Meet Absolute Essential Founder Bo Hendgen

The award-winning founder of a green beauty business takes a holistic approach


Absolute Essential Founder Bo Hendgen

“When I was 11 or 12 years old I had a dream of living in New Zealand and riding a horse over green hills,” remembers Bo Hendgen. The reality, when she made it here as a young mother 30 years ago, was rather less glamorous. She and her family arrived from Europe via Australia, with a 3-month-old baby and a toddler, looking to build a new life.

In France she had studied aromatic medicine but here, using essential oils was seen as a fringe, hippy indulgence, rather than a complementary treatment to be taken seriously. Over the years though, that view has changed, with a growing scientific understanding of olfactory triggers and dermal absorption, and the wider application of lessons learned from the use of oils. “Therapeutic essential oils are the only medicine that you can apply to the brain,” says Bo. “Aspirin you can’t sniff, but peppermint you can.”

Molecules can be absorbed into the brain both through the blood stream and the olfactory system, she explains. Recognition of this is seen in how drugs are increasingly being administered through dermal patches – including for HRT – and nasally.

Bo, who is also a registered osteopath and naturopath with a focus on maternity and paediatrics, is following with interest studies in an English hospital using impregnated ovarian plasters to treat fertility issues.

“People are taking so many pills, the [pharmaceutical] industry is trying to find new ways of giving new stuff.”

If new ways come from old practices then this should be no surprise, says the champion of aromatherapy as one part of integrated holistic health care.

She realises, however, that many users of essential oils are in it simply for the feel-good factor that certain fragrances can impart: lighting an oil burner to relax, dabbing a few drops on to pulse points to energise, or perhaps inhaling a concoction to ward off ills. To get the maximum wellbeing boost, Bo says oils need to be made from medicinal plants to the highest standards. To this end, she has developed her own certified organic Absolute Essential brand.

The business has been exporting for 10 years and was in March named supreme award winner by the Natural Products New Zealand organisation. Against competition from big companies, including Comvita and Blackmores, it was judged to have best shown sustainable business practice. Bo also deserves credit for her role in putting essential oil production in New Zealand on a credible footing.

It all began at the kitchen table, when she could not find pure oils to meet her own needs. She began making her own to the rigorous standards she had been schooled in. Soon she was supplying friends, then a few shops. Now Absolute Essential supplies other makers, retailers and online.

Bo puts her own interest in aromatherapy down to her half-French, half-German upbringing, saying: “I was born into natural health.”

“My two French grandmothers dragged me through the forest, picking mushrooms and berries. Before I even went to school and before I could read and write, I could make herbal remedies.”

Later she worked with a doctor, who like many in France took aromacologie, as it is called there, seriously. “I learned from a very medicinal and professional standpoint.”

Recognition of her expertise includes being invited to France next month to teach aromatherapeutic skincare. She holds workshops on oil blending and is delighted that her sales are split 50-50 these days between her prepared mixes and single oils. “People are out there doing it themselves.”

Further consumer insight is still needed into the difference between therapeutic oils and those added to beauty products and home fragrances worldwide, she says.

The scent concoctions found in the likes of air fresheners and those coming out of the flavour and fragrance industry are often synthetic rather than natural or use oils treated at damagingly high temperatures.

In Asia, where the products are proving popular, their purity adds to the appeal. “They love the fact that it’s from this part of the world.” If New Zealand grew more of the necessary raw ingredients, her vision is that “we could provide the world with essential oils.”

A thyme supply in the South Island has dried up, but local oils she uses are manuka and kanuka. Many others must be sourced from across the globe. She is meticulous in tracing ingredient origin and checking extraction and distillation methods. Nepal is one source close to her heart, with Bo having fundraised for earthquake relief and volunteered there.

She continues to work with villagers to encourage more sustainable harvesting methods as demand grows for their high-altitude botanicals, including anti-inflammatory wintergreen. In Muriwai, where Bo lives, the hand-picked Nepalese ingredients are bottled, labelled and packed by hand by a team of local women.

Happily, her home stands nearby on 16 acres of natural bush, matching her childhood vision of the dream green lifestyle.

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New Zealand Herald

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