Every aromatherapist's dream is to own a piece of land to grow some plants for distillation. Imagine your very own backyard where you could harvest Melissa, Rose or Manuka and produce your personal essential oil and hydrosol, even if it's just in small quantities!
Dr. Wendy Maddocks-Jennings, a registered nurse and expert aromatherapist who has been involved in many aspects of aromatherapy and health care since 1983, fulfilled this dream last year when she purchased a small piece of land close to her New Zealand home.
So we asked her to tell us all about her little distillation farm, the philosophy behind her 100% botanical skin care brand and her extensive research study on the use of Manuka and Kanuka oils on radiation induced mucositis:
1) Dr. Wendy, when and how did your journey into the art of aromatherapy start?
My 'formal' introduction into the benefits and possibilities of using plants as a form of healing began around 1989 when I was working in London as a nurse in Intensive Care. During the 4 years I worked in London I was flatting with another nurse who completed a massage course and got me excited into the benefits of using massage on my critically ill patients. From there I was studying on an Intensive Care nursing course and a guest speaker came in and talked about aromatherapy and shared with us a little bottle of sweet orange oil. From that moment I was hooked!
However if I look back further in my life I grew up in a horticultural family, with a large garden and working in my parents garden centre so I was always connect with plants. Completing a formal aromatherapy course in England was the next step for me before I returned to NZ at the end of 1992. At that point it was really for interest purposes and I came back with my bags filled with oils, bottles and the like as I had no idea what would be available here in NZ. From there the next 20 years involved further study in the area of aromatics, massage as well as higher Post graduate study in health and nursing as my career expanded.
Allergies to latex and hand washing solutions meant I could no longer clinically nurse and had to reinvent my career so I took up work as a nurse educator at a local training Polytechnic. They were interested in offering massage and aromatherapy classes so I took them over and expanded the course from a 100-hour course to a 2-year full time Diploma. I was able to keep abreast of current trends in this rapidly moving field by attending the Aroma conferences in the UK every couple of years and also won a scholarship from my employer for research I completed on students offering massage to cancer therapy patients. With this scholarship I was able to travel to France and complete a training course through Aroma Tours and Dr. Daniel Peneol. A later trip with Aroma Tours to Turkey was another life enriching experience!
2) You have your own distillation farm and 100% botanical skin care brand in New Zealand with distributors in Asia and the UK. Please tell us more about your business and the philosophy behind your brand!
Due to my allergies I had always been very careful with what went on my skin and had often made products in small scale and had taught basic cosmetic chemistry as part of the Complementary Health Course. About 6 years ago I was offered redundancy from my academic position with a reasonable payment offered. Sadly the complementary health training market In NZ was changing and it was a perfect time for me to take a risk and develop my own brand of 100% Botanical Skin Care. The philosophy behind this was to create active skin care products which only contain plant derived ingredients. This also meant not using water in the formula. I wanted each product to also contain at least 70% NZ grown ingredients. The brand was launched in 2008 in Hong Kong at the Cosmoprof show, right in the middle of the global financial crisis. However we were committed to traveling with the brand to Hong Kong, UK and Korea with the support of a market development grant. Since then the brand has continued to grow and now includes salon professional products and 16 retail items. (click here if you would like to purchase Dr. Wendy’s products)
Many of the raw materials come directly from my friend’s farm where he grows various varieties of organic lavender, rosemary and geranium (Pelargonium). He also distills for the hydrosol only other plants such as lime leaves, lemon verbena and ginger. There is not enough oil produced to make it worthwhile extracting it, so those precious molecules are left in the hydrosol. When I can I help with the harvest which is most rewarding. This is hard, honest work but to experience the conversion of the bales of lavender or lemon scented geranium going into the still in 70 kg charges, to come out as beautiful pure essential oil and hydrosols is something I will never get sick of.
Last year I was able to fulfill my own dream with the purchase of a small piece of land on the outskirts of our city and we built a nice house. The land means that I can now grow some of my crops for niche distillations using a 20 litre copper alembic still. The builders were intrigued when we submitted our plans for a downstairs lab/still room with taps plumbed in and a gas stove top used for the still. So far in this still I have distilled Manuka and Kanuka, Melissa (again with oil left in), Rose co distillation with Lemon Geranium hydrosols (I use this in some of my products). I have also played around with Osmanthus and Buddha's Hand (an amazing citrus fruit).
Next NZ summer production of hydrosols will be ramped up and I will be able to distill something to order. In NZ we really only have 2 natives which are distilled, Manuka and Kanuka. Most of our natives are not aromatic and are also highly protected from chopping down. However we have many growers of Lavender around the country and some places also produce more niche oils. NZ produced oils are expensive due to their European counterparts so you are buying a gourmet product; however there is no risk of adulteration as most growers supply directly to the market or via an approved outlet.