- What is helichrysum oil?
- Differences between the species
- Helichrysum oil benefits
- Clinical studies
- Other medical research
- Helichrysum italicum vs. helichrysum splendidum
- Side effects
- How to use
Not a single one had this essential oil on their bestsellers list.
Next we went to Whole Foods. Except for Now, they carry none of the aforementioned brands. Among the couple they do have, there was only Aura Cacia helichrysum in jojoba oil. That’s a diluted blend, not pure. One vial was in-stock.
Despite its current obscurity, this phonetically unfriendly flower is growing in popularity. You are hearing more about it, but what is helichrysum oil good for?
Let’s review what’s fact and fiction. Starting with the basics…
Just calling it “The Everlasting Flower” may seem like the easier solution, but how to pronounce helichrysum is not as hard as it looks. If it weren’t for the “h” in the spelling, saying it correctly would be intuitive.
You say it in three syllables:
- heli – Like in the word helicoptor.
- cry – What you do when you’re sad.
Combine the three and say heli-cry-sum. That’s the right pronunciation.
What is helichrysum oil?
The heli comes from the Greek word “helios” which means sun. “Chrysos” means gold.
Makes sense, because this is the name of a plant genus covering some 600 species in the sunflower family. Nearly half of these perennial herbs come from the country of South Africa, while the remaining 350 or so can be found throughout other parts of Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean region.
It is in the Mediterranean, especially in the countries of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, where purported medicinal uses of helichrysum oil have been used for centuries, if not longer (1).
The essential oil is made from the plant’s marigold-like flowers. While production methods will vary by manufacturer, generally to keep things organic only steam distillation is used to extract the plant compounds.
It takes a lot of petals and hence, why the price is so expensive. That’s also why you typically see what’s known as poor man’s helichrysum oil, which is when it’s blended with something cheaper. Jojoba is a one example, as are lavender, frankincense, argan, coconut and rosehip seed oil. A few products use grapefruit extracts or magnesium oil.
These “poor man” versions will typically have a dilution ratio of about 1 to 10, where it’s 10% helichrysum and 90% other ingredients. Now Foods sells a blend of that ratio. To save money, some people prefer doing the diluting and mixing themselves.
Using different plants, some companies offer cheaper blends which they claim are a good substitute or alternative to helichrysum oil. Since there are no other EOs within this plant genus, any other species will differ in its chemical composition.
Differences between the species
Where does helichrysum oil come from? Most varieties you see for sale are using species native to the Mediterranean and South Africa, which is also where they will be grown and processed.
Historically, different types have served different purposes. Only a few of species are made into oils commercially. The most popular varieties are:
- H. italicum – Another name for this helichrysum oil is “immortelle” or “everlasting.” Whatever name you want to say, it’s by far the most popular type. What it smells like is floral yet earthy. It grows at high altitudes and requires large amounts of sunlight to thrive. You can find H. italicum throughout the Mediterranean region and this map shows you where each subspecies of it can be found (2).
- H. splendidum – This is one that does not come from the Mediterranean. Known as Cape Gold, in ode to Cape Town, South Africa.
- H. gymnocephalum – Morocco is the main place you will find this species growing. Like eucalyptus oil, it has a high concentration of 1,8 cineole (eucalyptol). 47.4% according to one report (3). It has a floral aroma, with a hint of honey and tea essence. If it was only eucalyptol you were after, then you could argue a substitute of eucalyptus would work for gymnocephalum but not the others.
- H. arenarium – A common name for this one is dwarf everlast and it primarily comes from France and Denmark. Can you drink helichrysum oil? No, but there are some herbal teas which use H. arenarium as an ingredient. This source is rarely used to make the essential.
- H. bracteatum – This was known as Helichrysum bracteatum until 1990, when it was re-categorized as a new genus, Xerochrysum. For that reason this Australian strawflower technically shouldn’t be included here, but since many continue to lump it in, we will as well to avoid confusion. This is the least popular variety sold.
Helichrysum oil benefits
Online you will hear about bloggers and forum posters using it in the following ways:
1. Scar reduction
Recessed and indented scars from trauma, and surgery related such as C-sections. Some talk about it working for stretch marks, keloids, bruises and varicose vein appearance.
2. Better facial complexion
For rosacea, eczema, acne, complexion, and wrinkle appearance. Helichrysum oil comedogenic (pore-clogging) rating is unclear and for that reason, some blend it with a non-comedogenic (non pore clogging) base like neem or jojoba oil.
3. Sunburn relief
Doterra website says it can be used as a “sun soother” to “calm irritated skin.” It is not considered or recommended to be a SPF sunscreen substitute.
4. Shaving burn relief
5. Arthritis and sports injuries
Applying the oil topically on the skin of arthritic knees, hurting feet and sports injuries such as sprains and tendonitis.
6. Tinnitus remedy
Also known as ringing in the ears, some purported home remedy instructions claim it can help. Helichrysum oil in ear is not what most advise, but rather using a couple drops on the ear lobe and in back of the ear, along the crease of the head.
7. Metabolism support
Most products are called therapeutic grade, which means they are not a food or supplement which can be used internally. Doterra sells one as a dietary supplement which they claim “may help promote a healthy metabolism” and their instructions say to use a drop sublingual under the tongue, or diluted in a glass of water.
8. Hair growth
Some claim it is a “stimulating” essential oil blend for hair growth and thickness.
The problem is that none of the above uses are proven!
Often times with purported medical benefits, someone will take a preliminary study and run with it. So even if a given benefit is not proven, they’re at least basing it on some sort of science-based theory (albeit exaggerated).
When it comes to the health benefits of helichrysum essential oil, many appear to be completely fabricated without any research whatsoever behind them.
That being said, there are some fascinating preliminary findings related to characteristics of this plant and derivatives made from it.
Here’s a rundown of what’s been researched so far. It’s an unusual scenario because most of the suspected advantages being studied are different than what helichrysum oil is used for among consumers.
The NIH’s PubMed database consists of more than 27 million biomedical literature citations from the US and around the world.
When you search for the helichrysum plant on there, you will only find two clinical trials:
Title: Clinical and mycological evaluation of an herbal antifungal formulation in canine Malassezia dermatitis.
Researchers at a university in Italy tested an essential oil blend on 20 dogs affected with dermatitis (4). A 0.5% dosage of H. italicum was only one of several in the mixture. There was also 0.5% oregano, 0.5% marjoram, 1% lavender, 1% bitter orange, and 0.5% peppermint (Mentha piperita). The base was coconut and almond oil.
While they claimed it had a “good clinical outcome” for the dogs, the findings are irrelevant since multiple oils were used and it wasn’t even a human study.
Something that may be relevant was that they also reported the Minimum Inhibitory Concentration (MIC) values for each individual oil when tested in their lab against Malassezia pachydermatis (the yeast infection).
The findings? Even when oil of helichrysum had a dilution ratio of 1:10 (10% concentration) they said:
“…H. italicum did not yield any antimycotic [antifungal] effect…”
The other types did at lower concentrations. In short, it appears this flower extract was not even an active ingredient in their formulation for dogs.
Title: Effect of inhaled essential oils on mental exhaustion and moderate burnout: a small pilot study
Even though it was randomized and double-blind, it was nothing more than a pilot study done by a private psychotherapist practice in Massachusetts (5). It was not affiliated with a university.
It consisted of 13 women and 1 men who used an essential oil inhaler for mental exhaustion and moderate burnout. Those in the placebo group received rose water in their inhaler.
Both groups experienced improvement, but those getting the EO mixture did best. Basil, peppermint, and helichrysum oil blends together is what was used. The immortelle wasn’t used as a stand-alone.
That’s all you find among the 27+ million entries. There’s nothing else from the decades before, or the years since the above studies. The alleged magical properties and healing powers of helichrysum are nowhere to be found!
What’s particularly disturbing is that there are people out there recommending helichrysum oil for hearing loss and tinnitus, making totally bizarre claims that don’t even have literature written about them, let alone clinical studies. Like using a “high frequency” oil (which they claim it is) to “increase electrical signals” in the brain and have “hearing maximized.”
Claims like that are nothing more than bogus scams.
Other medical research
Aside from the 2 clinical studies, there are only around 200 pieces of literature on PubMed about this plant.
What may be the best helichrysum essential oil piece on there was published by a cohort of medical and pharmaceutical academics hailing from two universities in Portugal. Being that the country has some of the oldest alternative medicinal uses for it, they are the appropriate people to talk about its past, present, and future potential.
Title: Helichrysum italicum: from traditional use to scientific data
This 50+ page article starts out by talking about the health disorders it has been used for in the Mediterranean countries, albeit without proof (1). That list of Helichrysum italicum oil benefits are:
- liver and gallbladder disorders
Next, they searched PubMed and several similar databases, including Google Scholar, to compile all of the relevant pieces of data on the plant and these benefits which have been alleged.
Here’s a listing of what they came up with for the italicum variety. The following include human studies, lab studies, observational reports, and historical references to its use in alternative medicine. Most used extracts of some form, but not the highly purified essential version.
|Summary of Research Used In Analysis|
Medicinal Uses Alleged/Studied
Plant Parts Used (if specific parts are used)
How It’s Used (if specific method)
|1989||Granada, Spain||Toothache||Flower||Infusion (mouth rinse)||González-Tejero, M.R., 1989. Investigaciones Etnobotánicas en la provincia de Granada. PhD Thesis, University of Granada, Granada.|
|1991||Castellón, Spain||Digestive disorders||Flower||Infusion||Mulet, L., 1991. Estudio etnobotánico de la provincia de Castellón. Diputación de Castellón, Castellón, Spain.|
|1993||Múrcia, Spain||Analgesic, astringent, anti-odontalgic, antiemetic and dermatologic tonic||Rivera, N.D., Obón, C.C., 1993. Ethnopharmacologyof Murcia (SE Spain), Médicaments Et Aliments, Approche Ethnopharmacologique, Heidelberg, Germany, pp. 215-239.|
|1997||Campidano and Urzulei, Sardinia, Italy||Allergy||Whole plant||Infusion||Bruni, A., Ballero, M., Poli, F., 1997. Quantitative ethnopharmacological study of the Campidano Valley and Urzulei district, Sardinia, Italy. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 57, 97-124|
|1998||Córdoba, Spain||Stomach cleanser||Decoction||Luque et al., 1998. Etnobotánica del subbético cordobés. Recupera tus tradiciones. Taller de etnobotánica.|
|1999||Giglio, Tuscany Archipelago, Italy||Cough, colds, tracheitis and laryngitis||Leaf and flower tip||Infusion and vapors||Uncini Manganelli, R.E., Tomei, P.E., 1999. Ethnopharmacobotanical studies of the Tuscan Archipelago. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 65, 181-202.|
|2000||Garfagnana, Lucca Province, Italy||Colds||Aerial parts||Infusion and fumes||Pieroni, A., 2000. Medicinal plants and food medicines in the folk traditions of the upper Lucca Province, Italy. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 70, 235-273.|
|2001||Fluminimaggiore, Sardinia, Italy||Skin diseases (alopecia)||Whole plant||Decoction||Ballero et al., 2001. Ethnobotanical research in the territory of Fluminimaggiore (south-western Sardinia). Fitoterapia 72, 788-801.|
|2005||Jaén, Spain||Digestive disorders and catarrh||Pardo de Santayana et al., 2005. Plants known as té in Spain: An ethno-pharmacobotanical review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 98, 1-19.|
|2005||Ibi, Alicante, Spain||Toothache and mouth antiseptic||Flower||Infusion (mouth rinse)||Barber et al., 2005. Aproximación al conocimiento etnobiológico y etnoecológico de Ibi (Foia de Castalla-L’Alcoià, Alicante). Identia Institute, Spain.|
|2007||Alt Empordà, Catalunya, Spain||Digestive disorders||Flower||Infusion||Parada, M., 2007. Estudi etnobotànic de la comarca de l’Alt Empordà. PhD Thesis, University of Barcelona, Barcelona.|
|2007||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Liverand gall disorders, cough||Flower||Infusion||Redzic, S.S., 2007. The ecological aspect of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology of population in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Collegium Antropologicum 31, 869-890.|
|2007||Calabria, Italy||Brochitis and pharyngitis||Flower tops||Infusion or powder mixture||Passalacqua et al., 2007. Contribution to the knowledge of the folk plant medicine in Calabria region (Southern Italy). Fitoterapia 78, 52-68.|
|2008||Sannio, Benevento, Campania, Italy||Cough||Flower||Infusion or decoction||Guarino et al., 2008. Ethnobotanical study of the Sannio Area, Campania, Southern Italy. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 6, 255-317.|
|2008||La Coruña, Spain||Skin inflammation||Flower||Infusion (external use)||Latorre, J.A., 2008. Estudio etnobotánico de la provincia de La Coruña. PhD Thesis, University of Valencia, Valencia.|
|2008||Valencia, Spain||Intestinal parasitic infections||Segarra i Durà, E., 2008. Etnobotânica farmacèutica de Gàtova. Publicacions de la Universitat de València, Valencia.|
|2008||Jumilla-Yecla, Murcia, Spain||Wound healing||Flower and leaf stems||Powder||Rivera et al., 2008. Las plantas en la cultura popular. Enciclopedia Divulgativa de la Historia Natural de Jumilla-Yecla. Vol. 9. Sociedad Mediterránea de Historia Natural, Jumilla.|
|2009||Baixo Alentejo; Barlavento Algarvio, Portugal||Baixo Alentejo; Barlavento Algarvio, Portugal||Aerial parts||Essential oil||Proença da Cunha et al., 2007. Plantas aromáticas em Portugal: caracterização e utilizações, 2nd ed. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon.|
|2009||Riviera spezzina, Liguria, Italy||Sleeplessness, headache, sniffles and cough, inflammation and cough, stomach ache, helmintic (worm) infections||Flower only, flower and leaf, young leaves and apical part||Fumes, infusion, decoction, juice||Cornara et al., 2009. Traditional uses of plants in the Eastern Riviera (Liguria, Italy). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 125, 16-30.|
|2010||Western Granada, Spain||Digestive disorders, gastralgia, cough, mouth ailments, liver disease, herpes||Inflorescence, flowery plant||Infusion||Benitez et al., 2010. Pharmaceutical ethnobotany in the western part of Granada province (southern Spain): ethnopharmacological synthesis. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 129, 87-105.|
|2012||Portugal||Dermatomycosis||Aerial parts||Essential oil||Proença da Cunha et al., 2007. Plantas aromáticas em Portugal: caracterização e utilizações, 2nd ed. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon.|
|2013||National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano, Campania, Italy||Asthma||Flowering tops||Decoction||Di Novella et al., 2013. Traditional plant use in the National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano, Campania, Southern, Italy. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 145, 328-342.|
Some listed are human studies which can be found in PubMed, but they did not qualify for categorization as a clinical trial. That may be due to their study design, not being published in English, or another reason.
Helichrysum italicum vs. helichrysum splendidumThe majority of the scientific research uses the italicum variety. Even though splendidum is the second most popular variety in the United States for essential oils, it’s not used in the Mediterranean since its native to South Africa. Studies about other varieties of the flower were analyzed, but they are not relevant to common essential oils (H. arenari, H. foetidu, H. melaleucum, H. obconicum, H. orientale, H. pedunculatum, H. stoechas).
No medical studies have been done for Helichrysum splendidum, neither with humans or animals. In fact, the only piece of literature on PubMed matching that species is one that analyzes the types of compounds it contains (6).
For the italicum type, which by far as the most research on it, their “critical perspective” stated:
“Among the claimed medicinal effects, the ability to reduce or modulate inflammation is the most studied property of H. italicum extracts or isolated compounds. Moreover, wound healing and skin protective properties seem to be the best documented therapeutic effects of H. italicum as shown by in vivo [human and animal] studies performed with topical application of H. italicum extracts.”
Bold emphasis added. Those uses seemed to have the most compelling research.
Meanwhile some things they said “lack validation” and they specifically pointed out these examples:
- Stomach aches
- Non-inflammatory digestive disorders
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Helmintic infection (parasitic worms)
Those aside, does helichrysum oil work? Their conclusion sums it up quite well:
“H. italicum is a medicinal plant with promising pharmacological activities. However, most of its
traditionally claimed applications are not yet scientifically proven. Clinical trials are needed to further confirm these data and promote H. italicum as an important tool in the treatment of several diseases.”
There you have it. An objective and exhaustive analysis by respected medical professionals. With no conflicts of interest listed, they have no ulterior motive to hype benefits.
In a nutshell, this essential oil does demonstrate it might have therapeutic potential, but any claims right now on that are premature.
What to use helichrysum for today includes aromatherapy, which includes skin care aromatherapy. A food grade version could be used as a dietary supplement, but that’s it. Whether you use it internally or externally, it should not be used for the treatment of any disease.
- Unknown pregnancy risks
- Skin irritation
- Allergic reaction
For pregnant women, this type of flower or its parts have not been studied. For that reason, helichrysum oil is not considered safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It should be avoided given the lack of data.
In reference to a human study, that Portuguese paper talks of “a remarkable level of tolerance by the patients exposed to H. italicum essential oil” even with long term use (7).
They do make note of a case study where a 69 year old woman had an allergic reaction on her skin, but they inferred it was likely an “isolated hypersensitivity reaction report” (8). It is true that elsewhere, you don’t really see much about an allergy to oil of helichrysum. The unrefined flower itself is more likely to cause allergies, given that the pollen proteins would still be intact.
Gastrointestinal side effects were not noted, though it’s important to remember the studies referenced involved small dosages of a few drops. Most essential oils are not even suitable for consumption and for those which are, they can dangerous when consumed in a high amount.
They are not like the “fixed” culinary types, such as olive or coconut oil. With essentials, they are purified volatile organic compounds. With many of them, even a few drops can cause a stomach ache, nausea, or worse when ingested.
A risk for everyone is the shelf life of helichrysum. An unopened bottle of essential oil may have an expiration date 2 or 3 years out, but after it has been opened and exposed to air, the rate of oxidation will accelerate. Factors which will cause the product to go bad before the expiration date include:
- Not tightly screwing the cap on or worse yet, leaving it off.
- Storing it in an area exposed to light. That includes indoor lights; both UV and non-UV light cause degradation. Clear bottles offer almost no protection against light exposure.
While they may not cause serious side effects or be dangerous in an obvious way, a rancid EO will contain compounds which are unhealthy and bad for you.
How to use
- Unless otherwise noted by the manufacturer, most essential oils are for external use only. If a product is approved to be used internally or orally, keep in mind it’s a dietary supplements only. It should not be used for the treatment of any disease.
- Online reviews claim that helichrysum oil works for stretch marks and scars, but remember those benefits have not been studied and are therefore unproven. As of today, using it for moisturizing the skin is the only benefit you can count.
- To promote healthy skin cell regeneration and complexion, Doterra advises to use it as part of an anti-aging skincare routine on the face; either directly or by adding the oil to your facial cleanser of choice.
Doterra 5 mL bottle – This 100% pure helichrysum essential oil is of the italicum variety. It can be used aromatically, topically, and internally according to the manufacturer’s website.
Young Living 5 mL bottle – 100% pure H. italicum. Labeled for external use only.
Edens Garden Muscle Relief – A blend of different oils for topical use only.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.