2020 Folklife Apprenticeship Feature: Leenie Hobbie & Jon Falcone, Traditional Appalachian Herbalism

The West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program offers up to a $3,000 stipend to West Virginia master traditional artists or tradition bearers working with qualified apprentices on a year-long in-depth apprenticeship in their cultural expression or traditional art form. These apprenticeships aim to facilitate the transmission of techniques and artistry of the forms, as well as their histories and traditions.

2020 West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship participants Leenie Hobbie and Jon Falcone. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Leenie Hobbie of Rio in Hampshire County is leading an apprenticeship in traditional Appalachian herbalism with Jon Falcone of Lost River in Hardy County. Hobbie has been a family herbalist for over 30 years, originally learning the tradition from her grandmother, who used both garden-grown and wild harvested plants at her home in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. She has studied with acclaimed herbalists across the country and has taught the tradition within her community in Hampshire County. Falcone is a novice herbalist who hopes to apply his skills to his future homestead in West Virginia.

Leenie Hobbie. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh

Leenie Hobbie – Master Artist/Practitioner


I have been a traditional home herbalist for the past 30 years here in West Virginia, growing and wild-crafting native plants for use as food, folk medicines, art supplies, body, and home care preparations. I live with my husband of 35 years in our hand-built home where we birthed, raised, and homeschooled our four children who are all grown now.  From seed to apothecary and pantry preservation, I have tried to stay close to the Earth, make use of what grows abundantly and conserve, protect, and steward the native medicinal plants of Appalachia.

My work as an herbalist has been primarily for my family, as was the case for most traditional Appalachian herbalists. Additionally, I have prepared a variety of herbal preparations for supporting optimum health for neighbors and community members, sometimes selling at local farmers’, master gardeners, and artisan markets. My primary focus has been on teaching others to make their own products to meet their everyday needs. While knowing the plants that are nourishing and healing may have once been an essential survival skill, it still has value in our modern culture and I have devoted my life to preserving these skills through my daily choices, through teaching, and currently as I work on my first book compiled from 30+ years of keeping home herb journals.

Leenie Hobbie digs plants in the garden. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Notable Accomplishments/Milestones:

-Home-birthing our four beautiful children naturally with traditional direct entry midwife in attendance.

-Studied with a variety of traditional herbalists including Jeanne Rose, Rosemary Gladstar, Jeannine Baker, Doug Elliot, and others both formally and informally in West Virginia and elsewhere.

-Led many wild herb identification walks in my community and region.

-World Fire Cider Making Day participation with local community members for many years.

-Apothecary Skills classes taught locally.

-Keynote speaker at the Shenandoah Valley Herb Gathering in 2019.

Leenie teaches Jon to make goldenrod honey. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Art Form/Tradition:

Herbal traditions of Appalachia go back hundreds of years and are woven of strands from many other traditions, including Native American, African American, and a variety of European ethnic groups. One thing that was common to all is a sense of gratitude for the bountiful and healing plants and a sense of responsibility to care for their families and communities using plant allies. This common knowledge formed the foundation of a folk tradition that has endured and continues to be pertinent today.

Long before the days of pharmacies, drug stores, or even nearby general stores, when doctors and hospitals were few and far between, most homes had at least one person who was knowledgeable about plants for every day challenges such as colds and fevers, teething or colicky babies, achy joints, and for basic first aid. And a community often had one or more “Granny Women” who could be called upon to assist a woman who was giving birth, as well as provide specific remedies that might be needed. While these traditions may seem quaint and outdated with the advent of antibiotics, vaccines, and the range of tools available via modern medicine, there is still a place for this traditional knowledge. Again and again modern scientific research affirms the effectiveness of traditional tonics and remedies such as elderberries and echinacea. One thing that the folk tradition teaches us clearly is that remedies and preparations that do not work are not passed on generation after generation. If people are still using elderberry syrup to prevent and treat colds and flu it’s because it was effective over time.

We are fortunate to be living in a time and a place where we are free to choose and make use of both the latest advances in medical science as well as simple plant based remedies from our gardens, woods, and open meadows to address common health challenges in an economical and personally empowering way.

Jon Falcone. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Jon Falcone – Apprentice


I have been foraging and wildcrafting as a hobby in West Virginia since 2004. I spent much of my childhood in the forests of the Eastern Panhandle, sparking a passion for nature and conservation. From making traditional bows and slings to green woodworking; I enjoy using natural materials to recreate items of old as a form of experimental archeology. In recent years, I have had a focus on growing and sustainably foraging more of my own food and evidence-based medicines with the goal of starting my own homestead and working towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle.

Jon makes goldenrod honey. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

Art Form/Tradition:

Herbalism has been practiced in a huge variety of ways by seemingly every culture since prehistoric times. Generations and generations of combined knowledge has been passed down to allow us to identify and appropriately make use of abundant plants and fungi for food, medicine, and craft. I am both proud and extremely grateful for this opportunity to carry on the tradition and hope to encourage conscious, sustainable collecting throughout Appalachia and abroad.

An apprenticeship session in herbalism with Leenie Hobbie and Jon Falcone. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

The apprenticeship program grants are administered by the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council in Charleston and are supported in part by an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. West Virginia Folklife is dedicated to the documentation, preservation, presentation, and support of West Virginia’s vibrant cultural heritage and living traditions.