My workplace is a rural apothecary in Hawke's Bay. I work with, and am surrounded by, nature. People often ask me how I decide what ingredients to use in my natural skincare and wellbeing products. It's a great question. I am guided by a mix of plant knowledge and life experience.
I start by asking 'what is the key issue I am trying to address and what do I want the plants to do?' For example, this might range from soothing sensitive skin to creating tattoo aftercare. Put simply, it's a bit like constructing a musical chord, starting with the dominant note, in this case the dominant effect I wish to create; then identifying the other qualities that can support and add to this effect, before gradually selecting a range of plant ingredients and ratios to create this healing 'chord'.
There is a lot to be learned from the old ways with plants - and yes, over time one does develop favourites. One of my plant favourites is Camellia sinensis which has been used in beauty, health and ritual for centuries.
A multitude of camellia varieties grow in our garden, and I use certified organic camellia oils, extracts and the vibrant green organic matcha tea across my range. Used externally, camellia oil has outstanding moisture and emollient properties and is a light and highly absorbent plant oil. It contains mono-saturated essential fatty acids, is very high in oleic acid (Omega 9 fatty acid) and antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation; and it rapidly penetrates skin, leaving it supple and hydrated. With these properties it's hardly surprising it has long been part of Eastern beauty rituals and it is why I love using organic camellia oil in moisturisers, oils and balms.
Holistic approaches to health, beauty and well-being are more than skin deep and look at the whole person. There is no one magic elixir that will provide the answers to everything, but camellia's properties are beneficial internally as well as externally and I find taking it in the Japanese form of matcha tea adds a lovely aspect to my day that feels good for body and soul.
It is believed that the first Camellia sinensis seeds were brought to Japan from China by the 12th Century Zen Monk, Eisai, who was the first person to grind and consume green tea leaves in powdered 'matcha' form. Thus Zen and matcha became inextricably linked, with monks believing that drinking matcha created a state of 'calm alertness', ideal for meditation and work.
It turns out that the physiological benefits of matcha intuited by the monks are now being supported by modern science, as numerous new studies on the health benefits of green tea and matcha are published. Because of the way it is grown, and not being exposed to high heat during processing, matcha tea, like camellia oil, is also high in levels of anti inflammatories. There is quite a lot of noise about its high levels of the amino acid L-theanine which studies suggest has the ability to reduce stress, improve cognition, and boost mood; and EGCG - which has been studied for its effect on prevention of tumour and cancer cell growth, brain function improvement, and its ability to increase fat oxidisation (burn fat).
I was first introduced to matcha years ago while in Japan for work. I like it because with less caffeine than coffee, I feel it gives me energy without the jitters and I love the mini-ritual of making it. That alone creates a moment of mindfulness in my day. The key to the perfect bowl of matcha is in the grade of matcha you use - the brighter and more vibrant green the matcha, the higher the quality and better the taste. I source certified organic matcha from a family run tea plantation that I visit in Japan and it is the most amazingly bright green. Also you get best results using a bamboo matcha whisk. It isn't just for show, you are creating a suspension, not dissolving the powder, and the truth is you just can't do that with a teaspoon. I know because I've tried! Sieve ¼ - ½ tsp of matcha into a matcha bowl, pour in steaming hot water to about a third full. Rapidly beat the matcha whisk in a W movement until surface gets foamy. You can drink matcha hot or cold.
There's a lot to love about Camellia, the giver of so much healing, health and beauty and the enabler of some of life's little rituals.