Mānuka honey has long been celebrated for its health benefits. But now, its cousin – Mānuka essential oil – is entering the scene, offering healing properties and a captivating aroma unlike other essential oils on the market.

A passionate Mānuka oil producer Rory Hill – founder of Blackfern Botanical – was astounded by his own personal use of the oil. He found that Mānuka essential oil, when diluted, supported the healing of cold sores and many other ailments.

“Say if you get a cold sore or a burn and you can apply it in a blend, like almond oil or something like that, it would really help the healing time,” says Hill.

Blackfern Botanical’s distilled Mānuka Oil.

Encouraged by his own positive experiences in 2018, the entrepreneur was determined to extract the oil from the native plant and make it commercially available to a wider audience.

Blackfern Botanical specialises in wild harvesting and steam-distilling Mānuka from native Leptospermum scoparium [Mānuka] trees – found in the pristine surroundings of Ōkārito and Franz Josef – into an oil and an aerosol extract. The oil is produced by distilling the Mānuka leaves, seeds, and bark.

This particular Mānuka plant on the West Coast – once distilled – has an aroma unlike any other Mānuka plant. A statement backed-up by Robert Franich, an expert in Mānuka oil analysis at Chemipreneur Limited.

“It has a far more pleasant aroma than the currently produced Mānuka oils, which had a much more medicinal smell where we had a much more pleasant sweeter fragrance,” says Hill.

This distinction is crucial, as many alternative oils produced in the industry are often described as having an off-putting and intense aroma, akin to old socks.

Blackfern Botanical employs a responsible and sustainable harvesting approach, extracting Mānuka essential oil and hydrosol from native Mānuka plants through a meticulous distillation process.

The oil and hydrosol produce has been shown to have bio-active properties, including antifungal and antibacterial and antiviral attributes, making it a versatile addition to various products.

Supported by his father, Tony Hill, and partner, Sara Reinhardt, Hill developed a robust business plan in 2021.

“In the end, I had to take out a mortgage on my land, where we harvest the Mānuka.”

Pure Mānuka Oil.

It cost the team around $45,000 to construct a relatively small distillation facility over the course of 12 months.

Their machinery is capable of producing significant quantities of Mānuka oil and hydrosol, positioning Blackfern Botanical as a potential bulk supplier. Hill is keen on collaborating with companies looking to enhance their products with these two unique ingredients.

The Blackfern Mānuka Oil and hydrosol are currently being sold in a few retail shops on the West Coast and a local company who incorporates Mānuka hydrosol in their nappies.

Hill, a drainlayer by trade, offers the product through his company’s website, Blackfern Botanical, under the name “Mānuka Oil.”

He also applied to have the product trademarked with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) under the name “Manuka Medic”.

It’s been a long battle though. Hill faced trademark disputes from Manuka Doctor, a skincare brand backed by Kourtney Kardashian, one of its brand ambassador

“This trademark dispute has been a large factor in our startup so far costing us plenty of time and money,” says Hill.

Manuka Doctor objected to Hill’s request to trademark the name “Manuka Medic,” citing concerns that consumers might easily mistake the two products due to their linguistic similarities.

However, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) recently ruled against Manuka Doctor’s objection.

For Hill, the entrepreneurial journey has been slow-moving. He now knows that business is hard and it takes quite a few little steps to create something significant. He says when things get tough – take a break.

“Break it down and do one thing at a time, one step at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much. You just have to keep chipping away at it.”

Pure Mānuka Hydrosol.

What made Hill believe this business idea would work is believing in the product first-hand.

“It is seeing the benefits of the oil and how it helped heal myself and others. I personally find the aroma quite nice – I find it quite uplifting and invigorating if you have it burning in a diffuser or something.

“I also see the retail price and go ‘wow’ to get $50 for twenty ml of oil seems like, ‘If they can get that price, why can’t we.’ Seeing how much it costs to produce it, with the little investment required to build the manufacturing system, I thought, ‘Why can’t we do that?’

“And since no one else in our area was doing it as well, it seemed like a new ground to break into [on the West Coast].”

Looking ahead, Hill has aspirations beyond Mānuka, but he says he will be focusing on Mānuka oil, hoping to expand into other markets overseas.

“I’d like to distil other products like Kawakawa or even Kānuka. There’s certainly demand out there for it,” Hill says.

In the future, Hill envisions building a distillery facility for tours and workshops, providing tourists with the opportunity to explore the world of Mānuka oil and hydrosol production first-hand.

“Maybe have a little pullover shop with the products and the distillery; that’s definitely something I would like to aim towards, and I can see real potential there.”

While Blackfern Botanical may have had a modest beginning, its ambitions are grand as it continues to make Mānuka essential oil and hydrosol readily available to bigger markets in New Zealand and overseas.

Story by Mina Amso in partnership with Development West Coast (DWC).

Innovation Nation is a series celebrating stories of innovation and diversity in entrepreneurship from around New Zealand.

Innovation Nation proudly supported by:

Supporter Spotlight: Offers and services from NZ Entrepreneur supporters!




Common Good Coffee NZ

You might also like...