Valmai Becker shares her passion for medicinal plants through apprenticeship programmes and workshops at Phytofarm SPONSORED
On a 9ha block in the Okuti Valley, Banks Peninsula, Valmai Becker has found a property that perfectly supports her passion. Formerly a director of the Canterbury College of Natural Medicine in Christchurch, she now uses her Phytofarm property to grow numerous medicinal plants as a landscape for teaching the use of herbs and the manufacturing of herbal medicines.
The vision of Phytofarm became reality in 2001, when Valmai found the ideal property: a north facing hillside block in the picturesque Okuti Valley. Phytofarm is her primary passion and brings together a number of her skills – gardener, teacher, learner and caretaker of 20 acres of forest and gardens.
Phytofarm has been developed over the last 15 years by herbalist and naturopath Valmai Becker as a repository of plants and learning centre. The gardens, manufacturing and drying sheds have been purpose-built to provide a practical learning experience in herbal medicine. Valmai is a Registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist and a Professional Member of NZAMH. She has had many years of experience in graduating students into the healing profession and gardening projects. She attained a Diploma in Naturopathy (ND) in 1980 and established and managed a clinical practice, specialising in using the philosophies and traditions of natural medicine and a holistic self-healing model of wellness. Valmai used herbal medicine, nutrition and massage therapy to manage acute and chronic conditions. During the 1980’s she operated The Old Shipping Office, an Akaroa restaurant famous for its provincial cuisine, artful plate design and use of herbs and edible flowers.
“Because I am interested in education and with the opportunity to share my knowledge with others, I wanted Phytofarm to be a model property. My goal is to provide an environment for people who wish to establish a relationship with plants and learn to follow sustainable, organic farming practice.”
The extensive plantings of more than 100 different species, in a large heart-shaped garden, complete with an ornate folly makes an impressive sight in all seasons. As interested groups tour the gardens, Valmai will explain how elecampane assists lung health, meadowsweet is beneficial to the digestion and arthritis, sage is useful for hot flushes, marshmallow soothes mucous membranes, echinacea is an immune modulator, gingko leaves are beneficial for the memory, and even the humble dandelion is a culinary, as well as medicinal essential. Summertime is when the herb crops are at their most exuberant. It is the time to harvest aerial parts of the plants, such as stems, leaves, flowers and when the drying shed is likely to be crammed with bunches of lemon balm, yarrow and flower-heads of marigold, red clover and rose petals.
“The whole property is very much a work in progress.”
Andrea and Peter Bay moved to Phytofarm in 2019 and they are now fully immersed in Phytofarm life. Andrea is in charge of manufacturing and processing orders, managing the drying room, teaching workshops and the preparation of the food for the workshops and other events. Valmai and Andrea regularly go on foraging trips to find the best available quality for the plants that don’t grow at Phytofarm. Andrea loves sharing her passion for herbs and herbal medicine and has gained a huge knowledge from Valmai who has been her teacher, mentor and friend for 10 years.
Peter brings his many talents to Phytofarm life, mainly his vast experience in graphic design and when he is not working on his computer he is developing forest tracks, pruning trees or building garden beds.
APPRENTICESHIP IN HERBAL MEDICINE
The Phytofarm apprenticeship programme is a unique approach to herbal medicine education and is suitable for anyone who has a passion for plants.
It offers a thorough instruction in the growing, harvesting, processing and the manufacture of a wide range of products. Valmai teaches from a holistic perspective the properties of herbs, how to use them safely, include them in your daily life and how to create a personal medicine garden. Students are encouraged to develop and explore personal areas of special interest and build confidence with medicinal plants that are local.
There are four weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday) of attendance for each season – 96 hours. Completion of 20 plant profiles for each season making a total of 224 hours for the programme. On successful completion of the apprenticeship, the participants will be awarded a Phytofarm Certificate in Herbal Apprenticeship. For further information, please see our website or contact us directly.
Phytofarm’s purpose-built herb and drying sheds are light and airy and a cosy environment for herbal workshops. Our 10am-2pm workshops are a holistic view of “prevention is better than cure”. Each has its own focus that starts with EXPLORE in spring and goes through to DISCOVER in summer, LEARN in autumn and winter INDULGENCE. Make your own home remedies and natural products, for instance creams, infused oils, gels and ointments, inhalations and aromatic foot and bath preparations.
Phytofarm produces a range of herbal products such as luscious body butters, face and hand creams, fresh, delightful tasting herbal tisane blends, infused medicinal oils, culinary vinegars, tonics, and healing salves.
The farm supplies herbal shops, practitioners and retail customers with the online shop www.phytofarm.co.nz.
The property features a diverse range of mature trees including Tasmanian blackwoods, macrocarpa, redwoods, red alder, chestnuts and valleys of kanuka. With plenty of regenerating native bush, the property also offers fenced paddocks where wild pasture herbs flourish, flat areas for buildings and formal herb gardens.
Whether you are from the area or travelling through looking for things to do – Phytofarm has breath-taking views in all seasons! A plant centred approach is offered in this unique herbal learning garden.
Visit for a seasonal garden tour or a workshop to learn more about using plants to start your own medicine cabinet. The plants are grown organically, harvested by hand, dried and processed on-site with love, care and attention. Working in harmony with the environment, understanding the water requirements, nourishing the soil with organic material, keeping the plants healthy is fundamental to the quality of the products.
“Herbal Medicine is for healing, health, and well-being and has long been considered the medicine of the people.”