers as well (Bronson & Bronson, 1977).

Natural dyeing has an effusive literature that is perhaps a testament to its attraction and popularity (Adrosko, 1971; Arañas Spinners and Weavers Guild, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1973; Bliss, 1993; Böhmer, 2002; Buccigross, 2006; Callahan, 2010; Castino, 1974; Crook, 2007; Dalby, 1985; Davenport, 1976; Davidson, 1974; Dean, 1994, 1999, 2009; Delamare & Francois, 2000; Dronsfield & Edmonds, 2001; Dyer, 1976; Fereday, 2003; Flint, 2008; Hallett, 1992; Hardman & Pinhey, 2009; Kierstead, 1972; Kramer, 1972; Lambert & Kendall, 2010; Lathrop-Smit, 1978; Leechman, 1943; Lesch, 1970; Maile, 1969; McRae, 1993; Milner, 1971; Palmer, 1980; Reagan, 2003; Richards & Tyrl, 2005; Rudkin, 2007; Schultz, 1975, 1975; Senisi, 2001; Sugar & Myers, 2002; Thomas, 1980; Wenstob et al., 1978; Wickens, 1983)

i have created a master list of dye plants as one product of my research. An analysis of the literature shows that many plants only appear singularly or within a few sources. Potential for further research includes compiling a list of all dye plants ever cited with requisite information about mordants, colors, nativity, color fastness, invasiveness, plant longevity, and other pertinent information. If only i could secure some funding for such an endeavor!

Major plant families that dye plants come from include the Asteraceae, Betulaceae, Ericaceae, Fabaceae, Rubiaceae, Rosaceae. The species name tinctoria, tinctorum or tinctorius implies that it is a plant used for dyeing and is always a good marker when looking through a list of plants.


Woodworking also has a long history in Appalachia and throughout the world. The trees most often used include Oak (Quercus spp.), Ash (Fraxinus spp.), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Hickory (Carya spp.), Maple (Acer spp.), Walnut (Juglans spp.), Cherry (Prunus spp.), Linden (Tilia spp.), Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and Pine (Pinus spp.). Eaton (1973) provided an example of the multiple uses of one type of tree by stating that “hickory was used for mauls, tool handles, basket handles and for splints in basket making. He went on to say how hickory made good firewood that produced a useful soft light-gray ash. This ash could then be used for homemade soap and as an ingredient for dyes. Hickory bark is also exceptional for seat bottoms. Hickory poles can be used in broom making. The inner bark of hickory has been used for dyeing. Green wood of hickory has been employed in curing ham and the wood has also been added to maple syrup or even sugar syrup for flavoring.”

A number of different trees have been used historically in Appalachian chair making. Most people would employ sugar maple (Acer saccharum) or Ash (Fraxinus) for the posts, Hickory (Carya) for the rounds and either White Oak (Quercus alba) or Hickory splints for the seats (Eaton, 1973). Other chair makers would employ Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), White Walnut (Juglans regia or J. cinerea?), Mulberry (Morus), Yellow locust (Robinia sp.?), Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and Birch (Betula). Walnut was used for rockers because it caused them to cling to the floor rather than creep like Maple or Hickory might do (Eaton, 1973).

Appalachian craftspeople are known for a diversity of other wood products. In the mid 1800s physician Francis Porcher (1970) offered a detailed account of useful woods and other plant items for crafts. Bowls were often made from Walnut (Juglans), Maples (Acer spp.), Cherries (Prunus) and Cedar (?) in Appalachia (Eaton, 1973). Boxes were made from the same and also Holly (Ilex) (Eaton, 1973). i have heard educator and Earthskills enthusiast Natalie Bogwalker call Holly “spoonwood” and another friend refer to it as Appalachian ivory. Many other items for the kitchen were traditionally carved from wood as well. Carved figures were made from Apple (Malus) and other close grain woods. Tool handles are traditionally made from Ash, Hickory and Maple. Bobbins from Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) and Dogwood (Cornus florida) are traditional too (Eaton, 1973). Birdhouses and bird feeders are made in a multitude of ways from various types of woods. Different birds also flourish from different styles of houses and feeders (Adams, 2013; Kress, 1998, 2006; Roth, 1998; Schmauss, 2014).

Blow guns from native rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea) are an indigenous tradition as is crafting spoons, walking canes, forks and napkin rings from mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) (Eaton, 1973). One study delineated the contributions of Cherokees to Appalachian crafts of which most were wood products (Arnold, 1952). Cherry (Prunus) and Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) were the major woods used by people in the study. Novel woods not mentioned already but not understood to scientific name are Coca bola, Bass-lynn, Lignum vitae (Guaiacum?) and Locust. The use of 23 woods was documented in total (Arnold, 1952).

One novel application of a wood product entailed the use of Witchazel (Hamamelis virginiana) shavings to fill bed mattresses (Eaton, 1973). The Foxfire project described a money making modern example of woodworking in Rabun Co. GA. The artist used no dyes but employed various woods for different colors. Primary materials employed were Maple (Acer sp.), Walnut (Juglans), Cedar (?), Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) and occasionally exotic woods as well (Johnson, 2004).


i would like to fill out this section more as time goes on. i am personally a peace loving vegetarian. That said i realize that everything in the world is food for something else and hunting in my estimation can be an honorable way to go about providing sustenance especially compared to the fossil fuel dependent and inherently unsustainable Industrial Food Complex of many places in the “modern” age. Animals like deer and turkeys are becoming overpopulated where i live and hunting them may help preserve the environment from being denuded as well as provide high quality meat. In regards to using weapons against people i am torn… Of course the ideal would be to have peace on Earth forever. However, we are so far from that reality right now with the potential for things to get much, much, worse. Many areas of the rich areas of the world like Australia, Canada, Japan, Western Europe and the USA are largely buffered from political problems like those from around Africa, Latin America, the Middle East especially in poorer areas and among many other places experiencing turmoil and conflict currently.

However, as further disruptions occur from climate, pollution, global economics, resource depletion, natural disasters, viral outbreaks etc. i think many would be taken aback at how primal Lord of the Flies style our society might become rather quickly. i personally hope to be really good at a bow and arrow before that time may come to pass just in case. Coming from a four generation military family tradition and being raised by a drill sergeant certainly had an effect on me regarding this whole subject as well really.

In that regard coppiced plants have long been used to form the shaft of arrows. Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) and Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) are a few woods that can be used in this regard. Darts for blow guns could be fashioned from Locust and Thistle (Bauman, 2004). Eustace Conway of Turtle Island has continued to fashion items in such a way up to the modern day. The blow gun itself can be formed from Rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea). Chippewa uses for  Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) include tool handles, mauls and war clubs in this regard as well (Moerman, 1998).

Whittling and Carving

Whittling and carving has often been taken up by people in Appalachia at a very young age (Johnson, 2004). Plants served as the inspiration for various motifs (Eaton, 1973). Grains such as Wheat (Triticum), Rye (Lolium) and Oats (Avena) as well as Pine cones (Pinus spp.), Maple leaves (Acer spp.), Galax (Galax urceolata), Dogwood (Cornus spp.) leaves and various blossoms and berries are some examples of replicated items from the flora.

Barron Brown is a local wood carver outside Asheville, NC. At the Florida Earthskills gathering and the Firefly Gathering near Barnardsville, NC, he has introduced me to the wonder of spoon making. i now have a mission to carve spoons out of as many types of non-toxic wood that i can get my hands on. So far i have made spoons from Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Basswood (Tilia americana), and Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra). Barron also gifted me with spoons made out of “Fat Lighter” the inner wood of (Pinus sp.) Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) and Sabal Palm (Sabal sp.). My next spoon will be out of Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) which is a highly prized wood in Asia but an exotic invasive in Appalachia. Eventually my spoon collection will hopefully grow to over 100 species with each having its own particular ritual use as well!

Appalachian carvers have used various types of wood to represent a vast array of animals and activities. Common woods used included Apple (Malus spp.), Basswood (Tilia sp.), Holly (Ilex spp.), Maple (Acer spp.), Walnut (Juglans spp.), Pine (Pinus spp.), Poplar (Populus spp.), Buckeye (Aesculus spp.), and Cherry (Prunus spp.). Carved animals have included dogs, chickens, lambs, mules, ducks, pigs, goats, geese, peacocks, bears, blue jays, canaries and cardinals. Many activities have been depicted as well including haying, sorghum making, grain sowing, dancing, preaching, wood splitting, cooking, plowing and hog killing.

In more recent times people of Appalachia have employed chain saws to make carvings especially of bears. The wood carving exhibition that happens every year outside Asheville at the Mountain State fair which features all sorts of wooden art is incredible. The 93 figurines by Wade and Wayne Martin in the collection at the UNCA library are particularly inspiring (W. H. Martin, 1986). More carvings from the family can be seen at the Blue Ridge Assembly, the Buncombe County Library, and AB Tech Community College, with additional information available at the Swannanoa Valley Museum as well. i have come across a couple how to manuals for figurine carvings too (Enlow, 1975; Shipley, 2014).

Fire Starting

Fire is one of the first technologies developed by our ancestors. Yet how many people could start a fire today without the aid of petrochemicals and a convenient tool like lighters or matches? Bow drill fire starting is an art practiced at all the Earthskills gatherings i have gone to. The kit consists of a fire board a drill and a bow in one form but various types have been invented through time in the realm of friction fire (Coulthard, 2018; Keel, 2018; J. Martin, 2016; Nyerges & Cornell, 2020; L. Robinson, 2018; Summers, 2021). A number of plants are used to produce these items including Basswood (Tilia americana) for the fireboard and Yucca (Yucca filimentosa) for the drill/spindle. A number of fungi have been used to carry embers and as tinder for fire as well including Fomes fomentarius and the famous medicinal Chaga (Inonotus obliquus).


Poppets used to be a common Appalachian toy. These dolls were made out of Buckeye (Aesculus) because of its smooth texture. Poke berry (Phytolacca americana) was used to color the cheeks (Eaton, 1973). Corn husks or corn shuck dolls are another type of typical Appalachian toy and known from other places as well (Freels, 2012; Ortiz & Parker, 1996; Rogowski & DeWeese, 1975; Wendorff, 1973). Sometimes the corn shucks have been dyed with natural dyes. Action figures have been portrayed as well including scenes of milking, sledding, horseback riding, cattle driving, butter churning, etc. Scenes have been constructed to recall fairy tales, the nativity, and barnyard vignettes. Miniature furniture was also constructed. Mahogany has been used for miniature chairs, in addition to the usual woods mentioned above, (Eaton, 1973).  Dolls made of dried Apples, Sweet potatoes, Cucumbers and Hickory nuts are traditional constructions as well (Aldrich & Young, 1971; Eaton, 1973; Wigginton, 1980). An extensive collection of toys and how they were made were featured in one of the Foxfire books (Wigginton, 1980).

Musical Instruments

Fiddles have been mostly fashioned from wood, but also of corn stalks and gourds (Wigginton, 1980). Curly maple (Acer) is one wood of choice for the construction of fiddles (Eaton, 1973). Banjos, which are originally from Africa, were also constructed from gourds (Carlin, 2007, 2016; Conway, 1995; Mazow, 2005; Wigginton, 1975).  Gourds have been turned into horns, bugles and drums as well. Dulcimer construction traditionally depends on Walnut (Juglans) though occasionally also Birch (Betula), Maple (Acer), Holly (Ilex spp.) and Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) Eaton (1973). Both settlers and Indigenous people have traditions of using Rivercane (Arundinaria spp.) to make flutes and pipes. Red Spruce (Picea rubens) is a famous material employed by the likes of C.F. Martin and Gibson guitar companies (Waugh-Quasebarth, 2019).


Broom sedge (Andropogon virginicus), Wheat (Triticum aestivum), Corn husks (Zea mays), Corn stalks, Rye straw (Lolium sp.), Willows (Salix spp.), Rushes (Juncus spp.), Rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea), Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), Pine (Pinus spp.) inner bark, Hickory bark (Carya spp.), Willow bark, and Pine needles are all traditional for basketry. Splint baskets commonly come from Oak (Quercus spp.), Hickory (Carya spp.) and Ash (Fraxinus spp.). Other trees that have documented use include Elms (Ulmus spp.), Northern white Cedar (Thuja occidentalis), Buckeye (Aesculus), Basswood (Tilia), Boxelder (Acer negundo) and Cypress (Hart & Hart, 1978). The Center for Craft in Asheville hosted a great display of contemporary Cherokee basketry in 2022.

Exotic materials like Raffia (Raphia farinifera) and Reeds were only employed on occasion in Appalachia traditionally. Basket dyeing by settlers mostly only became a practice with the resurgence of the arts and crafts movement. The organizers of Allanstand cottage industries, in Asheville, NC, were pioneers of commercial basket dyeing (Eaton, 1973). However, Cherokee basket makers use dyes including Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Butternut (Juglans cinerea) and Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) (Brosi, 2010). The Cherokee tribe has some information on craft traditions on their website and that of the preservation foundation as well.

Natural dyes were historically employed more than commercial ones and sometimes came from the same plant source as the basket. Dyes sources included Hemlock (Tsuga) and Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) (Eaton, 1973).

The Hindman settlement school is particularly known for baskets. Unfortunately they are located in an area devastated by the floods of 2022 along with the Pine Mountain Settlement School and the legendary documentary organization Appalshop.  

Exotic invasive plants may be employed for the use of basketry as well. Wisteria (Wisteria spp.), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), English Ivy (Hedera helix) and Kudzu (Pueraria montana) are plants with documented use (C. Hart & D. Hart, 1978; TerBeest, 1988). However, seeds of exotics should not be spread in the harvesting for such purposes. Using exotic invasives is more favorable than stripping the forest of slow growing natives such as Grape vines (Vitis spp.) and Dutch man’s pipe (Aristolochia spp.).

Many other materials have also been employed for basket making. Three grasses that are mentioned explicitly for basketry are tall Redtop (Tridens flavus syn. Triodia flava), Broombeard (Andropogon virginicus) and common Reed (Phragmites australis  syn Phragmites communis) (C. Hart & D. Hart, 1978). Other materials are the soft Rush (Juncus effusus) various Irises (Iris pseudacorus, I. sibirica, I. versicolor) and Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) (C. Hart & D. Hart, 1978). Forsythia (Forsythia) is a common landscape plant that has been listed for basketry use (TerBeest, 1988). Cattails (Typha spp.) are yet another material useful for basketry as well (Gallinger & Benson, 1975).

Basket making is a universal and very diverse field in human culture. Allanstand Cottage industries alone made around 40 different styles at one point (Eaton, 1973). Some basket styles have whimsical and imaginative names and may become family heirlooms. Particular patterns have been passed down from generation to generation and sometimes were endemic to certain locales (Hill, 1997; Irwin, 1982; Stephenson, 1977; Trestain, 1998; Weaver, 1971). i was tickled to see the same special egg carrying basket presumably of British extract that i am familiar with from my home in Appalachia also featured in a Maroon village in rural Jamaica!

Basket maker Charlene Trestain (1998) researched the relation of various cultures to Appalachian willow work and how it relates to sustainability and sense of place. Basket Willow (Salix viminalis), Crack Willow (Salix fragilis), American Willows (Salix spp.) and Almond Willow (Salix amygdaloides) are described as the most useful types. American willow is apparently the most used in the world for basketry. However, the tradition of willow basket making is thought to have come from Europe (Trestain, 1998). Basket making has been a featured workshop at the annual Firefly Gathering outside Asheville, NC over the last few years with crafters such as Emily Jernigan, James Price, Mateo Ryall, Nancy Basket, Nancy Gildersleeve and Talcon Quinn. People that Emily cites as her teachers of basketry include Emma Jackson Garrett  Peggy Patrick, JoAnn Kelly Catsos, April Stone Dahl, April Winchell, Zac Fittipaldi and Louise Langsner. Patrick Dougherty makes amazing landscape size Willow constructions that are incredible to behold as well.

The Cherokee have a tradition of using White Oak (Quercus alba), River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea) and Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) for basket making according to one study (Arnold, 1952). Another source cites Red Maple (Acer rubrum) use in Cherokee basketry (Hamel, 1975). One journal article covers specifically the tradition of using Rivercane (Coyle, 2010). These woods are often traditionally dyed in preparation for basket construction. The Cherokee styles initially differed from techniques brought over from Europe. However, over time the styles sometimes blended together (Trestain, 1998). Researcher Sarah Hill (1997) completed a more modern in depth analysis of Cherokee basket making traditions. She noted that the use of Maple was incorporated into the three materials mentioned above while many style innovations happened in the mid 1900s to improve marketability. There is another book resource i have come across for Cherokee basket traditions as well (Fariello, 2009). One resource looks specifically at the use of White Oak in Appalachian baskets (Law & Taylor, 1991). The Birch baskets of Shan Goshorn are a particularly beautiful and inspiring example of working with that genus.


The sense of smell sometimes triggers memories like nothing else will. The craft of making potpourri crosses into the realm of aromatherapy that is yet another subject all its own (Bell, 2002; Catty, 2001; Keville, 2009; Keville & Green, 2008; Price & Price, 2011; Rhind, 2014; Schnaubelt, 1999, 2011). Potpourri may be of a dry type or a moist type. Moist types tend to keep their scent longer. The same plants are employed for both (Fettner, 1977).

Suitable plants that may be grown in Appalachia and the temperate world in general include Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua), Rose (Rosa spp.), Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), and many plants in the mint family. Good fragrant rose species include Rosa centifolia, R. × damascena, and R. gallica. Violets (Viola spp.), Magnolias (Magnolia spp.), and other plants are used to add bulk, form, and color to dried collections. Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla syn Lippia graveolens) and Rose Geranium (Pelargonium capitatum) are both typical houseplants that may be employed. Potpourri makers use Eastern red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) to provide aromatic oils. The Lichens labeled commonly as Oak moss (Evernia prunastri) and Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) are used in powder form to fix scents. Calamus root (Acorus calamus) is a native or naturalized plant that is used to fix scent similar to the exotic Orris root (Iris germanica var. florentina) (Fettner, 1977).

Other exotic substances are typically used in combination with the ones mentioned above. Some other plants used include Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp. and Cassia spp.), Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), Allspice (Pimenta dioica ) and Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans). Gums and resins of exotic origin used to fix scents include Frankincense (Boswellia spp.), Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), Balsam of Peru, Balsam of Tolu, Storax, and Gum Benzoin from Styrax spp. of Asia. A type of storax can be found from the Appalachian native sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) though this is not mentioned in the literature found so far. We also have native Styrax spp. as well though currently unfamiliar with the use of their resin either. i wonder if potential for using native resins from Pines, Spruces, and other plants may exist. Scents of animal origin including musk from the Musk Deer, ambergris from the Sperm Whale and castorium from the Civit Cat which are all often used to add complexity and further fix smell (Fettner, 1977).

Temperate aromatic plants tend to fall into the Mint (Lamiaceae), Aster (Asteraceae), Celery (Apiaceae) and Lily families (Liliaceae) (Genders, 2001). Some outliers include the already mentioned Rose Geranium (Pelargonium capitatum) in the Geraniaceae, Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) in the Verbenaceae, Roses (Rosa spp.) in the Rosaceae, Sweet flag (Acorus calamus) in the Araceae as well as Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) in the Rubiaceae. Many fragrant plants can be grown in the Appalachian region (Bayard & Pesch, 1992; Coon, 1970; Druse & Hoverkamp, 2019; Fox, 1970; Keville, 2016; Loewer, 2002, 2020).

Miscellaneous Crafts

Corn is useful for a multitude of purposes. Some examples not mentioned already include its use to make other animals, bracelets, doormats, fans, flowers, hats, hatbands, mattresses, napkins, necklaces, picture frames, rings, rope, screens, small fruits, toy guns and vegetables (Eaton, 1973; Wigginton, 1980). Corn cobs are famous as a material for pipe making. The stringing of popped corn and other produce for decorations as traditional Christmas ornamentation is well known.

Various other assorted uses of the local Appalachian flora have also been employed. Chestnut (Castanea dentata), Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and other barks have been used as house siding. Tulip Poplar siding still remains popular today especially in the area of Linville Falls, NC and other second home and vacation communities though i heard recently the fashion is waning. An Appalachian practice of arranging seeds, pods, berries, leaves and cones into interesting forms carries the whimsical name of “wood pretties” (Weaver, 1971).

The use of wood for heat is a type of craft as well. Different woods tend to have various qualities in regards to splitting and heat efficiency. Shagbark and other Hickories are choice as well as Black Birch, Beech, Sugar Maple and Oak whereas Red Maple, Sycamore and Elm are not so great (Vivian, 1976). Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is legendarily great firewood where i live. Pine should only be burned as kindling and a last resort as the resins make it go up quick and can built up as creosote and potentially lead to chimney fires (Vivian, 1976).

Wreathes represent a tangible and marketable way to arrange craft items in a portable fashion. Conifers and Hollies are a couple classic backbones. Hemlock (Tsuga spp.) easily loses needles as drying so not a good choice. Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is another popular plant but now discouraged due to its potential invasiveness.

Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was often employed on a commercial scale to tan leather. Gourds (Cucurbita spp.) and (Lagenaria siceraria) are used traditionally to make dippers as well as other items already mentioned.

Many other fanciful items can be created from other native and naturalized materials growing in Appalachia. Cattails (Typha spp.), Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium), Rose hips (Rosa spp.), Teasels (Dipsacus fullonum), Sweet gum balls (Liquidambar styraciflua), and Willow galls from (Salix spp.) all offer potential for the imaginative crafter (Aldrich & Young, 1971). All manner of nuts, cones and seeds may be employed as well. Many such items can be used in combination with fruits, suet, peanut butter and molasses to craft bird feeders (Roth, 1998). One author in Foxfire 12 describes the process of making rose beads from petals (Hughes, 2004).

A U.S. Forest Service publication contains 26 minor craft plants and 32 types of major craft plants harvested mostly from the wild in the Appalachian region (Nelson & Williamson, 1970). The major plants listed are mostly used for greenery around Christmas and include various members of the Pine (Pinaceae), Holly (Aquifoliaceae) and Rhododendron (Ericaceae) families. Other plants mentioned include those with attractive fruits such as Oaks (Quercus spp.) and Sweet Gums (Liquidambar styraciflua). Boxwoods (Buxus sp.) are also described for their foliage as well as their part in the Appalachian nursery industry.

Non-timber forest products

The term Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) is used to define items that come from the forest but not from sawn lumber (Husen et al., 2021; Smith-Hall & Chamberlain, 2022). These products typically fall into four categories: edible, specialty wood based, floral/decorative and medicinal (Chamberlain et al., 2002). Representatives of the U.S. Forest service sometimes use the term special forest products (SFPs) (Emery et al., 2002). However, the term NTFP seems to have the most traction with the public and the literature. Many craft items mentioned above fall under such classifications.

Appalachia has a rich history in the use of NTFP items. Only recently however, has the prevalence of use, economic potential and impact on the environment become known. Researchers for the Forest service have started to investigate the phenomenon of NTFP harvesting on federal lands in earnest in just the last 15-20 years. The harvest of NTFPs represents a multi-million dollar industry for just a few choice products alone. The U.S. Forest Service commissioned a report characterizing the gatherers for the whole eastern part of the U.S. (Emery et al., 2002). An economic analysis of NTFPs in southwestern Virginia has also been published (Greene et al., 2000). The Forest Service has also looked at NTFPs in the U.S. as a whole (McClain & Jones, 2005). Researchers A. L. Hammett and James Chamberlain have produced a plethora of publications dealing with this important subject over the last ten years (Frey & Chamberlain, 2016; Kruger & Chamberlain, 2015). Still, much study remains to be done on the role of NTFPs in Appalachia and around the world (Cunningham et al., 2014; Luckert & Campbell, 2001). Forest Farming is a more recent term that addresses this practice in part as well and is discussed more thoroughly in the class about Woody plants (Bukowski et al., 2018; Mudge et al., 2014; Savers & Action, 2019).

Dried flowers as crafts

Dried flowers for arrangements offer another mode of incorporating nature into crafts (Dunster, 2021; Hillier & Hilton, 1986; Illes & Goluza, 2020; Kraska, 1995; Partridge, 2022; Petelin, 1988). Many of the best dried flowers are not native or naturalized in Appalachia but can be easily grown as annuals. Some examples include Statice (Limonium spp.), Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena spp.), Celosia (Celosia spp.) Honesty (Lunaria spp.), Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.) and Strawflower (Helichrysum spp.). Some plants will naturalize locally without seeming to spread much such as Poppies (Papaver somniferum), Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena) and Larkspur (Delphinium sp.). Choice native and naturalized plants include many members of the Grass (Poaceae), Mustard (Brassicaceae), Mint (Lamiaceae), Amaranth (Amaranthaceae) and Aster (Asteraceae) families.

Fresh flowers

Fresh flowers represent another type of craft industry for Appalachia and many other parts of the world. Many traditional cut flowers are annuals that are neither native nor naturalized in this area. Some choice examples include Zinnias (Zinnia spp.), Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), Dianthus (Dianthus spp.), Red hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria), Lupines (Lupinus spp.) and Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis). Lawrence Griffith (2008) conducted extensive research on the flower types used in the early period of American establishment. This work may be of assistance to people trying to recreate historical period gardens. A number of good modern guides cover growing flowers for home and market (Alexander et al., 2021; Benzakein et al., 2017; Byczynski, 2008; Newbery, 2015; Nolan, 2019; Proust, 2022; Siegfried, 2023).

Choice cut flowers that are native and naturalized tend to occur in the Mint (Lamiaceae), Aster (Asteraceae), Carrot (Apiaceae), Amaranth (Amaranthaceae), Grass (Poaceae), Buttercup (Ranunculaceae), Brassica (Brassicaceae) and Lily (Liliaceae) families. How to arrange flowers is an art of its own of course (Benzakein et al., 2020; Blacklock, 2012; Crary, 2020; Hillier & Hilton, 1986; Nolan, 2019; Sadi, 2023; Webster, 1968).

Overview of Appalachian Craft Plants

Trees are the most useful plants for crafts. Close behind these are corn (Zea mays) and Gourds (Cucurbita spp.). Hundreds of plants have a history of use as natural dyes. Looking through craft books of old brings to mind the amount of time necessary to create some of the projects formerly made.

It would be hard to label some crafts as profitable in an economic sense without marketing such products to a high class clientele with considerable disposable income. Nonetheless, even some very time consuming projects might still be considered profitable in the energetic, social, and psycho-spiritual sense when carried out under the auspices of hobbies and practiced with family and friends. The use of crafts with children in particular is an age old way of connecting them with the natural world and developing imagination. Taking time to slow down and appreciate the abundance and diversity of the natural world is something that is beneficial for all. Therefore, crafts can provide therapy and meditation as well as good times and possibly financial income (Platt, 1996).

The diversity of Appalachian flora offers an almost limitless supply of potential for the conscientious and creative crafter. Attention to using items that are in large supply and not spreading exotic invasives such as Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) are essential aspects of making such a practice sustainable. The plants enumerated here only hint at the diversity that denizens of Appalachia let alone other temperate areas have employed in the pursuit of crafts. However, those listed also probably reflect a large quantity of the most preferred plants for various uses and thereby may offer a starting point for potential crafters and further research.

For the next class we will cover the topic of Phytoremediation and it will be posted around August 27th

Below are items to think about/comment on. Please write me directly at marc@botanyeveryday.com or comment at Facebook group


 Check out this great link on natural dyes by the Forest Service http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethnobotany/dyes.shtml

- Make a list of the plants around you that you can use for crafts and share that info with some people

 - Use this knowledge to actually create something for yourself or someone special.

 -Look up some of the families mentioned in this post in Botany in a Day and share some information about them with the group or provide information from your personal experience

 - Attend a workshop or a class and write up a brief description of plants or information learned.

- Post any clear photos of question plants to Facebook or send in an email.

Praises to all that have donated to the cause!!! i encourage everyone reading this to donate as they are able financially, commentarialy, or energetically... Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education. Please let me know your thoughts in general and any way i can help this class serve you best.

Thanks, marc


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