Q&A: Rachel Milford, Local Herbalist

Local herbalist Milford will teach a free workshop on the health benefits of growing your own herbs May 31 at 10:30 a.m. at Stanley's Greenhouse (3029 Davenport Rd.) and a workshop at Ijams June 22 on making medicinal tinctures. She also sells teas and salves at local farmer's markets, and consults through her business Reclaiming Your Roots.

You don't hear the word "tincture" much, what is it exactly?

A tincture is a concentrated liquid extract of an herb in which alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin is used as a solvent to extract the phytochemicals or "medicine" from the plant.

Can you grow most medicinal herbs at home?

Here in East Tennessee, there are many medicinal plants we can grow right in our gardens: chamomile, calendula, lemon balm, meadowsweet, and more. I try to emphasize "bioregional herbalism" through primarily using herbs that traditionally grow in this area. That being said, there are also some amazing plants that do not grow well here but can be immensely helpful in healing the more chronic illnesses we are seeing so often these days. (Note: I always must mention that these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.) There are a couple of very reputable herb companies, such as Mountain Rose Herbs and Frontier Herbs that you can purchase such organic herbs from.

Is there a risk when using tinctures and taking prescription medicines?

These products are not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or medical condition—most herbs that I choose to work with are "tonic" or "food-like" herbs, meaning they strengthen and tone either specific organs or the whole body and are safe for long-term use. But some herbs can interact with other prescription medications. If you are on any prescription medications and are wanting to work with herbal teas or tinctures, I definitely recommend consulting your physician and me or another herbalist before you start.

What's your favorite simple herbal remedy?

I love stinging nettles and they are such a wonderful overall tonic for the body because of how nutrient-dense they are. They also can act like a natural antihistamine if you use them over time, so they can be a great herbal ally for all of our East Tennessee pollen. The best way to use nettles is to make a tea with them by steeping 1-2 tsp of dried herb in hot water for 20-30 minutes.

How did you start with herbal healing?

My love for plants really started with growing food. When I left Knoxville after high school, I ended up spending a year in Israel working on several organic farms. Over the following years, I apprenticed with a couple of different herbalists but this connection with using plants for healing really deepened when I became chronically ill at age 25 and was forced to call on my knowledge to reverse my own autoimmune illness using food and herbs.

Do you grow the ingredients for your market items?

I grow all of the ingredients for my salves in my own garden but because of the small amount of space I have at my home in South Knoxville, I have to order my dried tea herbs from an organic herb company. My dream is to one day own my own farm and be able to grow all of my herbs there. If anyone wants to help make that dream a reality, please let me know!

Do people have interesting questions when they see your wares?

I love it when people stop by and tell me that they remember their grandma giving them some of these plants back in the day. I have had a few folks back away from my booth and look a little scared when I tell them that my teas can have "medicinal properties."

Call to register and pay fees for the June 22 Ijams class: 577-4717, ext. 130; learn more about Milford's other offerings at reclaimingyourroots.com.