Behind the Product: Sven’s Island Natural Remedies

Q+A with Sven Stellin

Co-founder, Sven's Island Natural Remedies
Interviewed by Kris McIntyre

Farmer, gardener, inventor and sage of all things natural, Sven is the humble farmer behind the Sven's Island 100% natural personal care range. Sven has lived on Great Barrier Island off the coast of New Zealand his whole life where he has been developing natural remedies for over 35 years. His determination to understand how the native plants that grow wild on the Island can benefit people with health problems led him to create Sven's Island with the simple mission to help people look after themselves naturally, just as Mother Nature intended. It all started with a splinter in the eye...

Kris: In 1985 you discovered the healing properties of the Manuka tree by accident. Is that true?
Sven: Yes, it literally was an accident!I live on a remote island 60 miles off the coast of mainland New Zealand and two days away from a doctor. So when I was working on the island back then and a big red tractor trundled past with a local boy holding one eye and crying out the other I feared the worst for him. But, as luck would have it, it wasn't just any old splinter in the boy's eye it was a Manuka tree splinter. When the splinter was removed the boy's eye was right as rain.

Kris: What made you think that the splinter had healing powers?
Sven: Well it was the Doctor that said because of the antibacterial and natural healing properties of the Manuka splinter that the boy's eye did not get infected. In fact, the area surrounding the puncture had closed over and was healing. I thought this was pretty incredible so my journey began to discover more about this and other plants that may have powerful healing properties on the island.

Kris: So after that initial discovery word quickly spread about the ‘Manuka Miracle', but it was another thirty years before you launched Sven's Island. What went into creating your 100% natural personal care range?
Sven: I bunkered down on the Island to uncover the therapeutic secrets that lay hidden within the native plants that grow here. So using just a weather-beaten steel can, a brandy bottle and some old aluminum piping, I started making my own recipes for friends and family to enjoy.  Before long I began hearing about how my natural remedies were healing lots of different skin problems so I thought I must be doing something right. It wasn't until 2015 that my stepson, Mark Sharman, convinced me that my remedies needed to be shared with the wider world. That's when we went into business together to create a range of 100% natural personal care products that we now export to Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan and Europe.

Kris: It wasn't just Manuka that you discovered, but its 'cousin', Kanuka. How are they different?
Sven: There are three main species of the Myrtaceae family found in New Zealand including Manuka, Kanuka and Aotea Kanuka. While Manuka and Kanuka are found across many parts of the North and South Island, Aotea Kanuka can only be found on Great Barrier Island, which is what makes our Kanuka oil and honey so special. One of the reasons the Aotea Kanuka produces such a pure and powerful product is because it grows wild in a pristine and untouched environment.

Kris: How do you harvest Kanuka?
Sven: Our Kanuka trees (also known as Aotea Kanuka) are only found on Great Barrier Island in the whole world which makes it a very rare tree. We harvest the oil and the honey from wild trees that grow on the farm. The Kanuka oil which is 100 times stronger than the honey is hand harvested and we choose from only the very best leaves. By pruning only the finest leaves the tree is allowed to grow back to its full potential in no time at all. Not only does this make for happy plants but maintains the island's natural ecosystem which is really important to us. Our harvesting is, and always will be, 100% sustainable.
The Kanuka honey is sustainably hand harvested once a year when the Kanuka trees are in full blossom. This happens between December and February. We always leave enough honey in the beehives so the bees have enough food to live off and this also maintains a healthy hive.

Kris: What are the health benefits of Kanuka?
Sven:We knew very little research had been done on Kanuka because of its famous cousin Manuka so it wasn't until we had the oils tested that we found out how powerful the healing properties were in Kanuka.  Results came back with significant levels of anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that are found in very few plants in nature. It is only now that the Kanuka tree is proving to be highly effective in promoting gut health and fighting everything from sore throats and urinary tract infections to skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis.
New Zealand researchers are also excited about the role it can play in fighting antibiotic resistance. Aotea Kanuka oil has very high concentrations of α-Pinene (PGE 1), which is a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory with proven results in the successful treatment of skin diseases. Because the oil is well tolerated even when used undiluted on the skin, it's great for people with sensitive skin. Other studies have identified it as a potent broad-spectrum antibiotic particularly effective against Staphylococcus aureus, including the MRSA variety (multiple antibiotic resistant).

Kris: Is Kanuka honey rated in the same way as Manuka? How does it work?
Sven: Kanuka honey is very different to Manuka. As we are the first to produce medical grade Kanuka honey we had to devise a ratings system UKF or Unique Kanuka Factor to measure the amount of AGP protein found in our honey. Manuka measures the MGO level. Our Kanuka honey also has high levels of MGO but AGP protein can only be found in Kankua honey. You can't compare the two ratings as both measure very different properties in the honey.

Kris: Are you the only producers in New Zealand using Kanuka products? Why?
Sven:We are only the Aotea Kanuka tree farm in New Zealand and were the first to manufacturer personal care products using the extracts from these trees. I guess that's what makes our products so different from everyone else.

Kris: What else goes into your products?
Sven:All of Sven's Island's unique bio-active ingredients are 100% wild crafted and produced using the old making techniques including distillation, tincturing and infusion. Just over a hundred years ago, all products were made this way. Today we're the only ones who handle every step of the process ourselves, from beginning to end. These extracts vary from year to year and harvest to harvest, based on changing seasons, varying temperatures and exact harvesting locations. The finished natural extract depends on what the wild ecology of the island has on offer. This includes plant extracts from Kohuu, Lemonwood, Kawakawa, Purple Kumara leaf, Baby Black Fern and Kumarahou.
It took us over a year and a half to formulate these products and most of the Island ingredients we harvest have never been used in formulations before so it was tricky getting it right. It's quite a difficult process to make sure the stability of every product is at a high quality due to all the ingredients interacting with each other. Every ingredient was deliberately chosen to work on a particular skin problem e.g. lemonwood for acne, which is found in our Spotless face gel cleanser.

Kris: What's next for Sven's Island?
Sven:We have new product development underway and we will be launching these in 2018. These products will also include new native ingredients from the Island – which will be world firsts. We will also continue to grow the brand in Australia and international markets to help people take care of themselves naturally just as Mother Nature intended. Every product purchased form Sven's Island helps a person living in rural poverty. So we will be continuing to work with communitiesand seed funding projects that focus on providing education, food security, conservation and water.

Move over Manuka, Kanuka is the new buzz word in health

Healthy Life stocks a range of Sven's products containing the rare Aotea Kanuka oil including Fresh Face anti-ageing moisturiser, Miracle Manuka medi-salve and Kanuka honey.