The essential oil of Helichrysum

Written by Peter Archer


If you were to ask me which essential oil I consider to be the most useful to me personally, my answer would have to be Helichrysum. I keep several bottles of five percent Helichrysum (also often known by its common name of “Everlasting” or “Everlast”). I take a small bottle everywhere I go, for first-aid use, for immediate use on all manner of minor (and major) injuries, knocks, bruises, cuts, burns, insect bites, etc.

If you attempt to look this oil up in many of the older aromatherapy reference books, you will not find it. Those old classic books, e.g. Tisserand, Valnet, etc, do not mention this oil, because they had never heard of it. Helichrysum italicum essential oil first appeared in Europe sometime in the 1980’s, in French medical aromatic medicine. I have not been able to discover its exact date of development, or its precise history, however I believe that it was introduced to North America by Kurt Schnaubelt. It is certainly given good coverage in both his books (more of this below), and it quickly became popular, despite a lack of much hard “scientific” research data.

To quote Schnaubelt “...(Helichrysum) got ts initial boost…. from Pierre Franchomme and Daniel Pénoël – its use was popularized by their contribution to the Aromatherapy Course of Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. Its effects are so convincing that it has never met with any criticism despite the absence of data on its effectiveness. Helichrysum oil demonstrates that anecdotal evidence can create a reality without the help of industrially sponsored science.”  

Biochemical Makeup
What makes this essential oil so unique is its chemical composition. It is the only essential oil yet developed that contains di-ketones, the main diketones being a group of compounds named itlidiones, of which helichrysum oil contains between 10 and 20 percent. 

Diketones have unique properties in the skin-healing area, they seem to somehow facilitate the healing of scar tissue, to help wounds heal fast with minimum scarring, and even to help heal old scars.
Helichrysum also contains a number of sesquiterpenes, the main one being gamma-curcumene (9 to 15 percent), and (from this fact alone) this oil will therefore almost certainly have strong anti-inflammatory properties. The other main component group is esters (28 to 60 percent), the main one being neryl acetate (a sample that I bought contained 33 percent).

There are various other minor constituents, like about 2 percent linalool, 3 percent alpha-pinene, 6 percent limonene, and even 1 to 2 percent of both eugenol and 1,8 cineole. Plus a host of other “minor” constituents, some of which probably contribute in a major way to the overall synergy that gives this oil its incredible healing power. 

I will not go any further into the biochemical makeup of this oil, this topic alone could easily fill a book, if one were to fully explore it. Suffice to say that essential oil of Helichrysum italicum is a unique oil, owing to its unique biochemical makeup, which gives it unique healing properties which we will explore shortly.

A Unique Healer
As I mentioned above, this is the one oil that I always reach for whenever I encounter any kind of “wounding”, whether minor or major. This includes all manner of cuts, scratches, puncture wounds, scrapes, bruises and knocks, tearing type wounds like strains and sprains, burns, and also insect stings and bites.

As well as having strong properties of an anti-inflammatory and “dermal repair” nature, as mentioned above, this oil also has anti-histamine properties. A practical example will illustrate this.

I was working outside in my garden, and a friend who was helping me suffered a bee sting on his back. This man is allergic to bee stings, and normally the area of the sting becomes red and swollen. We rushed inside, and I immediately applied essential oils of 100 percent kunzea and 5 percent helichrysum, to the area of the sting, which was already starting to swell and becoming red.  We went back out to work, and more or less forgot about the bee sting. An hour or so later, I remembered, and I checked his back to see if he needed another application of the oils. I could not even find where the sting was, all evidence that he had even been stung had vanished.

Think about that. One single application. To a person who is normally very allergic to bee stings. Literally like “magic”.

Let’s look next at burns. We all know that lavender oil is the essential oil of choice for treating burns. However, I have found from practical experience, that helichrysum oil far exceeds lavender oil in its power to (a) ake away the pain of a minor burn, and (2) speedily heal the damaged skin. I personally now apply both oils to burns. I often suffer minor burns when adding wood to our wood-burner during the winter, and if I apply both these oils immediately, within an hour or so I cannot even tell that I have been burnt.

Cuts and Wounds
A quote from Schnaubelt is appropriate to cover this:

“Helichrysum is the appropriate oil for larger injuries until professional care is available. Helichrysum oil is administered onto the injury before it is bandaged for a trip to the doctor’s office. It will disinfect the wound and, unlike other disinfecting agents, will not be painful. Helichrysum oil prevents swelling  and inflammation. The formation of new tissue to close the wound is accelerated. Unfortunately, an injury is often necessary to realize the benefits of this oil. Note: helichrysum italicum must be 100 percent genuine and authentic for it to work.”

Personally, I find that a 5 percent dilution (in jojoba oil) is sufficient for everyday use. However, in my little kit of  “emergency” oils, I also keep a 5ml bottle of 100 percent helichrysum, and if I encounter an injury (of any variety) that I consider to be “somewhat beyond minor”, I use the 100 percent oil on that injury, for example on a deep serious bruise. The healing effect of this is nothing short of miraculous.

Bruises
For bruises of all degrees of severity, if helichrysum essential oil (either 100 percent, or a dilution) is applied immediately after the occurrence of the injury, the severity of the bruising symptoms will be greatly diminished. For minor knocks, no bruise will develop. For major bumps or knocks, the degree of bruising will be diminished to a very large degree. It somehow modulates the process of the affected tissue forming a haematoma, and therefore the degree of bruising is lessened (see below for more on this).

Musculoskeletal System
Helichrysum’s anti-inflammatory properties make it an obvious choice for the treatment of any kind of condition where inflammation is a factor, including most kind of joint problems, arthritis, etc, and the various kinds of mechanical over-use types of joint problems. I have personally used it successfully for “housemaid’s knee”, and for wrist and lower-arm RSI.

Battaglia sums this up when he says “Everlasting’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties make it beneficial for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.” 

My preferred method of using helichrysum oil for this kind of application would be in a blend with other suitable oils, kunzea and German chamomile come to mind. I would aim to have an overall percentage concentration of anywhere between 5 percent and 20 percent, total percentage of the essential oils in the carrier oil, depending on the severity of the condition being treated, and I would instruct the client to rub the oil blend into the joint anywhere from four to ten times per day, depending on the severity, and to preferably keep the joint covered, to minimize loss from vapourisation.

For serious cases, a hot compress would be an ideal way to get lots of the oils into the joint quickly.

Emergency Trauma
I have seen, in at least two places, references to helichrysum “being the essential oil equivalent of either Rescue Remedy or of homeopathic arnica”. In other words, it can be used as an “energetic remedy” to help the body cope with trauma of any kind, in an “acute emergency situation”.

I cannot recall where I have seen these references, despite hunting through all my books. However, I did find a short reference of this type in Shirley and Len Price’s book “Aromatherapy for Health Professionals”. In the appendix section, under their entry for Helichrysum angustifolium, they quote Dr Pénoël as saying (in 1991), that helichrysum is “sometimes called the super arnica of aromatherapy”.

Other Uses
In her book “375 Essential oils and Hydrosols”, Jeanne Rose, along with mentioning some of the properties of  helichrysum that we have already covered above, mentions in passing that it (is used) in France “to regulate cholesterol, stimulate the cells of the liver”, and also “can be used for drug (including cigarette) withdrawal”. 9

Various Kinds of Helichrysum
The essential oil that we are speaking about here is steam-distilled Helichrysum italicum, sometimes also referred to as  “Helichrysum italicum spp. Italicum”. Some people also refer to the same oil as “Helichrysum angustifolium . There are actually over 500 different species in the general family of “Helichrysum”, and a few of the others have also had essential oils made from them. Data regarding these other oils of helichrysum is rare. Battaglia mentions three of them in passing, with no actual details regarding their properties.  These three “other” helichrysums are H. stoechas (France), H. gymmocephalum (Madagascar) and H. patulum (South Africa). One wonders what their properties might be? Maybe one of them is also a very useful “miracle” oil, waiting to be discovered?

Searching through the websites of some large wholesale essential oil suppliers, I also came up with H. odoratissimum  (South Africa), no data available.

I also found a certificate of analysis for H. stoechas, which shows a very high percentage of alpha-pinene, (74 percent), with less than one percent neryl acetate and no sign of the diketones. This is obviously a very different oil to H.

Detoxification
I have come across several references to the use of Helichrysum italicum oil for the detoxing of various toxins, including heavy metals. Schnaubelt has this to say on this topic  “…. Internally in low dosages combined with lemon and rosemary verbenone to stimulate detoxification 4.

Stewart  says “Helichrysum italicum and cardamom are examples of oils thought to have heavy metal chelating power. See books by Higley, Manwaring or Young for more on this.” I have not been able to follow this up, as I do not have access to those books.

Battaglia says that “Everlasting is well known for its ability to purify the blood.” He then goes on to quote Fischer-Rizzi as recommending it for use in “helping to drain the lymph glands”, and that she recommends its use “when performing a lymphatic drainage massage”. Battaglia also mentions it as being “well known as a stimulant to the liver, gall bladder, kidney, spleen and pancreas – the organs responsible for detoxifying the body”. He makes no mention of any specific treatment protocol for this, eg. whether this can be done via some form of external (dermal) application, or whether it requires oral dosage to perform this function effectively.

My personal opinion on this is that, if Helichrysum oil was applied (in a blend with other oils) in a sufficiently high enough dosage percentage, in a manner designed to maximise its absorption, (e.g. a hot compress), onto the area of the body of the organ being targeted (e.g. the kidneys or the liver), and if the treatment was repeated often enough, then it should work as an efficient detox agent.

I would not, however, rely on this as the sole form of detox treatment, I would combine it with some internal protocols, like herbal remedies and a dietary detox protocol (ideally working in co-operation with a herbalist or naturopath). I would also combine the oil blend with a clay pack, to help draw out toxins, but the detail of this is getting way beyond this present discussion.

Another treatment method that comes to mind (which I have not tried) is to attempt some form of “colonic injection” of a dilute solution of the detox oils, including helichrysum. For example, a low concentration of the oils could be made up into suppositories and inserted at night, to target the liver via the hepatic bypass circulatory system. Or, maybe the oils could be used in a colonic or enema. Not a pleasant subject, and not something that I have personally tried out myself. However, if done properly, it could be quite effective. Maybe someone reading this has some experience of this, and would like to share this in a subsequent issue of this magazine?

I have a personal interest in the subject of detoxification, because presently I am in the middle of detoxing my body from various toxins, including parasites, candida, and heavy metals. I have not (so far) used helichrysum oil for this, and I am now motivated to add it to my protocols. I am about to start using clay packs on various parts of my body, with appropriate essential oils, and I will include helichrysum in this, and let you know the results in a future issue.

Respiratory System
Quoting Battaglia, “Everlasting has mucolytic, antispasmodic and expectorant properties which make it beneficial for treating sinus infections, bronchitis and coughs.” 
My personal experience regarding this is that a drop of helichrysum added into a steam inhalation treatment, with other appropriate oils, does add an extra unique dimension to the treatment. This is especially so if there is any factor relating to allergy, allergic reaction, etc.

For example, if the treatment is being given for a condition like “hay fever” or anything similar, then the anti-histamine properties of helichrysum will be of substantial benefit.

Energetic Properties
Gabriel Mojay, in his “Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit”, has an extensive entry for helichrysum, with the subtitle of “unblock, relinquish and forgive”. He compares helichrysum to yarrow and Roman chamomile, and mentions that all three are members of the compositeae botanical family, and all three have the energetic property of clearing excess heat and reducing inflammation, and that related to this, they have the ability to regulate Qi energy, they encourage the flow of bile, and they have antispasmodic properties. He goes on to say that “what makes everlasting oil unique, is its ability to regulate not only the Qi, but blood as well”.

He relates this blood-regulating property to the oil’s diketone constituents, and their anti-coagulant properties, which account for its unique ability for successfully treating severe bruising that would normally result in haematoma (accumulated, clotted blood). When this property is added to the oil’s strong anti-inflammatory action, specifically on the veins, “this property extends to making it helpful in cases of thrombophlebitis, where inflammation and degeneration of the veins lead to clot formation”.

Mojay goes on to discuss helichrysums’ other properties, with specific mention of being of use for allergic conditions, like nasal catarrh, sneezing, and itchy skin rashes. He discusses its ability (along with German chamomile), both oils having a “warm bitter-sweet aroma”, and being able to “relax and comfort the solar plexus area”, and alleviate tension that results from over-effort and over-control, and the depression generated from long-standing frustration”.

He follows this with a discussion (too extensive to fully report here) about how helichrysum, having the extra property of regulating stagnant blood, and conditions “associated with the liver”, can therefore “break through the deepest, most stuck negative emotions, including for people who are profoundly emotionally blocked”.

Turning now to Patricia Davis, in her “Subtle Aromatherapy” book, she has a short entry for helichrysum, where she says that it “activates the right (intuitive) side of the brain”, and thus is “of enormous value in all meditation, visualization, therapy and personal growth work, as well as in the fine arts – music, painting, poetry, etc.” 8

Davis notes helichrysum’s ability to “put us in touch with that part of ourselves in which compassion flows freely”, and that it mixes beautifully with rose oil, to make a blend that unites the head and the heart.
Going back to Battaglia , he quotes Fischer-Rizzi (whose book I do not have access to), as saying that helichrysum oil “is ideal for people who feel cold or who may have received too little warmth and affection as children”, also for “people who have lost contact with the earth, have become too cerebral, or who have acquired cold feet”.

I also found references to various countries where H. italicum is grown, and some claims and statements regarding the merits (or otherwise) of the Helichrysum italicum oils from these various countries. One supplier swears by helichrysum from Corsica, stating that it is far superior in quality to any other source. Price and Price mention that “the oil from Corsica was found to contain 64 percent esters” (Zola and LeVanda, 1975) . Another supplier claims that their particular helichrysum from Croatia is of the very best quality.

My personal experience is that I source my helichrysum oil from France, and that this French oil (a certified organic oil) is of extremely high quality. The GC analysis reports that I have seen for this French helichrysum oil show an Italidone percentage of over 13 percent, gamma curcumene of over 9 percent, and neryl acetate of over 32 percent.

I am aware that Helichrysum italicum is also grown and distilled in the USA, and that a source I happened to come across claimed that the USA oil was of very high quality.

Another variation to be aware of is the kind of container the oil is distilled in. Apparently, most helichrysum oil is distilled in copper containers, and the copper contributes in a major way to the distinctive fragrance of the oil. One supplier has a “distilled in stainless steel” oil, that is stated to have a quite different odour, but with the same healing properties. This is reminiscent of patchouli oil, which is also traditionally distilled in copper, with a few suppliers offering “stainless steel” versions of patchouli oil, which is said to have a very different fragrance to the traditional patchouli fragrance.

Immortelle
There is also a totally different version of an oil produced from the same plant, the Helichrysum italicum, that is solvent extracted, and this is known as “Immortelle Absolute”, or as just 
“Immortelle”. This oil is mainly used in the perfumery industry, and is not normally used for its therapeutic properties.

Hydrosol
When discussing an essential oil and its properties, we often overlook the fact that the oil is actually only really half of the totality of what is produced in the distillation. Whenever an essential oil is produced by distillation, there is always also the water component, the hydrosol. Frequently, unfortunately, most, (or even all), of the hydrosol is just tipped down the drain, for various reasons, but I am strongly of the opinion that it is nothing short of a tragedy that hydrosols are so often overlooked, ignored, or relegated to a very minor role in therapeutic aromatherapy.

Regarding the hydrosol of Helichrysum italicum, it is, unfortunately, not obtainable in New Zealand, however, there are one or two overseas suppliers who do stock it, if one makes sufficient effort to track it down. I have managed to source a small sample, just enough to try out, and I am very impressed with its potential.

This is a very strong hydrosol, with an overpowering fragrance. Just by sniffing the bottle, I can immediately tell that there is huge healing power available in this hydrosol, and that this water has a large percentage of the water-soluble compounds from the plant dissolved in it.

I mainly used my hydrosol for applications where I needed a water-based remedy with strong anti-inflammatory properties, including a very strong spray blend for treating burns, and an eye-wash (the eye-wash had only a very dilute amount of the hydrosols dissolved in boiled water, see recipe below).

Turning now to the generally accepted authority in hydrosols, Suzanne Catty, in her book “Hydrosols, the next Aromatherapy”, gives helichrysum hydrosol extensive coverage, and she really heaps a lot of praise on it. 11

Catty suggests using this hydrosol as a “sports rub after a workout or physical labour”, she also suggests its use as a mouthwash for dental health, including the healing of gingivitis or receding gums. “Use it twice daily for six months and watch your dentist be amazed”.

She recommends its use in combination with herbal treatments in supporting the liver. “Taken internally in a three-week protocol, can speed recovery after a long illness, particularly if combined with Greenland Moss hydrosol” She also mentions its use (internally) for detoxifying the liver of anesthetic.

She also mentions its use, in combination with hydrosol of Rock Rose, as a douche, for conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids and painful periods. “Regular use, especially in combination with essential oil treatments, can significantly ameliorate these conditions, and in some cases fibroids can be cured altogether.”

She also gives quite extensive mention of using the helichrysum hydrosol in combination with the essential oil, for many of the conditions that one would normally use just the oil for. This includes broken bones, wounds and tissue damage, healing scar tissue, etc.

The “industrial grade” essential oils that are produced in this manner are optimized in quality for use in industries (food flavouring, perfumery and cleaning products), and many of these oils are in no way “therapeutic grade”.

It is well-known among the aromatherapy fraternity, however, that with the availability of these cheap oils, the temptation is just too much for many essential oil suppliers who supply oils into the “therapeutic aromatherapy” market. Many of these suppliers buy their oils mainly on price, at the cheapest price they can get, and then label those same oils as “therapeutic grade” and offer them for sale as such. You only have to look at (and have a sniff of) most of the oils on sale at your local health store to see many examples of such oils. Prime examples are the various eucalyptus oils, the citrus oils, peppermint and spearmint, and many others.

Everybody, of course, claims that their own oils are “superior quality”, or some such meaningless adjective. As professional aromatherapists, we know the difference, but very few of the “Joe or Jane Public” who might see such oils on display at their local shop have any idea of the difference.

Apologies for labouring this point, however not only is it so important that it should be repeated at every opportunity, but also, I am very happy to say, it does not apply to essential oil of helichrysum. Kurt Schnaubelt explains this really well:

“…. Is produced and sold by small enterprises that understand the needs of the aromatherapy market. Corporate manipulations are absent. Because of the small amounts offered and the willingness of the importers to pay a fair price to the producers, Helichrysum italicum oil is available in its authentic form.” 1

I would also add that another reason for this oil’s high price is that (like rose and melissa) this is a low-yield oil. Its yield (also in common with melissa oil) is also seasonally variable, which I discovered in a very practical manner a year or so ago.

We had placed an order for a quantity of helichrysum oil with our usual French supplier, but the supplier contacted us to inform us that they were rationing the supplies of this oil, because it had been a very bad harvest of helichrysum this year, and we would only be supplied with half of our order quantity.

Recipes - Here is a selection of blends that feature helichrysum oil (and hydrosol) that I have personally created and had success with.

Basic Oil Blend for Scars
In 10 ml of a carrier oil Or, if you do not have any CO2 extracted rosehip oil, you can use a rosehip oil as the carrier oil.

Helichrysum - 30 drops
Rosehip (CO2 extract) - 24 drops
Cedarwood - 12 drops
Palmarosa - 12 drops

For Wounds, Burns, Insect Stings, etc.
Just keep a bottle of 5 percent Helichrysum, and a bottle of 100 percent Kunzea handy. Apply the neat kunzea oil first, and then apply the helichrysum over top of the kunzea. Repeat as often as needed, for a day or so, and from then on you can omit the kunzea and just use the straight helichrysum to help the healing. For burns, you can also use a bit of lavender oil the first few times, along with the other two.

Spray for Burns, e.g. Sunburn
This spray blend is made entirely from hydrosols, with no essential oils, and it is great for sunburn, as it can be used to cover a large area of skin without having to touch the skin, which may be painful to the touch.

Helichrysum hydrosol - 25%
Yarrow hydrosol - 20%
Roman Chamomile hydrosol - 40%
Niaouli hydrosol - 15%

For the oil component, I use an organic olive oil, (ideally made into an infused chickweed oil, otherwise plain olive oil will do), about 140 ml.

I also use about 60 gm of an emulsifying compound, and about 5 ml of grape seed extract, as a preservative.

For my “ultimate” version of this cream, I also add in a small quantity of a homeobotanical remedy made from Helichrysum essential oil and Geranium essential oil, that I make myself, and a blend of my own flower essences. Even without these extras, the above recipe will be a very powerful healing cream.

Tip: as there is a large quantity of essential oils in this cream, which might make it rather a “thin” cream, I would recommend that you go light on the water component and heavy on the olive oil, to keep the consistency as thick as possible.

Closing Remarks
OK, that’s about it for this wonderful essential oil. Although the 100 percent oil is very expensive, a 10ml bottle of five percent is not excessively expensive, and because this oil is so very powerful, a five percent dilution is adequate for most purposes, especially to keep on hand, in the first-aid kit, for those little emergencies.

References
Schnaubelt, Kurt,  Medical Aromatherapy, page s 210, 240.
Stewart, David, The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple, page s 92, 531. Battaglia, Salvatore,  The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (Second Edition), Page 199.
Mojay, Gabriel, Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, page 70
Davis, Patricia, Subtle Aromatherapy, page 206.
Rose, Jeanne, 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols, page 89.
Price, Shirley and Len, Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, (Second Edition) page 327.
Catty, Suzanne, Hydrosols, the next Aromatherapy, pages 96 – 97.