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Catfish Man of the Woods

Jessa Blades

Have you ever heard of Catfish? I certainly hadn't until recently. The herbalist Phyllis Light mentioned his name during a class I was in this past summer at The International Herb Symposium. The class was all about Appalachian herbalism and Phyllis shared her stories about her teachers and the philosophy of herbalism and healing in Appalachia. She mentioned Catfish and I immediately feel in love with this man and have since been looking for as much information as I can find about him. 

Catfish Grey was born in 1917 and was a fifth generation "herb doctor." Catfish collected all of the herbs he used, mostly in the woods near his home and was regarded by many as a master of plant lore. He got his start with herbs after a work place accident in the early 1950s that left him unable to perform physical labor. Gray gathered and sold wildflowers for money, turning to the great knowledge of woodland plants he had acquired from his family. Soon he was gathering herbs as well, and dispensing advice on using them to cure or prevent diseases. Gray gathered dozens of herbs, sorted, combined, and packaged them in a one-room building at his home near Glenwood, West Virginia, and mailed bags of his herbs and blends—usually for less than a dollar—to customers around the world. Gray dispensed his herbal cures along with advice about diet, religion, lifestyle, and the astrological aspects of illness. Gray also sold his herbs at craft fairs and other public gatherings, where his cheerful and sincere manner added to his reputation.   

I hope you enjoy learning about Catfish as much as I do. And if you find any other information or resources, be sure to send them my way.