Helichrysum arenarium - ImphephoFAMILY: Asteraceae (Sunflower)

GENUS: Helichrysum

SPECIES: Odoratissimum

COMMON NAMES: Achyroclim  Hochstetteri, Achyrocline Stenoptera, Buchu, Everlasting, Gnaphalium  Adnatum, Gnaphalium Aureofulvum, Gnaphalium Maritimum, Gnaphalium  Odoratissimum, Gnaphalium Strigosum, Gnaphalium Undulaefolium, Helichrysum Butagense, Helichrysum Engleri, Helichrysum Rosmarinum, Helichrysum Roulingii, Helichrysum Sarveri, Hottentot Tea, Imphepho, Kooigoed, Strawflower, Stinking Strawflower

Purchase Helichrysum odoratissmum

Helichrysum odoratissmum, better known as Imphepho, is a perennial that blooms in the spring and summers months, dies away during the autumn and winter months, and then returns from the same root system the following spring. The main stalk can grow over 3 feet (1 meter) high, and produces lots of side branches. At the tip of each branch grows many tiny bright yellow flowers that cluster together in groups. The flowers produce a very pungent and repulsive fragrance, which some people have likened to the smell of manure. The leaves are oval shaped, grow up to 2 inches (6 cm) long, and range in color from dark green, gray green to silver green, and have many fine whitish gray hairs that give them a soft texture and wooly appearance (Metafro 2009).

Imphepho is native to southern Africa, growing in the midlands of South Africa and the highlands of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. It is also know to grow wild in Botswana, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Congo, and Angola. Today the flowers are prized by gardeners and horticulturists, so they can be found growing in greenhouses, nurseries, and flower gardens around the world (Aluka 2009).

TRADITIONAL USE: For centuries, traditional healers in Africa have used all of the Helichrysum subspecies for magical-medicinal healing ceremonies. The KwaZulu-Natal tribes in South Africa have used Imphepho to make smoking blends. Often, they it mixed with high grade tobacco to induce deep trance states and visions. Tribesmen and shamans believe that these visions are sacred messages from the ancestors. These messages help plan for the future, heal the sick and give guidance in dealing with difficult life issues (Swelankomo 2004).

It is reported in ethnographic research that a psychoactive tea made from the leaves and flowers of the Helichrysum family, called Hottentot tea or Buchu, is used by the Khoikhoi tribe of South Africa to induce ecstatic states and for divination of the future. Buchu is usually made by combining the dried leaves of several psychoactive plants, including Helichrysum odoratissimum, Barosma betulina, Agathosma crenulata,  and other plants that grow wild throughout South Africa (Swelankomo 2004).

TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: There are three distinct methods of preparation of Helichrysum odoratissmum. It can be consumed directly, smoked, or made into a tea. When consumed directly, the dried leaves and flowers are powered, mixed with water, and drunk. The powder can also be put into gel capsules to make it easier to swallow. However, the most common and effective method involves taking the dried herb and burning it as an incense. The smoke vapors are indirectly inhaled and are reported to take effect within minutes. Lastly, the dried herbs can be steeped in warm water to make a tea.  Honey or sugar is usually added to mask the earthy plant taste. The Khoikhoi tribes of South Africa make a tea, Buchu, using H. odoratissmum and several other plants, that they use to bring about deep states of mediation, vivid dream worlds, and  lucid dreams (Aluka 2009).

MEDICINAL USES: Imphepho is valuable in stimulating deep states of meditation, trance, and lucid dreams. It has been used to treat several common ailments among the tribes of South Africa. It was most commonly used to relax people with anxiety disorders and to help sedate those with insomnia. Typically the dried leaves and flowers were smoked several hours before bedtime. Other medicinal uses include using the tea to treat coughs and colds.  The flower can be made into a paste to treat acne and pimples. The plant can also be burned to repel mosquitoes and other biting insects (Hyde & Wursten 2009).

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: A study conducted in 2007 isolated over 30 different active compounds from oven-dried Helichrysum Odoratissimum flowers and vegetation. The main compounds discovered in the study were: 1, 8-cineole, 3,5-Dihydroxy-6,7,8-trimethoxyflavone, 3-O-methylquercetin, alpha-pinene, beta-caryophyllene, caryophyllene oxide, helichrysetin, limonene, p-menthone, pulegone, and viridiflorol. Although to a lesser extent some of the other compounds found in the analysis include: allo-aromadendrene, alpha-copaene, alpha-amorphene, alpha-terpinene, beta-elemene, beta-pinene, borneol, bicyclogermacrene, camphor, cis-jasmone, cis-sabinene hydrate, germacrene A, germacrene D, piperitetone, piperitone, selina-3,7,(11)-diene, terpinene-4-ol, tran-beta-ocimene, y-gurjunene, y-selinene, y-terpinene, as well as many other compounds (Asekun 2007).

Most noteworthy of all of the compounds discovered are the abundant amount of monoterpenes and diterpenes. The psychoactive properties of diterpenes have only recently been reported in the scientific literature, but the presence of these compounds in Helichrysum odoratissimum may account for this plant’s psychoactivity. Another potent psychoactive plant that naturally produces diterpenes is the renowned Mexican herb known as the Leaves of Mary the Shepherdess (Salvia divinorum) (Bayer 2000).

The most significant and intoxicating effects come from inhaling the smoke from the burned herbage. Once inhaled, overwhelming sensations of relaxation and stupor begin to take hold. Ethnographic reports cite firsthand accounts from shamans from the Lesotho region of South Africa who describe entering a hypnogogic state where dreams are experienced with alacrity and the clarity of normal consciousness. It is in this state of semi-consciousness that the shaman is able to communicate with the spirit world and receive the blessings and knowledge of past generations. They also report that as the body falls into a dream state they feel physically paralyzed, while mind and memory remain intact and coherent. By maintaining this state of awareness over a period of time they are able to enter the dream world with complete faculties and recollective abilities (Hyde & Wursten n.d.).



Asekun, O.T. “Characterization of Essential Oils from Helichrysum Odoratissimum Using Different Drying Methods.” Journal of Applied Sciences, 2007.

Bayer, R.J. “Phylogeny of South African Gnaphaliae (Asteraceae) Based on Two Noncoding Chloroplast Sequences.” American Journal of Botany, 2000.

“Helichrysum Odoratissimum.” Prelude Medicinal Plants Database, 2009. metafro.be.

“Helichrysum Odoratissimum.” Aluka, 2009. aluka.org.

Hyde, M.A., and B. Wursten. Flora of Zimbabwe, n.d.

Van Puyvelde, L. “Isolation of Flavonoids and a Chalcone from Helichrysum Odoratissimum and Synthesis of Helichrysetin.” PubMed, 1989.

Swelankomo, N. “Helichrysum Odoratissimum.” National Herbarium, 2004. plantzafrica.com.