Helichrysum Essential Oil
The Helichrysum genus comprises of about 500 species, many of which are hybrids or species that are limited to a relatively small geographical area.
The majority of ‘helichrysum’ essential oils and absolutes available in commerce today are produced in Europe and are mainly derived from H. italicum subsp. italicum and H. stoechas, although the extracted essential oils vary widely in both chemistry and odour profile.
The reason helichrysum essential oils vary so much is because the plant displays a wide range of diversity in its appearance and structure and produces several chemotypes according to its geographical location and climate. This in turn affects the chemistry of the resulting essential oil.
Belonging to the Asteraceae (Compositae) family, Helichrysum italicum is a low growing, densely branched shrub that reaches 60cm – 70cm in height and can be found growing throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, thriving best on dry cliffs and sandy soil. This highly aromatic, bushy, evergreen plant has woody stems at the base and slender silver grey-green leaves that resemble lavender and gently emit a curry-like aroma.
The clusters of small, bright yellow flowers begin to appear in early summer and they radiate a sweet, herbaceous and fruity aroma into the air, and it is these fragrant blooms that are the source of the highly sought after essential oil. This plant is also known commonly as immortelle, everlasting and St John’s Herb, and botanically as Helichrysum angustifolium.
Helichrysum is believed to be native to the Mediterranean basin, Africa and central Asia. It is grown commercially for the production of essential oil in Bosnia, Corsica, Croatia, France, Italy, Madagascar, Spain and Turkey.
Helichrysum has been revered since ancient times for its pronounced wound healing properties. Early writings indicate the plant was used to treat snake bites, sciatica, haematomas and ruptures, as well as menstrual, digestive and urinary tract problems. Herbalists throughout Europe have used the plant since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans for its renowned anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic and wound healing properties. Garlands of fresh flowers were also used to crown deity statues and embellish funerary rituals, whilst dried wreaths would be employed to decorate the temples of their gods.
Helichrysum was also used to encourage heart health and to lower blood pressure. Throughout East and West Africa the roots, leaves, stems and flowers of the plant were used to treat chest conditions, colic, coughs and colds, fever, headaches, and to dress open wounds.
Harvesting and extraction
In Corsica, the harvest usually takes place during July and August whilst the level of neryl acetate is at its peak in the flowers. This highly desirable, therapeutically-active constituent is not normally found at high levels in essential oils, but constitutes up to 40% in Corsican helichrysum oil, whereas oil produced in the Balkan regions typically contains less than 8% of neryl acetate. Collection of the flowering heads is achieved by hand-cutting and processed quickly to capture the volatile oil before the flowers begin to ferment.
Helichrysum essential oil is obtained from the flowering tops of the plant by steam distillation, producing a pale straw or reddish coloured mobile liquid. A good quality helichrysum oil has a complex aroma that has a rich and sweet, creamy herbaceous fragrance, with honey, tea and spicy warm overtones that is unique.
The yield of this oil is exceptionally low at around 0.2%, which accounts for its high price and limited availability. Demand often outstrips supply, particularly with the helichrysum essential oil produced in Corsica.
Benefits of helichrysum essential oil
The vast range of therapeutic properties and efficacy of this essential oil is truly impressive and is perhaps rooted in its unique chemical composition. It has been reported that the diketones in this oil can not currently be found in any other, so together with the unusually high levels of neryl acetate, this may contribute to its outstanding ability to ease pain, reduce inflammation, fade bruises and scars, and regenerate skin cells. It is the ultimate ‘healing’ oil.
A review conducted by the Health Sciences Research Centre at the University of Beira in Portugal found that helichrysum was effective against bacteria and fungus growth that can cause various skin irritations, including rashes, infections and delayed wound healing. Other research has established that this essential oil does indeed contain numerous properties that have significant pharmaceutical and medical value too. Not that we didn’t already know that!
Helichrysum is the best essential oil I have ever used for reducing the swelling and markings associated with severe trauma, burns and bruises on skin. The results on such injuries are nothing short of remarkable. If applied quickly to the injury undiluted it reduces inflammation and prevents the bruise or trauma from developing into the usual dark blue/black colour.
The antimicrobial and antibiotic properties of helichrysum oil make it a great natural alternative acne treatment that kills bacteria without the drying and irritating side effects of traditional acne treatments. It is also invaluable for relieving the pain with burns, and easing the symptoms of dermatitis, eczema, cuts, herpes, neuralgia, neuropathy, sunburn, urticaria, varicose veins and wounds.
This is the ultimate sports treatment oil, bringing quick relief to muscle or ligament sprains and strains and reducing inflammation on the surrounding area. The anti-inflammatory properties of this amazing oil can be put to good use with rheumatoid arthritis where it also eases the joint pain. Use it also for arthritis, gout, plantar fascitis, sprains and rheumatism.
Helichrysum essential oil can be instrumental in maintaining the good health of your skin too. It is a great addition to blends for healing and fading scars, and promoting the regeneration of collagen and new healthy skin. It has profound healing capabilities for various kinds of skin blemishes such as age spots, boils, pimples or stretch marks.
This essential oil is quite simply, outstanding. If I was to be banished to a deserted island and allowed only one bottle of essential oil for my survival, it would not be lavender or tea tree I would take, it would be helichrysum! Try blending it with bergamot, chamomile Roman and German, clary sage, clove bud, geranium, lavender, lemon, linaloe wood, lime, neroli, orange, mandarin, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, rosemary or vetiver.
Copyright © Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd 2008. Written by Geoff Lyth