All of the new life in a plant can be found in the bud underneath your fingertips.
”You can literally feel the bud bursting, there is so much potential inside,” Barrington gemmotherapy producer Emma van de Winckel says, inspecting the plants of the beech trees set in neat rows in the tidy paddock.
Gemmotherapy is the practice of harvesting the bud of different trees and plants to extract and harvest its medicinal properties for tinctures, oils, extracts and creams.
Marleen Herbs at Barrington, a small property near Sheffield, has been cultivating gemmotherapy plants for a few years in addition to producing different types of herbs.
However a year ago, Miss van de Winckel returned to her family’s farm after studying organic agriculture at university in the Netherlands, and took the help of the fledgling gemmotherapy business.
Miss van de Winckel said gemmotherapy was not widely known in Australia but it is a practice that is more commonly used in Europe.
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Gemmotherapy uses the raw “embryonic tissue” of plants to make herbal remedies.
The raw material is taken at the peak time of the tree or shrub’s annual germination – in the spring for most plants.
Certain plant hormones and enzymes are released during this process, and in some cases are only present in the plant at this time.
“The material we collect is often described as being similar to human stem cells and is used for medicinal purposes,” Miss van de Winckel said.
“Gemmos” as they are affectionately known at the van de Winckel farm are cultivated from more than 60 species of plants and are turned into about 20 different extracts.
The buds and “stem cells” are harvested by hand from the trees that include beech, poplar, rosemary, chestnut, hazelnut, figs, hawthorn, olive and grapevines.
Plants like blackcurrant have antibacterial properties and can be used for drawing out toxins; other plants are good for revitalising the liver, for example.
Miss van de Winckel said it was a technique that had its roots in the Middle Ages but was officially discovered by a Belgian doctor about 60 years ago.
“We were doing it [gemmotherapy] in Europe but when we moved here and Emma returned from her study she really took it up as her contribution to the farm, it was always her special project,” Mrs van de Winckel said.
Tasmania’s climate is “very excellent” for growing the “gemmo” plants because of its consistent variation in temperature.
Miss van de Winckel said it could be a bit dry sometimes, especially last year, but said the plants often grew with a stronger flavour because they thrived in the hot days and cold nights.
The buds and “stem cells” of the plant are all harvested by hand and Miss van de Winckel said she always knew which plants were ready by touch.
“You can feel when the buds are ready,” she said.
The trees are pruned and the buds harvested and mixed with a solution of alcohol and glycerol and left to mature over a period of weeks, depending on the plant.
They are stored in a cool storeroom in one of the farm’s large sheds in plastic and glass bottles of all shapes and sizes.
Miss van de Winckel said plants had always fascinated her and said every “gemmo” was special in its own way.
“It’s a real special way of working with plants,” she said.
Miss van de Winckel is also expanding her knowledge of herbal medicine and studying to be a herbalist in Western medicine to help understand more about the field.
She said it was still a relatively new industry in Australia but hoped her work would encourage other producers and customers.
“Not everything is known about it yet and it is time consuming but we are hoping to build it up so we have more Australian customers and distributors,” she said.
At the moment Marleen Herbs have a distributor in Melbourne who distributes the product to their small Australian customer base and larger European customer base.
Agriculture reporter Caitlin Jarvis wants to celebrate the success of Tasmania’s rural women and will be running the Women in Agriculture series in the coming weeks. To nominate a rural woman email email@example.com or via her Facebook page.