Helichrysum odoratissimum

(L.) Sweet.

Common names:
Imphepho (Xhosa, Zulu); Kooigoed (Afrikaans)

. Photo : B_E van Wyk : Flowers
© B-E van Wyk

As is name implies this plant has a strong smell. It is widely used as a perfume, but also as a insect repellent.

Photo: B E van WykHelichrysum 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 wooly 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 SW. Cape, January to June elsewhere.

The genus name refers to the golden colour, like the sun of the flowers. The specific epiphet refers to the strong frabrance 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 distributed.

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 rest.

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.

Several species make good garden plants. See those listed on this site

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 helichrysums tend to become infected with fungus. Regard this plant as temporary and replace it every 2-3 years.


  • Adamson, R.S. & Salter, T.M. 1950 Flora of the Cape Peninsula. Juta & C.O. Ltd. Cape Town and Johannesburg.
  • Arnold, T.H. & De Wet, B.C. 1993. Plants of southern Africa: names and distribution. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 62.
  • Germishuizen G & Meyer NL, 2003, Plants of Southern Africa, Strelitzia 14, Pretoria, National Botanical Institute
  • Goldblatt, P and Manning, J. 2000. Cape Plants, A conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa, Strelitzia 9. NBI and MBG Press, Pretoria and St Louis.
  • Hilliard, O.M., 1983. Flora of Southern Africa Vol 33. Part 7. Fasc.2
  • Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A.B. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
  • Joffe, P. 2003. Easy Guide to Indigenous Shrubs. Briza Publications, Singapore.
  • Smith, C.A. 1966 Common Names of South African Plants. Dept. of Agricultural Technical Services, Botanical Survey Memoir No 35, Government Printer.
  • Van Wyk, B-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants. A guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Van Wyk, B-E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.

If you enjoyed this webpage, please record your vote.

Excellent - I learnt a lot
Good - I learnt something new

Nonkululeko Swelankomo
National Herbarium, Pretoria
December 2004


To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com.