Many hikers see the prickly plant stinging nettle as a nuisance, but forest forager and certified herbalist Stephanie Mills sees a good source of iron and calcium. Others may avoid crossing paths with British Columbia’s thorny Devil’s Club, but Mills slips on gloves and dives arms deep into the plant, collecting it for tea. She understands its health benefits and versatility. Many forest explorers may refrain from eating unfamiliar wild berries, but Mills knows how to recognize the forest’s edible plants, and she snacks with confidence.

Mills, 39, grew up in Edmonton but always knew she would end up in B.C.

“I’ve been exposed to remote areas that I otherwise wouldn’t have explored or hiked,” Mills says.

She spent 15 years treeplanting all around B.C. As a treeplanter, she spent time in the wilderness, climbing through clear cuts and observing plants that sprout up after trees are cut down.

Growing up, Mills helped her mother with the garden. Growing fruits and vegetables was simply a way of life for the family. When Mills graduated high school, she thought about becoming a doctor, but didn’t want to be a medical doctor. She attended McGill University, majoring in Biology and Botany and afterwards earned a degree in Herbal Medicine. Mills worked as a herbalist in downtown Vancouver before moving to Vancouver Island.

Plant life and botany is a huge part of Mills’ life and every day she appreciates the diversity of Vancouver Island’s landscape. Mills lives in Nanaimo with her husband, Luke, and one-year-old daughter, Rowan.

“The name Rowan is like the mountain ash tree,” Mills says. “I wanted a plant name that wasn’t overly cliché.”

Mills works a number of part-time jobs that range from leading plant walks and workshops, teaching a school garden program at Brechin Elementary, and running a small business.

On her plant walks, Mill takes groups for a tour around local parks, pointing out wild edible plants and how to recognize, use, and harvest them properly.

“Food prices are so high so there’s been more of an interest in [people] taking care of themselves and learning to eat the food around them,” Mills says. She said cooking with herbs and using homemade natural remedies is a skill many families have unfortunately lost over time.

Mills is the sole employee of Morningstar Herbals, where customers can find handmade, local herbal teas, bath products, and salves and balms. Mill said there is no comparison in quality of her products versus what is found on supermarket shelves.

“I started making herbal teas because I could never find a good quality tea. I find that supermarket brands are old and dry.”

She says her customers feel a connection with nature when they buy her products because it’s local and they know where the ingredients come from. As a forager, Mills watches plants through their stages of growth and enjoys the effort and care of her hard work while creating the products.

Mills runs her business from home and though the finished product looks nice, she said the work gets messy. “It’s chaotic. I go out and collect plants from my garden or from the wild. I pull out drying racks and I have all my oils and salves. It’s usually a big mess in the kitchen.”

Mills also creates all her own herbal recipes and label designs.

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