Helichrysum Odoratissmum - Imphepho
- Asteraceae - Temperate South Africa


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FAMILY: 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.

Helichrysum Odoratissmum, better known as Imphepho, is a perennial flower 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 also they have many fine whitish gray hairs that give them a soft texture and wooly appearance.

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

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.

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 plantís psychoactivity. Another potent psychoactive plant that naturally produces diterpenes is the renowned Mexican herb known as the Leaves of Mary the Shepherdess (Salvia Divinorum).

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 Shamanic grade tobacco to induce deep trance states and shamanic visions. Tribesmen and their shaman believe that these visions are sacred messages that they receive from their ancestors, these messages help them plan for the future, heal the sick and give them guidance in dealing with difficult life issues. 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, in addition to other plants that grow wildly throughout South Africa.

TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: There are three distinct methods of preparation, it can be consumed directly, smoked or made into a tea.  When consumed directly, the dried leaves and flowers are powered and mixed with water and drunk, the powder can also be put into gel capsules to make them 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 several local plants that they use to bring about deep states of mediation, vivid dream worlds and to produce lucid dreams.  

MEDICINAL USES: In addition to using Imphepho to stimulate deep states of meditation, trance and lucid dreams; among the tribes of South Africa it was used to treat several common ailments. 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; using the flower to treat they made a paste that treated acne and pimples. The plant could also be burned to repel mosquitoes and other biting insects.

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS:  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 the Shamans from the Lesotho region of South Africa, they describe being rapt into 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 their body falls into a dream state they feel physically paralyzed, while their mind and memory remain intact and coherent, they claim that by maintaining this state of awareness over a period of time they were then able to enter the dream world with complete faculties and recollection.


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Bayer, R.J; et al. (2000). Phylogeny of South African Gnaphalieae (Asteraceae) Based on Two Noncoding  Chloroplast Sequences. American Journal of Botany. (PDF)

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