Andean Maca - The enterprising idea of Sally and Corin, the founders of Seleno Health
Sally Huapaya and Dr. Corin Storkey talk to Multicultural Times’ Katherine Tomaylla about Andean Maca, their business and how it helps promote the union of New Zealand and Peru.
Tell us about your career path. How did you get your start? How and why did you open Seleno Health?
I am an Industrial Engineer with 13 years working experience in a financial institution in Peru. Corin has a PhD in medicinal chemistry with 15 years of academic and research experience. We met in Peru and after living together we inspired each other to leave our corporate jobs to peruse our own social enterprise with the focus of giving back to the society and making a difference in the world.
Centripetal to our vision was a unique Peruvian plant called Maca that had touched us in different ways. I grew up consuming Maca as a child, learning from my mother and grandmother the importance of Maca and its links to my culture. Maca is a symbol of my roots as Peruvian and Incan ancestor; it is my connection to Pachamama (mother earth).
I shared Maca with Corin during his recovery from chronic fatigue. For him Maca was a big part of his rebuilding and became part of his life and ongoing good health. As a scientist he wanted to learn more about the biochemical secrets behind its benefits. So together we established Seleno Health as a blend of our experiences and strengths to forge a way for us to help others.
What’s the vision of Seleno Health?
Seleno Health is our way of bringing Maca into NZ and share its unique properties with Kiwis in need, but with a different business model to the prevailing ones. A model that focuses on preserving the culture and history of Maca and connecting consumers directly to the farmer, community and spirit of the plant. Our model is also about educating kiwis how to consume Maca, how to use it to treat different conditions based on tradition and scientific substantiation of traditional claims. Our vision is all about sustainability. Sustainability of the history of Maca, the farming, the story, the culture, the science and the health benefits.
Can you tell us the origin and key benefits of Maca?
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is an annual herbaceous plant of the Brassicaceae family, native to the central Peruvian Andes. It grows within the range of 3500 – 4500m where the conditions provide little competition within the soil from other plants. The cultivation of Maca dates back to the days of the Pre-Columbian Inca who would refer to the plant as the ‘food of the gods’ due to its medicinal properties associated energy, vitality, virility, hormone balance, and fertility. It is also a Peruvian natural remedy to combat stress and fatigue.
The story told to us by a local shaman and historian from Junin is that the Inca were in search of gold in the mountains of San Blas (near Junin) when they came across a cave (the cradle of Pachamachay) and discovered a mummified body with possessions including the seeds of Maca. They cultivated the seeds into the resulting plants and so began a 2000 year history of Maca that would play a vital role within their evolution and culture. These traditions have been largely kept throughout history and even today the harvest of Maca is celebrated through a month-long festival to give thanks to Pachamama for delivering the fertile root from the earth.
In Peru raw Maca is always consumed cooked as it is high in starch, bacteria and a toxin producing mould. It is traditionally boiled in teas, soups or stews as a food source and a medicinal. Scientific studies have shown that cooking raw Maca enhances its medicinal properties We do not export raw Maca powder due to the risk of it being consumed raw.
Our Maca powder is gelatinised (pressure cooking – does not contain gelatin, 100% vegan friendly) to improve absorption, creating an easy to drink, nutrient rich powder. Gelatinising simulates traditional Incan preparation methods. It is ready to eat, easy to digest and is 2x more potent than our raw powder. Gelatinised Maca is light brown in colour and has a rich, malt caramel aroma and flavour.
How people can prevent chronic fatigue?
Chronic fatigue is a complex chronic inflammatory condition that affects different people in different ways. New research has shown definitive links to imbalances in the micro-biome of the gut, increased gut permeability, immune dysfunction, disruption of the energy production pathways and dysregulation of the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis. In essence chronic stress causes malfunctions to many parts of our nervous system, leading to a full body burnout and collapse. Reversing this problem and managing it involves a holistic, multi-faceted approach that starts from the gut, through nutritional therapy, focuses on lifestyle changes, builds the body’s natural defence mechanisms through the glutathione system and finally seeks to stabilise the HPA axis via the use of medicinal HPA regulators like maca and techniques like NLP and mindfulness. It is all about balancing the levels of stress in our life, the correct exercise at the correct time and ensuring that what we are putting in our gut is ‘medicine’ and not poison. Unfortunately the face paced western lifestyle of poor diet, high stress, toxins and chemical stressors leaves us more susceptible to these types of chronic conditions. Focusing on balance, nutrition, healthy food, lifestyle and a closer mind-body connection in my mind is key to preventing chronic fatigue.
How do you promote the union between New Zealand and Peru?
As part of our mission we want to educate New Zealanders about the incredible culture behind Peru and Peruvian Maca. We run workshops all around the country during which we share the story of our community in Peru. It is about connecting Kiwis directly to our farm in Peru and sharing my culture and history with them. We also invite Kiwi volunteers to Peru who can in turn share new Zealand culture with Peruvians. In July our recent group of volunteers engaged in a day of cultural exchange in which they shared aspects of their culture with our community in Peru from the history of New Zealand to traditions such as performing a haka. Both countries have rich and unique cultures with many similarities and also many differences, it’s about sharing the best of each with each other to learn and open minds to cultural ideologies.
What community projects are you working on now?
Right now we have several initiatives in place with our community. Approximately 10 percent of our profit per bag of Maca goes into a fund to help our community. This year we purchased books, school supplies and equipment for the children of the school from our farming community in Peru. We are helping them set up a centre of cultural preservation that focuses on maintaining their traditions and culture. This includes learning about the significance of Maca and also continuing to produce indigenous textiles and fabrics that we are looking at selling non-profit to generate more income through trade instead of just aid. We also are supporting several marginalized families by supplying the children with equipment, uniforms, clothing for school and food packages.
What is the commitment of Seleno Health with the Latin culture in New Zealand?
Our commitment is to act as ambassadors for the best of what Peru has to offer. To share the incredible story of my Incan ancestors, their culture and traditions. To educate kiwis about Peru and bridge cultural divides. Through sharing our culture and educating consumers about the realities for communities and farmers in Peru we can help change the way in which superfoods are currently sourced and help the people of my homeland. We are working towards a sustainable partnership between New Zealand and Peru in which everyone involved benefits.
You can find Seleno Health at www.selenohealth.com