When considering the history of cannabis, you’re probably not expecting New Zealand’s earliest growers to be candidates for sainthood. But it turns out that catholic nun, Suzanne Aubert, is the first person known to have grown cannabis in New Zealand.

Wikimedia Comms – Suzanne Aubert

Aubert set sail from France to New Zealand in 1860 with the intention of helping indigenous people. By the late-1800’s Aubert established the congregation of the Sisters of Compassion, in Jerusalem, one of the largest settlements on the Whanganui River. There, Aubert alongside her fellow Sisters taught and nursed Maori children, farmed bush, tended an orchard and made medicines to support the local community. Aubert’s medicinal formulations included many cannabis-based medicines, and the sale of these formulations made up much of the congregation’s income.

Seeking to cure ailments and make a little money on the side for her convent, Aubert used cannabis as a primary ingredient in her medical tinctures. A tincture uses alcohol to extract the medical properties from cannabis and is frequently ingested sublingually. Aubert would hand make and market her medicines in Auckland, Hawkes Bay and eventually Wellington. She quickly became renowned for her medical practices, which combined Maori traditional healing with European scholarship, and eventually her convent established two hospitals in Wellington.

Aubert did more than just grow, harvest and process cannabis. Aubert kept an orchard and sold fruit to tourists, raised homeless children and ran soup kitchens. In addition to this, Aubert had an incredible talent for languages. Being multi-lingual, Aubert used her literacy to write an English Māori dictionary, Māori prayer books and even a French Māori phrasebook.

When she died in 1926, her funeral was considered the largest in New Zealand for a woman. The process for Aubert’s canonization as a saint commenced in 2010, however, The Vatican still needs proof of two miracles she performed to declare her a saint.  

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