This plant has been mentioned countless times throughout history and praised by many aromatherapy experts, one of them is Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt. This divine plant is Helichrysum italicum. The name Helichrysum is derived from the Greek “helios,” meaning sun and “chrysos,” meaning gold, referring to the color of many of the flowers of species in this genus.
Its ability to heal skin tissue (wounds, cuts, scars) increases the demand for this plant, especially the essential oil (EO). Other benefits of H. italicum EO:
- It encourages recycling of dead cell and production of new cells.
- It soothes and calms any rash, acne, eczema, skin infection, and inflammation.
- It curbs negative emotions and stimulates positive thoughts and actions.
- It keeps the nervous system in order, so you are less likely to be nervous over small issues.
- It helps detoxify the liver, and a healthy liver is important for beautiful skin.
- It controls microbial growth and protects from microbial infections.
The most well-known H. italicum EO comes from Corsica. It has been a favorite of aromatherapists because it is high in desirable components of neryl acetate (>30%) and diketones (>8%). Corsica alone cannot satisfy the worldwide demand, and prices have increased steadily.
Please don’t feel bad if you don’t know where Corsica is. I’m not good at geography and had to use Google Maps to find its location too.
For the last several years, other countries, such as Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina have increased their production of H. italicum EOs to keep up with demand. This has not led to a decrease in prices as a large international company based in France has launched a new skincare line using H. italicum EO and they are searching for authentic Helichrysum oil wherever they can find it (obviously, their first target is the Corsican essential oil).
The Corsican H. italicum EO prices have skyrocketed, and it is hard for me to use that oil without increasing my Helichrysum product prices. The other option is to purchase the non-Corsican Helichrysum EO. This is a difficult situation to choose the best oil without adulteration. I purchased it before at a low price from a popular and affordable essential oil company only to find that it was not H. italicum. It was Helichrysum gymnocephalum, and the scent reminded me of Eucalyptus (high in 1,8-cineole). Also, with the rise of adulteration EOs sold in the U.S., I have to be very careful.
I was approached by a new seller who offered me two options of H. italicum EOs. The first option is from France and the second option is from Corsica. I was skeptical, especially with the Corsican EO as it has the lowest price I have found. I asked for the GC/MS test results, and the results look fine:
Note: These GC/MS results have been edited and some information has been removed as this article is intended for educational purpose and is not as an accusation to any essential oil company in particular.
Both results showed:
- Neryl acetate > 30% (it helps calm and soothe the skin)
- Diketones (Italidione I, II, III) about 4% (it aids in wound and scar regeneration)
- The presence of g-Curcumene, b-curcumene, and ar-curcumene (it calms inflammation)
- Low percentages (<1%) of 1,8-cineole (which is good)
The results look fine, but I was unhappy with the low diketones and how they look similar to each other’s, especially since they were from two different regions. So I decided to do more research.
Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt writes in his book, “The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils”:
“Oils purportedly originating from mainland France appear to be spurious, as it is illegal to harvest the plant there. Helichrysum oils labeled to be of French (as opposed to Corsican) origin have a higher likelihood of having had at least a minor stay in a laboratory or of being a blend of oils from different growing areas—fabricated in Grasse.”
So it is possible that one of those oils was from a blend of oils from different countries.
Things become more interesting and complicated, right?
Thankfully, Hubert Marceau , a chemist from Canada has agreed to help me with this. He gave me a few articles related to H. italicum EOs.
Some interesting findings:
There are 3 subspecies of Helichrysum italicum:
Helichrysum italicum subsp. italicum
Helichrysum italicum subsp. microphyllum
Helichrysum italicum subsp. serotinum
H. italicum subsp. serotinum seems wrongly attributed to Corsica.
The composition of H. italicum EOs showed chemical variability according to subspecies, vegetation cycles, environment, and geographic origins. This also means it is possible to produce unadulterated H. italicum EO without the presence of Neryl acetate or the di-ketones (but this oil would be highly undesirable).
EOs (ssp italicum) from Tuscany (Italy) contained mainly a-pinene and neryl acetate. Other Italian EOs contained mainly g-curcumene, b-selinene and a-selinene.
Neryl acetate is always the major component of H. italicum EO ssp italicum from Corsica. The maximum value is obtained just before flowering. The sum of the amounts of two b-diketones has maximum values obtained outside of flowering periods.
Now back to the two previous EOs, I need to focus on the Corsican EO because it is illegal to harvest thewild Helichrysum in mainland France, and I don’t have the data of French Helichrysum EOs from cultivated plants with which I can compare.
Using the data I have for the Corsican H. italicum EO, I found out there are three components that are higher than the usual range:
H. italicum EO with high percentages of a-Pinene, g-Curcumene, and ar-Curcumene are commonly from Italy. I asked Hubert for his expert opinion, and he tends to agree that the EO is not from Corsica and is most likely from Tuscany (Italy) due to the presence of b-caryophyllene (Caryophyllene-trans), a-Selinene and b-Selinene. These three marker compounds would probably be more speaking than the g-Curcumene or a-Pinene.
Finally, I found the answer to these mystery H. italicum EOs and the lower prices that this seller gave me. For this precious oil, I should not trust any seller easily, so I decided to purchase the EO directly from Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt. His H. italicum EO is from Bosnia with a higher diketone content. From his website: Diketones are the components responsible for the antioxidant and tissue protective quality.
You may not know Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, if you are unexposed in aromatherapy. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry and is the founder and scientific director of the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy in San Francisco. He is the author of Advanced Aromatherapy, Medical Aromatherapy and several other books in German and English.
Interestingly, he and his team don’t give out the GC/MS results to the public, and these are their reasons:
“While we do analyze our oils we do not emphasize this aspect nor do we want to make it a marketing tool. Here is why. GC/MS analysis is quite good at detecting gross adulteration. It is, however, not able to prove authenticity alone by itself. We always look for that extra sparkle, the truly authentic and unforgettable essential oil.
The complexities of a truly authentic oil do not figure, at least not prominently, in the read out of GC/MS analysis. Some of these complexities may be hidden in the fingerprint area of the chromatogram, if at all! So while GC/MS does ascertain the absence of gross adulteration it does not really say anything about the true authentic nature or the refined quality of an essential oil.
We believe that recent overemphasis of essential oil analysis intends to give an air of top quality to industrial, potentially blended, mass-produced oils as they are required by the needs of the larger players in our industry. We also believe that maintaining good personal relations with the producers is at least as important as knowing the numbers of the chromatogram and that it goes a long way to secure the most desirable quality and to maintain the human element in aromatherapy.”
To summarize, Helichrysum italicum is one of the great ingredients for skincare due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cell regenerating properties. It is highly sought after worldwide, which leads to increased prices, adulterations and laboratory fabrication. Gross adulteration is easy to find, but fine fabrication, including mixing H. italicum EOs grown from different regions is harder to detect.
Acknowledgment- Special thanks to Hubert Marceau, Director of Development at PhytoChemia laboratory for his time. I would have been unable to write this article without his expertise in chemistry and GC/MS analysis. If you are in Canada or the USA and are in need of a certificate of analysis for your products or other analysis, such as allergens and contaminants in cosmetics or advisory services, please contact him at email@example.com. For more information about PhytoChemia laboratory, please visit: www.phytochemia.com
Angioni, A., Barra, A., Arlorio, M., et al. (2003). Chemical Composition, Plant Genetic Differences, and Antifungal Activity of the Essential Oil of Helichrysum italicum G. Don ssp. microphyllum (Willd) Nym. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry Vol 51, No. 4, 2003.
Bianchini, A., Santoni, F., Paolini, J., et al. (2009). Partitioning the Relative Contributions of Inorganic Plant Composition and Soil Characteristics to the Quality of Helichrysum italicum subsp. italicum (Roth) G. Don Fil. Essential Oil. Chemistry & Biodiversity Vol. 6, 2009.
Bianchini, A., Tomi, Pierre., Costa, J., et al. (2001). Composition of Helichrysum italicum (Roth) G. Don fil. subsp. italicum essential oils from Corsica (France). Flavour and Fragrance Journal 2001; 16: 30-34.
Bianchini, A., Tomi, Pierre., Costa, J., et al. (2003). A comparative study of volatile constituents of two Helichrysum italicum (Roth) Guss. Don Fil subspecies growing in Corsica (France), Tuscany and Sardinia (Italy). Flavour and Fragrance Journal 2003, 18: 487-491.
Guinoiseau, E., Lorenzi, V., Luciani, A., Muselli, A., et al. (2013). Biological properties and resistance reversal effect of Helichrysum italicum (Roth) G. Don.
Schnaubelt, K., (2011). The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy.