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Helichrysum odoratissimum (L.) Sweet.

Family: Asteraceae
Common names: Imphepho (Xhosa, Zulu); Kooigoed (Afrikaans)
As is name implies this plant has a strong smell. It is widely used as a perfume,
but also as an insect repellent.
Helichrysum odoratissimum is a strong
aromatic, much branched perennial
herb with small silvery leaves and small
yellow flower heads borne in groups at
the tips of the branches. Woody at the
base, erect or diffuse up to 50 cm high.
Leaves vary from linear-oblong,
lanceolate, lingulate to spathulate,
markedly decurrent, apex generally
obtuse, sometimes acute, mucronate,
base narrow or broad, glandular and setose-scabrid
above, greyish white woolly on both surfaces,
sometimes without wool. Capitula in crowded,
compound inflorescence at the end of a naked
peduncle. Involucral bracts obtuse, outermost wooly,
inner brown and the innermost bright yellow. Bracts on
the receptacle pointed, tooth-like, slightly longer the
ovary. Fruit dull brown, granular.
Flowers throughout the year, but mainly from August to
December in SW. Cape, January to June elsewhere.
Distribution and habitat
This plant ranges from the Soutpansberg in Limpopo
through the highlands of the Mpumalanga and W.
Swaziland to the Midlands and Uplands of KwaZulu-
Natal, the NE. Free State, Lesotho, the Cape
Drakensberg, mountains and coastal areas of Eastern
Cape, across the Cape folds mountains of Cedarberg,
Giftberg in Vanrhynsdorp as far as Peninsula in Western-
Cape.. Also on the mountains of Mozambique,
Zimbabwe, Malawi and further north.
It forms large clumps in grassy or rocky slopes and will
colonize bare areas such as roadsides and paths.
Flowering time
Flowers throughout the year, but mainly from August to
December in South Western Cape, January to June
The genus name refers to the golden colour, like the sun
of the flowers. The specific epithet refers to the strong
fragrance of this particular species. Many of the other
species are also aromatic.
Helichrysum has 600 species largely in Africa,
Madagascar, also in Europe, Asia and Australia. 244
species occur in southern Africa where they are widely

Uses and cultural aspects
Leaves and stems are widely used as incense to invoke
the goodwill of the ancestors, the smoke is sedative and
helpful for insomnia and in Eastern-Cape people inhale it
as protective cleanser and is also used medicinally for
coughs and colds. Some people boil the plant and use it
as a facial ointment for pimples. In Lesotho they burnt
this plant to fumigate sick rooms. It is also effective in
repelling parasites and insects thus ensuring good night
Several species of Helichrysum are used in traditional
medicines, but H. odoratissimum is widely used as a
perfume and to repel insects. Southern Sotho women
make perfume ointment from this plant.
Growing Helichrysum odoratissimum
Propagating is by seed and stem cuttings. Set this
aromatic plant out in groups of 3-5 or mass plant in a
sunny position, to form a superb and dazzling ground
cover especially when in flower. Its perfect in the new
garden where it will provide that pretty colour while
slower shrubs are trying to establish themselves. The
soil must be light and well-drained and contain lots of
compost. Water it moderately, do not overwater it
especially in winter as Helichrysum tend to become
infected with fungus. Regard this plant as temporary and
replace it every 2-3 years.

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plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.

Nonkululeko Swelankomo
B-E van Wyk
National Herbarium, Pretoria
December 2004