A Celebration of Herbs

This annual Cleveland event showcases herbal treasures to buy or make yourself.

| October/November 2001

  • Dried pepperberry wreaths are made from cutting cardboard into a heart shape. Pepper berries are painstakingly glued on one at a time to create a charming wall ornament.



Since 1945, members of the Cleveland area Western Reserve Herb Society (WRHS) have thrown a grand herbal party every year. On the second Saturday in October, the WRHS Herb Fair invites herb lovers and others to indulge in a day of herbal delights. The event celebrates herbs and gardeners by showcasing the society’s extensive garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden and by offering a wide array of herbal products that have been handmade throughout the year by WRHS members.

A mind-boggling amount of everything herbal is available—from jams, jellies, and vinegars to herbal soaps and herb-dyed bags. Tables and walls display herbal decorations such as dried herbal flower wreaths, topiaries, and my favorite—the sweetly scented, old-fashioned tussie-mussies. On fair day, members are happy to customize these Victorian treasures for customers using freshly picked rosemary, scented geraniums, roses, lavender, and other herbs and flowers all tied carefully in a lace doily with a silk ribbon.

Scented pleasures

If there is a special place in heaven for all good herb gardeners, it will smell like the WRHS Herb Fair. Entering the herb fair is like walking into a soothing cloud of herbal fragrances. The air is a complex and intoxicating fog of rosemary, thyme, scented geraniums, lemon, pine, lavender, sage, honey, orange, rose, cinnamon, and vanilla. The powerful herbal aromas are invigorating and calming, like a dose of aromatherapy.

This is no casual garden party. Preparing and running the fair is the work of 150 members of the society who work all year growing, harvesting, and making the products. Except for tropical spices and essential oils, the ingredients used in the products at the fair have been grown by members in their home gardens. The fair generates revenues to finance the upkeep of the organization’s nationally renowned herb garden and to sponsor education programs, scholarships, and garden internships for horticultural students.

Herb fair frenzy

My sister Anne, who introduced me to the herb fair back in 1984, is a devoted fair shopper. Armed with bags and boxes and a strategic plan based on years of fair shopping, she is a woman on a mission. Knowing that the jams and jellies quickly sell out, she is one of the first to arrive. When the doors open at 9 a.m., she heads for the jams and jellies and selects her favorite cinnamon-basil, rose-geranium, rosemary-sherry, lemon-marjoram, and cider-sage jelly. With these secured, she moves on to mustards to scoop up a year’s supply of ginger curry and Cajun mustards, and then collects a box of spiced cranberry-raspberry and blueberry-basil vinegars. Finally, before she is able to relax and leisurely enjoy the fair, she moves to the potpourri tables to buy her WRHS Christmas Blend before it is sold out.

The potpourri is one example of why the fair has hundreds of repeat customers each year. The potpourri connoisseur can choose among jewel-colored mixtures of dried rose petals, orange peels, cinnamon sticks, herbs, and flowers scented with essential oils that are just right to fragrance a room. Liz Vinson, co-chair of the 2000 fair, says that “the personal touch, expert craftsmanship, cooking skill, and beautiful packaging distinguishes WRHS products from other similar products.”

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