3 Jul 2020

A Hilly Haven for Herbs

From Country Life, 9:39 pm on 3 July 2020
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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Banks Peninsula horticulturist Cornelia Holten established the Koru Kai Herb Farm at Pigeon Bay with support from her husband Kai in 2013.

They wanted to be self-sufficient in food and natural medicines. She talks to Cosmo Kentish-Barnes.

Why do you like living on the slopes of this out-of-the-way valley?

I love the hills on both sides. I can see down to the ocean at Pigeon Bay. And you can see the gap out to the open ocean.

It's magical and whenever we have people come up to the farm, they say Wow. It is so peaceful.

There is no exit road, so there's no traffic except people coming to us and the neighbours. It' so quiet.

Cornelia makes cheese from her favourite cow Lulu's milk

Cornelia makes cheese from her favourite cow Lulu's milk Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

How did you and Kai end up in Pigeon Bay?

We wanted to be self-sufficient. That was our main driver. We had an urban section in Christchurch but we ran out of growing space so when I was pregnant with our first child, Nicholas, we decided to take the leap and buy the property.

I grew up on a 20-cow dairy farm in Germany, a little rural village in Bavaria. And I loved cows and I wanted a cow to make milk and buttermilk. We kept looking for properties that didn't have a massive house. And we found this little slice of paradise.

So half of this property is native bush, some is paddock and then there's a big slice where we have a herb farm. It's taking up more and more space as we grow.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Is the herb garden the centrepoint of your business?

Yes. We wouldn't have a business without the herb garden. We make the compost. We plant the herbs, we grow them right from seeds to harvest. And then we package them up for our customers.

I did a count and we are growing about 80 herbs. We have about 40 herbs we harvest more commercially; some are harvested three times a year, some once.

Recently we have been digging up elecampane root which is a great root for the lungs. And marshmallow, liquorice and horseradish root. Another one is echinacea. That will be our next one in the next couple of weeks.

Echinacea goes into a health elixir for adults and a number of throat sprays. It's a great herb for the onset of a disease when you just feel your throat is scratchy and you are coming down with a cold.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

What happened to demand during the Covid lockdown?

We had a massive increase. It was just when we had the first case of Covid-19 in New Zealand, and we saw orders spike. I didn't know what was going on, but the website was just blinking with new orders coming in. So then I had to go into the news and see what was happening.

And sourdough bread kits?

Yes, the sourdough starter kit that we sell comes with a full recipe book and during the lockdown, people wanted to bake their own bread. And so we were very lucky during the lockdown to be able to help people with their bread baking journey.

I really hope the people who got their sourdough starter during the lockdown will carry on making bread!

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

What did you want to do when you moved here?

When we moved to the farm my drive was to be self-sufficient. One half was food and the other was natural medicines. But I felt I didn't have the connections; those have been lost during the last few generations, normally it was just passed on to the children how to use the plants around you. So I wanted to be able to help ourselves and the children especially.

So I did an apprenticeship at the Phytofarm (Herbal Learning Garden) in Little River and I loved it. The last module was ''come up with a business plan'' and we came up with a product called Baby Bottom Balm which we needed for our baby. So we thought we'll give it a go, give it a crack and start planting herbs.

We also run courses now; you can be self-sufficient, that you can live a healthy life, and that food is the basis for our health. That is what I want to teach other people and help them on their journey.

A workshop at Korukai Herb Farm

A workshop at Korukai Herb Farm Photo: supplied