In a new series, Juliette Sivertsen interviews people who live and breathe wellbeing. This week, Tama Toki of health tonic company Aotea on life on Great Barrier Island and the traditional Māori herbal remedies that inspired his business.
Growing up on Aotea meant isolation. There was no pharmacy, one nurse for the whole island and we lived a fair way away from the main centres of Okiwi, Claris and Tryphena. Consequently, if we were sick we were often given concoctions more in the Rongoā Māori space. I was brought up by my grandparents and spent a lot of time in the bush with them.
One such herb was kūmarahou, which we had a lot as kids when we were sick. In the winter it was generally always brewing on our wood-stove. Kūmarahou was traditionally used to treat respiratory issues and as a general anti-viral tonic. It also had the nickname Gum Digger's or Bushman's Soap as it could be used to clean the skin as a result of its high saponin content. Along with kūmarahou, kawakawa and mānuka were the other herbs we had a lot as kids growing up on the island for various remedial purposes.
This old mātauranga and upbringing was the inspiration behind what we do. It is also the reason why we chose to build the requisite infrastructure on our papakāinga (Māori land) rather than outsource the production to an established cosmetics manufacturer.
With our range, the key tenants are kawakawa, harakeke, mānuka and kūmarahou. We try to keep as close to the old ways of doing things while also embracing equipment that allows for an extraction of the active constituents without heat. How we grow the herbs, how we cultivate and harvest is done using traditional methods, like growing on north-facing slopes.
An effective herb to use in a simple way is kawakawa in tea. Kawakawa is awesome. It has a high anti-inflammatory content so it's good for easing sore stomachs. Also, as an analgesic, it can take away pain and treat things like toothache if you push the leaf against the gums. Topically, it is amazing for skin irritations, eczema insect bites.
I learned Transcendental Meditation about 10 years ago. I try to keep regular with my meditation but in town that is a little harder to do depending on what is going on. On the island, I usually have a bit more time for asanas and pranayama. It's weird, sometimes I feel as though I don't have time to practise but then I find that I'm less productive in the day.
I've come to really appreciate "being slow". Something that I think a lot of us enjoyed during the lockdown. Again, the slower things are, the more productive I seem to feel. If my headspace is right, I tend to make better decisions.
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The great thing about Aotea is that where we are, we don't have any Wi-Fi coverage or power and we cook our meals on a wood stove. It sounds a little backwards but with the evolution of technology and constant communications, I feel it makes it more convenient to be busier.