About the Region – Western North Carolina
One of the oldest places on Earth
Western North Carolina is home to a piece of the Appalachian Mountain Range (commonly referred to as “the Appalachians”). Estimated to be between 300-500 million years old, this amazing mountain range strikes through the western third of the state, forming a unique climate structure and landscape that supports a rich and diverse ecosystem.
While the varying elevations can vastly affect rainfall and daily weather conditions, the weather in western North Carolina is typically considered mild year-round. In the winter, the temperatures rarely fall below the 20s and local residents experience maybe 1 or 2 significant snowfalls per year. In the summer, the temperature averages in the mid-70s to mid-80s, with cold fronts or tropical systems causing quite a bit of rain and high winds. Keep in mind, however, that at higher elevations, the temperature can stray from the average by 10-15 degrees!
Our ecosystem prominently moves through all four seasons: spring green shoots and small blooms, rich summer trees crowded with cicadas, jewel-toned leaves that pile up in autumn, and the frozen white boughs of winter. It is a gorgeous sight to see each season transition. We encourage students in our Certification Courses to actively observe season changes by using a sketchbook in addition to their materia medica and study stands of plants throughout each season to get to know the landscape intimately.
North Carolina has approximately 221 species of native trees throughout the state, and many of these exist in the western part of the state alone. An observer can enjoy varieties of elder, hawthorn, serviceberry, elm, locust, dogwood, hickory, chestnut, walnut, oak, maple, sassafrass, ash, holly, pine, cherry, sumac, and even magnolia trees.
Our trees provide local residents and businesses with wood for homes, furniture, heat, shade, smokers and grills, camping, farming, permaculture, and more. The roots, leaves, nuts, bark, and fruit can be used for medicine and food. On a daily basis, we are grateful for our tree ancestors and all that they provide. We often offer Tree Education workshops that include walks, identification, medicine making, and spiritual healing education.
In addition to regular plantings of the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash), the Cherokee people who inhabited western North Carolina regularly gathered wild plants for food and medicine. This tradition continues to this day, both in “the old ways” of harvesting and gathering, as well as urban foraging.
From the smallest bits of miners lettuce underfoot, to the majestic river stands of stinging nettles, each day in western North Carolina contains the opportunity to discover a new plant ally.
In western NC, there is an abundance of native species (plants that grow naturally in an area without human help or interaction). Over time, these plants have evolved with the physical and biological factors specific to our region, such as our unique climate, rich soil, abundant rainfall, and interactions with other plants, animals, and insects that live in the area. We support these native species because they are uniquely adapted to local conditions and the area’s wildlife, including important pollinators and migratory birds.
We encourage you to sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Facebook, where we announce our hosted “Wild Walk-and-Talks.” These walks, free or low-cost, are open to the public. Faculty members lead an informal and casual walk where you can learn about, observe–and usually pick a sample of–wild edibles and medicinal plants.
Mushrooms, commonly called one of mother Nature’s “nutrient powerhouses,” exist widely throughout the region. Mushrooms are one of the best sources of vegetable protein (like legumes), packed with B vitamins and often containing a hearty texture and making a satisfying meal or meat substitute (portabello burger, anyone?)
North Carolina is home to more than 3,000 different identified varieties of mushroom, and approximately 200 are considered edibles, like morels or black trumpets. Due to our “temperate rainforest” conditions, the Appalachians are home to most of these varieties.
Edible and medicinal mushrooms often have a distinct flavor and smell in addition to the necessity of their gill and spore ID. Want to discover morels, hen of the woods, lobster mushrooms, oysters, cauliflower mushrooms, or chanterelles? We regularly offer a Mycology workshop, hosted by one of our highly experienced faculty members, who leads an immersive course to get to know these great “watchmen” of the forest floor. Mycology is a regular topic included in our certification courses, too.
Be sure to visit Mushroom Central, located in Asheville, if you want to browse and buy ethically harvested mushrooms, or grow bags or logs.
The southern Appalachians are home to many wildlife species: birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. In fact, North Carolina has been deemed the most “ecologically unique” state in the southeast, thanks to its three distinct biomes. On any given day, a visitor can wake up in the Appalachian mountain region and observe raccoons, squirrels, bears, deer, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, king snakes, box turtles, and more.
Due to a vast population expansion and urban development of the area, many of these animals’ habitats are changing rapidly, which effects the rest of the ecosystem. Endangered species now include red wolves, northern flying squirrels and gray bats. At ASHH, we practice the approach of “leave no trace” while on wild walks, camping, or harvesting plants for medicine.