Human trials have found Kanuka extracts are a successful treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and acne, and can also reduce stress and anxiety. That's according to Manu Caddie of Hikurangi Bioactives, who believes the native kānuka opens up exciting opportunities for Māori.
There are 10 species of kānuka in Aotearoa.
“The idea is that the oil can be used to create jobs on the East Coast and around the country if we get big enough.
"This is a product that's been clinically proven and it is also a natural product, which is preferable for many consumers than a steroid-based cream, so there's quite an opportunity there from our perspective and we hope to create some more money on the coast,” Caddie says.
“Actually, the acne trials are still going but the eczema one we completed last year and it was published. It took quite a bit longer than we had hoped because of Covid-19 and other things but it was published in one of the world's leading medical journals.
"It demonstrated that our product was as effective as the steroid-based creams that are used to treat eczema,” Caddie says.
Kānuka products could boost East Coast economy.
“Ultimately, the product has to work to help people and we've been able to prove that it does. So it's a good model for other plant species that we have access to as mana whenua, mana moana to this. There is some awesome stuff that we could be developing products from," Caddie says.
The process to obtain Kānuka oil isn't easy and takes up to 20 weeks. The annual Kānuka harvest is 1,900 tonnes, and Tairāwhiti has up to 53,000 hectares of Kānuka and Mānuka-covered land.
Hikurangi Bioactives' main focus is to meet the challenges that the environment throws at it while the main goal in developing kānuka oil is to create job opportunities on the East Coast. The annual potential production of Tairāwhiti Kānuka oil is 8,600 litres, the current value of Kānuka oil is $1,000 a litre and the total annual revenue potential is $8.6 million, Caddie says.
Natural pesticides based on essential oils are also a potential alternative for protecting crops, he says. Essential oils produced by steam distillation of plant material (notably in the families Myrtaceae and Lamiaceae) have traditionally been used to protect stored grain and legumes, and repel flying insects at home as well.