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Ila Hatter

Ila Hatter

Wildcrafter Bryson City, NC (Swain County)

Ila Hatter was born into a family of resourceful people. Her mother and grandmother, she remembers, “were big believers in home remedies,” and her parents had used their knowledge of the resources offered by nature to help get through the hard times of two world wars and the Depression. “My mother was a crack shot at shooting turtles in the Louisiana bayous and jackrabbits in New Mexico,” she remembers, “to put food on the table during the Depression.”

During her Texas childhood, Hatter’s family taught her how to hunt and fish, and to make use of the pantry and pharmacopoeia found in common wild plants. Throughout her adult life she continued to forage for such information, and wherever she lived, from Georgia to Spain, she learned everything she could about native plants and their uses. She came to live first in Georgia and studied with Marie Mellinger of Foxfire fame, and then moved to the Great Smokies more than twenty years ago. Since then she has dedicated herself to discovering and preserving the plant lore of her adopted home. She has learned a great deal from elderly friends and neighbors, both white and Cherokee, including North Carolina Heritage Award recipient and Cherokee potter Amanda Swimmer. Swimmer appears with Ila in Mountain Kitchen, a video funded and sanctioned by the Great Smoky Mountains Association that shows preparation of natural recipes and remedies.

Ila Hatter, teaches and lectures in several states, including field classes in the Great Smoky Mountains for the University of Tennessee and the Native Plant Conference of Western Carolina University. She has made television appearances on A&E and TurnerSouth, and has hosted many public television programs about wild foods and medicinals. CBS consulted her on natural medicines during the production of the TV series, Christy, which was set in the Smokies. During the time that Eric Rudolph was a fugitive and believed to be hiding in the Nantahala Forest, Hatter was interviewed by CNN, NBC, the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other news media to explain why it was indeed plausible that Rudolph might survive in the wilderness.

Most recently, Hatter and her husband and partner, Jerry Coleman, have produced a series of educational videos called Wild Edibles and Medicinals of Southern Appalachia, which has been shown at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. In them, Hatter offers a rich blend of botanical, medicinal, historical, and folkloric information, drawing on her own knowledge as well as the expertise of community elders. She produced a wild foods cookbook, Roadside Rambles, and brought to light a missing manuscript on Cherokee ethnobotany—now published by the Great Smoky Mountain Association as Plants of the Cherokee. Ila has been featured in Our State magazine and was a selected Speaker for the 2006 “Best of Our State” celebration at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

She has learned the art of wildcrafting in the most traditional way—from family, friends and neighbors—and is recognized as an expert teacher and tradition-bearer of the lore of the Great Smokies. With hands-on familiarity and a storehouse of knowledge, Ila Hatter offers folklore, medicinal facts, native wisdom, and fun anecdotes that will entertain and inform all backyard botanists, and history buffs, whatever their age or background.


Presentations available:

“Forest Food & Farmacy” – Slides, Power Point, Outdoor Ramble, and/or Demonstration
“Wildflower Folklore” – Slides or Power Point
“Mother Nature’s Secret Garden – The Harvest you didn’t plant!” –
Slides or Power Point
“Wildcrafting: A Living Tradition of Appalachia” – Slides or Power Point
“Cherokee Plants” – Slides or Power Point
“Come and Set a Spell” – Re-enactment of Ila’s Grandma Gordon in the early 1900’s