Helichrysum

- By: Sarah Wu

Helichrysum Italicum, Asteraceae

With a rich history, a resurgence in modern aromatherapy, research, and added use in the cosmetic industry, Helichrysum is showing up, very effectively, in various forms on the natural and boutique markets.

This Asteraceae, a daisy and dandelion relative, derives its scientific name, Helichrysum italicum from the Greek Helios for sun and Krysos for gold, and having many common names such as Perpetuino (perpetual) and Sempre Vivo (always living) in Italian, immortelle (immortal) in French, Everlasting in English, and Siempre Viva (always living) in Spanish. These names indicate it’s use as a superior healing and protective agent.

Needing very little water, this xerophytic, highly adaptable shrub grows from 11 to 30 inches, tolerates dry, stony, acidic, alkaline, and sandy soils from sea level to more than 6,500 feet. These extreme ranges of altitude and soil conditions create various ecotypes and varieties, leading to phytochemical polymorphisms, making studies difficult. Found around the Mediterranean basin and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica as well as Croatia, Turkey, North & South Africa, and Australia, this diverse genus of annuals, herbaceous perennials and shrubs has 30 morphological groups with 600 species (250 different species of Helichrysum are native to South Africa alone!)

Small, hairy leaves give the plant an overall grey hue with the appearance of bright yellow flowerheads in June or July. Some species, especially those of Sardinia and Corsica, over- harvested from the wild are now endangered or threatened due to the very expensive nature of the essential oil. This also negatively effects beneficial. pollinating insects attracted to the aromatic flowers. The Essential Oil demands large amounts of the raw material. One ton (2,000 lbs.) of hand-harvested Helichrysum flowers yields about 35 ounces of steam distilled Essential Oil! This precious Oil should always be purchased from ethical companies, like Pangea Organics, who take the health of the plant in its natural environment seriously.

Traditionally, the leaves of Helichrysum are used like Rosemary to flavor Mediterranean dishes and salads. “Mediterranean Curry” contains Helichrysun, Onion, Rosemary, Wild Fennel, Thyme, and Catnip and is used to spice meats and stuffing. An expensive Italian honey, Miele di Spiaggia (seashore honey) made from bees who do not actually forage on H. italicum, but, become covered with the resinous material that coat the flowers, then pass it on to the pollen collected from other plants.

In Sardinian folk weaving traditions, the rich, yellow flowers are mixed with Mulberry leaves and fed to silkworms, who then produce a naturally yellow silk. In the 7th century BCE, the ancient Romans and Greeks decorated the statues of gods with wreaths of Helichrysum flowers.

Medicinally, famous herbalists such as Pliny the Elder (1st century CE), Dioscorides (1st century CE), and Theophrastus (3rd century BCE), all exalted the properties of Helichrysum. Used to treat arthritic conditions, sciatica, respiratory infections such as bronchitis, laryngitis, and tracheitis, digestive problems such as a cholagogue (a bile stimulator), and for topical wound healing as an anti-inflammatory specifically for burns when mixed with honey. Theophrastus classified Helichrysum as a mind-altering plant, possibly when burned in ritual fumigations. Helichrysum species is the only plant besides Cannabis that contains Cannabinoids, although modern researchers have only isolated the non-psychotropic agent Cannabigerol (CBG).

Interestingly, the plant was historically used by Mediterranean peoples to treat coughs in donkeys and joint ailments for both horses and donkeys. This zoo-botanical history spurred the first modern investigations on the plant for animal medicine. Modern research has found Helichrysum to be cicatrizing (scar-forming and healing), beneficial for joint health, liver protection, treatment for upper and lower respiratory infections, sanitization, and closes and relieves pain of wounds. Studies have shown it effective in the management of chemotherapy-induced acne and as an anti-aging agent. Showing to have constituents liken to corticosteroids, many are effectively using it for the treatment of psoriasis, venous stasis, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids. Containing Arzanol, a potent anti-inflammatory similar to the Curcumin found in Turmeric, is an effective antibacterial, killing strains of the super-bacteria Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

In perfumery and aromatherapy, the scent can be described as a woody, rosy, exotic, and spicy Base to Middle note. Popular in perfumery, it blends beautifully with Clary Sage, Citruses, and other Florals. Once it was mainly used for the aromatization of pipe tobacco and for protecting clothing from moths. The introduction of the Oil of Helichrysum in aromatherapy originated in France, popularized in English-speaking countries by aromatherapist Kurt Schnaubelt, author of The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy. The absolute (produced through solvent extraction or with enfleurage, the process of using a hot or cold odorless fat to extract the scent) is predominantly used in perfumery, while the steam distilled Essential Oil is employed in aromatherapy. Cosmetically, it blends well with Rosehip and Jojoba Oils for preventing and healing acne scars, stimulating the healing and production of new cells, and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It is appropriate for sensitive, damaged, acneic, and aging Skin Types. Aromatherapists and Cosmetologists praise it for its effect on couperose and roseacea, soothing the redness, irritation and inflammation of the fine red capillaries at the surface of the skin. It is used for countering irregular skin growths and can benefit those who have pre-cancerous skin conditions caused by spending too much time in the sun. I would highly recommend it for those who are very freckly, are developing sun/age spots or have fair, sensitive skin. I have been using Helichrysum and Jojoba on my face, neck and décolleté, especially while taking in the sun of Summer. The blend makes my skin extra soft and is having a positive effect on my mild acne. I find the aroma to be unique, subtle, and calming. Helichrysum prevents the damage from UV rays while also screening their penetration into the skin, the SPF is very low, so it is not a substitute for regular sunscreen but you can make your own with Carrot Seed Oil, Jojoba Oil, Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, Helichrysum, Lavender, and Sweet Orange Essential Oils. For a bit more protection, add a bit of Zinc! New to the Pangea Organics line of 100% organic Essential Oils, you can find it in our Balancing Oil - Himalayan Geranium & Pomegranate.

Psycho-spiritually, Helichrysum is beneficial for lethargy, depression, nervous exhaustion, and stress. It is Vata-Pitta balancing, helping to ground and sooth anxious, flighty types. It enhances intuition, enlivens compassion and creativity while helping one to tap into the subconscious. Helping to heal from past trauma and invoke the spirit of those no longer living on Earth, the name everlasting implies its ability to maintain long-lasting connections with the living and the dead.

After researching this blog, I immediately purchased a small quantity of Helichrysum, unleashing the unique aroma into a bottle of pure organic Jojoba Oil, making it my primary cosmetic. I finished writing this blog my first night in the Greek Cyclades this past September, one of many homes to this potent medicinal plant. Exploring the island of Naxos, a larger and more mythological island in the archipelago, I was noticing the harsh conditions that the flora and fauna had to survive in, wondering how these conditions bred the cosmovision that set the stage for the development of our Western Civilization. Strong winds, little vegetation, bright sunshine, cool, salty water, sandy beaches, it makes for a lovely vacation, doesn’t seem ideal for long-term survival, adapt or die. One early morning, just after sunrise we set off to hike the highest Cycladic mountain, named after the patriarchal deity Zeus, with rocky peaks, soaring ravens, and a dreamy view of misty islands in the sea. As I began my ascent, like any other walk or hike, I am continuously watching the landscape, observing the plants, the terrain, feeling the breezes, smelling the air, feeling the call of the mountain. A flash of color catches my eye, a short, scrubby, silver-leafed plant with dried, yellow flowers, the vibrancy apparent even in the cycle of decay. Immediately, I recognize the unknown plant as a member of the Asteraceae family, commonly found all over the world… as I approach the plant, truth bumps shiver down my body and Helichrysum is whispered in my ear. Pinching the leaves, the sweet, spicy scent of Curry is obvious and potent, confirmation, this is it. I break off a few sprigs and place them in my hair, let it be my guide up the mountain. At the apex, I pray to the spirit of the mountain, holding the namesake of one of the most tyrannical and chauvinist of the gods, a rapist, a cheater, a killer, praying to bring balance to the masculine, bring compassion and healing. To heal from the traumas of the past, to move forward as a more equitable and gentle society. Calling on Helichrysum, that survives the battering sun, the relentless wind, a survivor, bringing balance, soothing, and cultivating compassion.

 

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