The root of the matter

Meet the duo bringing maca, a sacred Peruvian plant powder, to New Zealand, on a mission to share its vast medicinal benefits and cultural history that dates back thousands of years.

Words Natalie Cyra

Dr. Corin Storkey and his life and business partner Jacqueline (Sally) Huapaya, who hails from Peru, are the proud owners and operators of Seleno Health, a small family business based between New Zealand and Peru, which primarily focuses on the importing of the powder from maca. Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca is an edible herbaceous biennial plant that is native to South America in the high Andes mountains of Peru. Both Storkey, who holds a PhD in medicinal chemistry, and Huapaya gave up their secure and well-paid jobs to pursue a more purposeful mission: to tell the story of maca and its heritage, as well as why it’s a potential game-changer in holistic health. We asked them about their journey.   

You started taking the Peruvian superfood maca when you were suffering from chronic fatigue. How did it help?

Corin: I was waking up earlier in the morning and I was more focused and energised. I started getting into it more, taking it regularly and it really helped my recovery process. It was after seeing such great results that I began researching maca. I wanted to bring substantiation to the traditional uses, and answer questions like, how does it work? What are the bioactives? Who is it good for? How does it act on the brain? What I now know is that maca contains novel bioactive molecules called macamides that work in the brain’s endocannabinoid system to improve the way our brain responds to stress. It’s actually the same system as cannabis but a different mode of action, one that is more mild and more sustainable, its works to protect our own human cannabinoids. It’s like the ultimate stress tonic for our brain and body.

What was the next step?

Sally: I said to Corin, we have to go to the Andes mountains in Peru because they know more than I know, and this plant is very sacred. It has many traditions surrounding its use that we must understand. Before you take it from the soil, you have to give thanks to Pachamama (a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes – Mother Earth) to learn her secrets. We then spent much time working with indigenous shamans to understand the traditions.

What is maca to the Peruvian people?

Corin: For them it’s a medicine and this is where we differentiate maca from superfoods. They don’t eat it or consume it as a source of carbohydrate or protein. There are copious potatoes in this region, they don’t need that – so it’s purely really consumed for prevention and management of disease.

Sally: From my perspective as a Peruvian, for us it is our daily medicine, our special food for health and our brain. She [maca] grows above 4000 metres where nothing else can survive, and she thrives under those extreme conditions, if we respect her, this is our gift – her strength and resilience.

You now sell maca in more than 100 wholefoods stores around New Zealand. How quickly did the journey happen, and what were your goals when you launched here?

Corin: I think one thing was really looking at the industry in Peru and the issues with the current model because maca has been here [in New Zealand] for seven or eight years. But the big thing was about creating the connection to the plant, to the medicine, to the people. We wanted to educate on maca, make it more therapeutic, make it more scientific and use it as a treatment here for specific conditions because we know it can offer a lot of benefits. The last thing was how is it being sourced. I felt like there was nothing sustainable and there was no ethics in what was going on, no focus on social responsibility or environmental protection. Farmers are at the absolute bottom of the pile and the communities they’re trying to support are even lower so we said ‘we need a model that works’.

How do the profits return to your farmer?

Corin: We have a farm to table model where we create the product together in Peru on the farm and bring it direct ready to market. Many farmers are lucky to receive one to two per cent of the retail value of their maca when selling in Peru. We profit share with our farmer direct to New Zealand consumers. It’s better than fair trade. It’s so hard to make a good-quality maca and if you cut any corners along the way you lose the medicinal value of the powder, so by ensuring our farmer is fairly paid he can focus on quality and following all the sacred farming traditions. He’s super excited. It’s been about a year and a half since we began working together, and he’s finished repairs on his house that he’d been waiting 15 years to do and much more. That’s the magic of going from farm to table – everyone wins; your money goes to the right people. We’ve spent a lot of time working with the community too. We donate approximately 10 per cent of our profits per bag sold to a fund for the children of the village, and [our farmer] puts a lot of money back into that community also. In essence when you buy our maca, you are directly helping a marginalised community in Peru.

You run workshops in New Zealand to try and educate consumers on the power of maca…

Corin: Our biggest engagement is with our workshops and in-store promotions. We also do a lot of stuff online and have a comprehensive blog about maca. By educating consumers they can feel the connection, they understand how to use maca and ensure they get the right maca for their health condition. That’s the key for how we’ve been able to do what we do. 

Seleno Health sells maca products and offers natural health solutions and tools to improve your own self-health management. selenohealth.com

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