For more than 200 years Ngāi Tahu have enjoyed a special relationship with Taramea (Aciphylla aurea). It is a taonga species – a sacred treasure and highly valued.
Taramea leaves are found high in the majestic Southern Alps of Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island). Traditionally, these were gathered by hand, plaited, and heated over many days to extract a highly aromatic resin.
When the base of each plait was held over embers, the heat forced the gum to the top where it was collected in the bottom of a dry gourd. This was a technical and lengthy process requiring great skill and dedication from the young women who collected the gum. They slept next to the fires to ensure the gum did not run down the plant but collected in balls of resin at the top.
Once collected, the gum was mixed with animal fat such as refined kereru (pigeon) or tītī (muttonbird) to make fragrant sachets of oil. Such was its value that it was used as currency in trade for food, pounamu (greenstone), and as gifts between chiefs.
Today, Taramea is sustainably harvested by hand across a number of locations in the Ngāi Tahu takiwā (territory). More than three years of research has increased our understanding of the growing conditions and variations in the chemistry and scent of Taramea collected from different locations.
A modern steam extraction process enables MEA natural perfume oil to bring the ancient scent of Taramea to life again, reviving the Ngāi Tahu practice of perfume making and sharing its history with the world.