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Waiheke Island, NZ

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Letting the Grass Grow

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When Caroline Moore came to a crossroads uncertain where to turn next and dissatisfied with the options in front of her, she found herself drawn to healing using plants. Sophie Boladeras finds out how Caroline’s Waiheke-based start up Plant Alchemy grew from an idea to a successful business.

“I like to call it a midlife awakening, rather than a midlife crisis,” Plant Alchemy founder Caroline Moore says of the moment she felt a pull to make changes in her life.

“Around the time I turned 40, I had this feeling of wanting to take all my clothes off and run.” 

Although Caroline didn’t follow through on her naked ambitions, she did make some significant changes, which eventually led to the creation of her company.

“I was pretty stuck in my life. I’m a completely different person now to what I was five or ten years ago. I started to wake up and to notice parts of myself that weren’t really me.”

“I let go of these parts. I needed to let go of many things,” she tells me over tea at her home in Omiha as her recently adopted kitten Charlie dances under our feet.

Caroline, who was formerly a pattern maker for Kate Sylvester, ended a 15-year relationship soon after turning 40, she then bought a house bus and travelled the country.

“I did lots of workshops and did a lot of work on myself. Now I’m back and settled in my life. That period was about growth and change and finding my authentic self.”

Caroline’s two girls are now 11 and 13, and the creation of Plant Alchemy was aided by her girls’ lessening dependency on their mother and the resulting ability for Caroline to “come back to herself”.

“Plants have always had a big part in my life. The medicine-making aspect is more recent. I started making remedies for myself and then friends started asking me to make something for them, then friends of friends. So it grew organically from there.”

Caroline seems to suit Waiheke perfectly, or maybe it’s the other way around. She decided to move here before she even set foot on the island.

“I moved to Waiheke about 11 years ago when our kids were young, we were in Auckland and wanted a different lifestyle. I love it here.

“We came over to look at rental homes and it resonated with me straight away. There was a part of me that knew I was going to be here even before I had visited. It wasn’t so much about what I had heard, but more of an intuitive feeling about the island, that alternative lifestyle, a quiet lifestyle and separation from the city.”

Caroline says the move here was instrumental in shifting her out of a more mainstream world into a holistic way of living. She started out living in Oneroa and had a nine-acre garden on Sea View Road with her former partner. Just five months ago she moved to Omiha. On stepping into her home, the scent of sage drifts on the breeze. It’s a calming space, (except for Charlie’s rampant energy) with candles, antique furnishings and a beautiful resurfaced claw foot tub in the bathroom.

“I’m beginning to establish my garden here,” she tells me.

“I’m just letting it grow at the moment to see what comes up. I believe that what grows up around us is what we need in our lives to support us, so I’m just letting the grass grow.”

It’s a clear winter day, without a bite to the wind and as I take a look at the garden, Caroline says she plans to eventually start planting and will foster a wild garden she can harvest herbs and flowers from.

She tells me that for her, plants are incredible allies.

“I have had ulcerative colitis, which is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. I believe that underneath physical ailments, there is an emotional or spiritual wounding that manifests in the physical. I really like working with the emotional body and supporting people to connect with what the root of the ailment is.”

Back inside, I tell Caroline I read about the ‘plant remedy reading’ session on her website and would love to try it. The consultation includes a plant medicine card reading and a tincture to take home. To start, Caroline hands me a pack of large cards and asks me to shuffle them while thinking about what I might need support with. I then select 10 cards from the pack, the first that comes up is watercress, which Caroline tells me is useful for filtering out toxins from the body and on an emotional level, helps to clear emotions that aren’t serving me. Next is pokeroot, which cleanses the lymphatic system and helps to break up cysts. I also turn over feverfew, which she says is amazing for headaches and hormonal balance. Pohutakawa, which Caroline says is very feminine and helps to connect the heart and mind. Ginger, which improves circulation. Dandelion, which is a liver tonic. Next is speedwell, a tiny plant that grows in the grass and “is very connected to the third eye and your inner vision. It also helps to release tension from the neck and shoulders.”

After Caroline has described the plants and their properties on my cards, we move into her office where glass jars hold potent plant derivatives.

“Most of the ingredients are wild harvested on Waiheke and a few from other parts of the country, then there are one or two that I bring in from overseas,” she says.

“I like to connect to plants on a spiritual level; I will call out to them and have them guide me to where the best plants are.”

Caroline regularly works with olive leaf, which is abundant on the island and is known as an immune booster. Olive leaves contain several polyphenols, which occur naturally in plants, and research suggests that they may help protect against a range of conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.

“I also like working with tanekaha. It’s a native plant which connects into ancestral support, self-love and clearing.”

Caroline sources a few plants from overseas, such as damiana, which mainly grows in the Americas.

“It supports the muscles to relax and is very calming. It’s also a mild aphrodisiac,” she tells me.

As it’s mid-winter, it’s no surprise that the Plant Alchemy immune booster plant remedy, which contains olive leaf, totara and chamomile is flying off the shelves. When I ask Caroline about the tincture creation process, she tells me that the first things she does is to connect with a plant - to communicate her intention and ask whether the plant is ok to be harvested.

“When there’s a ‘yes’ I’ll harvest the plant, this is when the greatest work is done in the connection and relationships that are built with the plants. Then it’s a matter of infusing the plants in pure grain alcohol and blending to make the remedies.”

As well as the tinctures and healing sessions, Caroline also creates three cream products. Her healing balm is made from olive oil, beeswax, calendula, comfrey, plantain, kawakawa and manuka and is especially healing for insect bites, stings, wounds, swelling, bruising, aches and pains.

“For the balm, I infuse the plant material in Waiheke olive oil. This is then melted down with beeswax, water and essential oils, which are then blended.”

Bottled in glass jars, the tinctures can be consumed straight under the tongue or by adding a dropper to water.

“They have quite an immediate effect and can be taken daily or more frequently if required.” Caroline tells me it’s even been trendy lately to add a tincture to cocktails at bars in the states.

Although she believes modern medicine has its benefits, particularly when it comes to diagnostics, Caroline feels that the current system “masks rather than gets to the root of what’s going on”.

“I feel it has a place in diagnosing, but I don’t agree with masking ailments with pharmaceuticals. We need to get to the root of what is happening behind the physical manifestation.”

Caroline has studied human design, shamanic plant medicine, shamanic conscious sexuality and is currently doing a shamanic apprenticeship with Leila Lees who runs a four-year training course through her organization Lasavia Healing.

Creating her own start-up hasn’t been obstacle free for Caroline who says her daughters have some resistance to what she does.

“They’re coming into their teenage years and they kind of rebel against things, so I try not to push anything on them.”

Learning the ins and outs of running a small business has had other challenges.

“I’m a maker, and I like creating and spiritually connecting in with plants. Bringing those through to support people to be the best, most authentic, healthiest versions of themselves is a great process,” says Caroline.

“I’ve had to develop a lot more on the business side of things. My graphic designer has been really supportive on a business level. I go along to a women’s business circle on the island and have reached out to a lot of people for support. It’s been great to push those edges a little bit.”

Caroline’s drive has seen her launch the brand in stores both on Waiheke and in Queenstown.

“I want to branch out but not too widely,” she says.

“I want to stay focused on the ethos of being connected to the plants. Getting too big would take away from that connection that needs to be there on a spiritual level.”

Caroline came up with the Plant Alchemy logo design with her graphic designer, Tara Fowler.

“I like the idea of the magic that happens when plants are brought together in a beaker. There’s an alchemy that happens. It’s both scientific and spiritual. Plants are such amazing allies they’re nature’s medicine.” •