Pine pollen containing a rare natural source of plant-based testosterone could prove a goldmine for New Zealand's forestry sector.
Pine Pollen New Zealand Limited, trading under the name Bio Gold, has received $288,500 in Government funding through the Ministry for Primary Industries' Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) to lay the foundations for a pine pollen industry in New Zealand.
"Pine pollen has been consumed for health and wellbeing in China, South Korea and Japan for more than 3000 years," Bio Gold founder Carl Meyer said.
"It's been found to contain a naturally occurring testosterone, and lately there's been a new wave of interest from the natural health industry in the United States and Canada."
Common reasons for taking pine pollen as a dietary supplement include supporting energy levels, hormonal balance, immune function, and overall wellbeing.
"We've furthered our research and development work for the past 18 months with the help of SFF Futures funding to understand how the biochemistry of New Zealand pine pollen differs in relation to factors such as species, genetics, location, and more," Meyer said.
"We've also compared our pollen to that from overseas – and it's looking very promising."
Pine pollen is the fine yellow powder released by pine trees every spring that forms part of the reproductive life cycle of the tree.
The powder is produced inside the catkin (male flowers) of pine trees.
"We've spent years working out which specific type of Pinus radiata yields the best pollen – it's not a matter of using any old pine tree," Meyer said.
"It's very complex, and you've got to really know what you're doing. Safety and quality are our top priorities."
Meyer said the final product was expensive because the seasonal window for pine pollen was often less than three weeks.
Bio Gold's pollen was currently harvested near Hanmer Springs and Kaikōura from trees on land owned and operated by Ngāi Tahu Forestry, he said.
"However, we're also open to exploring additional partnerships with other forest owners across New Zealand, as well as connecting with entrepreneurs, investors, and health companies to help scale things up. We encourage people to reach out to us.
Callaghan Innovation had helped with research, including providing funding for a top Master's student to investigate biochemistry and extraction on an even deeper level, Meyer said.
"The University of Canterbury has also assisted with harvesting trials, and we're developing technology that's able to do large-scale harvesting."
Bio Gold has developed two prototype products so far.
One is a concentrated liquid "Supercharge" extract to support energy levels, sports and exercise performance, libido, and vitality.
The other is a raw powder that can be added to smoothies and drinks for overall wellbeing.
"Establishing this industry means New Zealanders will be able to enjoy any benefits that pine pollen offers," Meyer said.
"Our local customers love the pollen, and we're getting excellent feedback from them. We're also looking at high-value export opportunities."
Steve Penno, MPI's director of investment programmes, said Bio Gold had identified an opportunity to increase the value of New Zealand's forestry industry, and create new jobs in regional communities.
"Investing in this high-value product is helping Bio Gold fast-track their research and take this initiative to a full-scale operation."