Down to Earth: The $10,000 Lecture

The sacrifices some folks make to talk about herbs.

| December/January 2010

In 1987, I sold a life insurance policy, bought a computer and began a quarterly herb newsletter, The Ozarks Herbalist. Thanks to The Ozarks Herbalist, I was invited in 1992 to write for The Herb Companion and I began hosting an herbal festival, Herb Day in May. Herb Day in May was a festive event, with workshops and vendors selling plants, soaps and teas.

Over the years, we had a wide range of speakers. Betty Wold, with her outrageous garden hat and hilarious plant stories, spoke, and one year we had Crescent Dragonwagon, famous for her cookbooks and children’s books. Another year it was Tina Marie Wilcox from the Ozark Folk Center with her folksy “Yarb Tales.”

But the speaker who should win a prize for “Most Sacrifice in Spreading the Word” is Billy Joe Tatum. She is one of those energetic, entertaining people whose extensive knowledge just pours out like good wine. To this day, her first book, Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Cookbook and Field Guide (Workman, 1976), is one of the best wild foods guides you can find.

Billy Joe liked to lecture on common local plants and their uses, and her method was to pull a flower from a bouquet of roadside plants on the lectern and launch into a story about the botanical, medicinal and culinary properties of each plant.

The last year of Herb Day, Billy Joe was again our main speaker. The vase on the lectern was full. The tent was filled with an enthusiastic audience seated on straw bales as they finished off their hibiscus flower tea. Billy Joe was late and began to speak as soon as she reached the lectern.

“It cost me $10,000 to be here today,” she began. She immediately had the attention of the room.

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