A CENTRAL Victorian business is restoring the reputation of a much maligned plant, by transforming it into natural skincare products.
The idea was sparked by business owner and part-time Wedderburn resident Natalie Alexopoulos's PhD in embryology.
Her business Chiron Organic Health uses Wedderburn-grown olive oil and prickly pear to create organic cleaning products.
But it's not the pest prickly pear that colonises pasture. Instead, it's a slow growing variety, easily removed, and not spread by breeze.
Dr Alexopoulos discovered the plant's uses a few years after she bought the Wedderburn property, mainly for its olive trees.
She wanted to begin making skincare products with her own raw ingredients, using olive oil as the base.
But the property was also planted with prickly pears, which Dr Alexopoulos could see had been cultivated deliberately.
Dr Alexopoulos began to wonder what she could do with these plants, after a few years.
She discovered the prickly pear took very little water to grow, and when eaten could lower blood sugar and cholesterol, and help heal stomach lining.
Using it, Dr Alexopoulos could see its skin softening and skin renewal properties.
Dr Alexopoulos's first product was a baby range of skin cleansers.
The products were inspired by her research in embryology, which got her thinking about early life and skin development more broadly.
"My research sparked an interest to make products I knew were going to be helpful, and I was researching more and more into that," she said.
Dr Alexopoulos was already interested in olive oil, which she attributes to her Greek heritage.
She also grew up fascinated by herbs such as St John's Wort.
The business has expanded from baby skincare to include healing creams, body wash, hairwash, laundry powder and dishwashing powder.
Dr Alexopoulos began with some base knowledge of skincare from her mother, enhanced by further research.
To develop a product she takes time to refine the formula, aiming to use the minimum number of ingredients. Almost all come from her farm.
It's a family business venture, with Dr Alexopoulos's sister and parents both involved.
The response has been amazing.
"We have constant feedback bout how much it's helped," Dr Alexopoulos said.
"That spurs us to keep going. The positive feedback is really, really important."
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