Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Herb Fest continues on in 2018

An important tradition continues

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Lyndsey A. Ware, Collegian Correspondent

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Soaps, balms, spices and other goodies take the place of the usual name holder on Dr. Lyle Craker’s desk in his basement office of Stockbridge Hall.  Having worked and taught at the University of Massachusetts since the late 1960s, his office is a mini museum of sorts. Silver-haired and soft-spoken, Craker gladly talks about Herb Fest, an event he started “at least 38 years ago…or something like that.”

This year, Herb Fest will take place Tuesday, April 24 from 10 a.m. to noon in the Student Union Ballroom.

“I started it in a classroom,” Craker said. During that first fest, he noticed that people were lining up for second helpings of soup a student had made. That high demand for soup inspired the Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants professor to propagate the annual fest. It’s only grown since.

When asked about recommending remedies, he said, “I’m not in the prescribing business.”

“Society has changed a lot. In the world of food, people like to grow their own. The plants in themselves make us feel good. People who grow them care for them tenderly…and this brings enjoyment,” Craker said.

His students are currently working on their own projects for the event. Attendees will be able to talk with them about their various demonstrations and perhaps most importantly, sample teas, baked goods and ice cream…yes, ice cream!

Junior plants and soils science major Cassandra Cardillo plans to make lavender ice cream. “A long time ago when I was a little girl, I had lavender ice cream and it was so delicious,” she said, inspiring her to make her own and share the experience with others.

Cardillo is younger than Herb Fest, but she beams with deep-rooted curiosity and values knowledge in “wise fashion.” The campus greenhouses drove her decision to attend UMass.  Now she enjoys sharing what she learns at the University with others.

“It surprises people when they are having an issue and you can help by asking them what they have in their house…or in their own backyard,” she said. “We have to appreciate what we have instead of worrying about what we don’t have.”

Craker may not be in the prescribing business, but Cardillo might just make a career out of it.

While Cardillo appeals to our taste buds with talk of homemade ice cream, other students focus on ceremonial herbs. Emily Bennett, sustainable food and farming major, is researching the properties of cleansing herbs and bundling smudge sticks.

“White sage, cedar and sweetgrass are classic examples of smudging herbs used to cleanse a home of bad energy,” Bennett said.

She stressed that in addition to the medicinal properties, there is a spiritual aspect involved. Native Americans and many other cultures historically have a respectful relationship with nature, requiring a process or ritual to deliver cleansings and treatments.

Bennett’s eyes pierced the April snow in a recent interview, seeming to “clear the air” when she expressed some concerns for the future.

“I’m equally interested in the growing of crops and food justice, food security, public health and trying to make all of these components as accessible to the public as possible,” Bennett said.

Many may wonder if the current superstar of herbs will be making an appearance at Herb Fest, and the answer is “no, the various constituents of Cannabis will not be there.”

However, most plant scientists and herb lovers do not discriminate amongst plants. Craker has long been interested in adding Cannabis to his research repertoire despite never having smoked pot.  He has traveled all over the world participating in conferences on various plants. The hot topic of the recently legalized herb did not get left out. In March, a California conference sought his expertise.

As a result, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Dean wrote an article about him, “America is Giving Away the $30 Billion Medical Marijuana Industry.”  The caption beneath his photograph reads, “Lyle Craker, frustrated scientist.”

Along with his students, the so-called frustrated scientist looks forward to Herb Fest. “It’s a very happy time,” Craker said.

Lyndsey A. Ware can be reached at [email protected]

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