How Do You Know Your Helichrysum is Good?
by David Stewart, PhD
Helichrysum is a universal essential oil, high in antioxidants, with numerous applications. It is also expensive to produce. Useful oils that are expensive to produce create a temptation on the part of oil suppliers to cheat in various ways. They can take a real oil and dilute it with a colorless, odorless substance. They can extract the oil from a similar plant species that is inexpensive to grow and distill, and then manipulate it into what may appear as a more exotic oil by deleting certain constituents or adding synthetic compounds to imitate the fragrance or taste of the expensive oil they wish to imitate. They may also cut costs in the distillation by doing so at high temperatures and high pressures that significantly reduces the distillation time and, thus, saves labor and fuel. They may also extract some oils by petrochemical solvents which leave toxic traces in the finished oil.
Clever chemists can also construct a synthetic oil by combining the compounds in a laboratory that comprise the fragrance of an oil, but omitting the compounds that are odorless and do not participate in the fragrance, thus imitating the smell, but not the full constituency of the oil. All of these shortcuts and deceptions result in oils that may fulfill flavor or fragrance standards, even the AFNOR standard, but which lack the full suite of compounds necessary for the oil to have healing properties.
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) is also known as Everlasting and Immortelle. It is a member of the Aster/Daisy Family of plants. It has traditionally been wild-crafted, meaning gathered from the wild instead of cultivated. The oil comes from its flowers. It only grows in certain altitudes and climates.
The main ingredient in Helichrysum oil is neryl acetate (25-50%). Gary Young believes this compound is key to Helichrysum’s amazing therapeutic benefits. Neryl acetate has no detectable fragrance. The fragrance of Helichrysum is mainly from two ketones in the oil: italidione (15-20% and beta-diketone (1-2%), both of which are unique to Helichrysum, not being found in any other oil. Neryl acetate, however, is found in many oils in minor or trace amounts. Neroli, Rose, and Petitgrain contain 1-3% neryl acetate while Bergamot, Lavandin, Melissa and Myrtle contain 0-1%. Helichrysum stands apart from all other oils in the large concentration of neryl acetate it contains, considerably higher than any other oil.
Helichrysum also contains a significant quantity of sesquiterpenes (10-20%), mainly curcumene and caryophylene which may help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol and may have other beneficial properties. However, these sesquiterpenes have little or no fragrance and don’t contribute significantly to the aroma of Helichrysum. There is also l-limonene (8-13%), a monoterpene that adds an evergreen or pine-like note to the aroma of Helichrysum. Another key compound in Helichrysum is eugenol (1-2%), a phenol with anesthetic properties that contributes to the oil’s pain-relieving properties and adds a hint of clove to the aroma. There is also a minor amount of 1,8 cineol (1-2%) that adds a camphor-like fragrace to the oil. In addition to these main ingredients, there are more than a hundred other trace compounds, all of which have to be there for Helichrysum to provide the full spectrum of healing properties for which it is known. Virtually none of these other compounds contribute to the fragrance.
Therefore, one could synthesize a pretty good imitation of Helichrysum in a laboratory that would closely mimic its fragrance, but contain none of its therapeutic qualities. Just combine the right proportions of synthetic italidione, beta-diketone, l-limonene, eugenol, and 1,8 cineol and you would have an oil that, to most people, would smell exactly like Helichrysum, but at a fraction of the cost of natural Helichrysum. In fact, you could increase the percent of 1,8 cineol a little, or add a little camphor, and the oil would have a stronger, more intense fragrance than therapeutic grade Helichrysum that might fool you into thinking that it was a better, stronger, more potent grade than the real thing.
However, a person with a trained nose would not be fooled and would know the difference right away. While neryl acetate has no fragrance, its presence in Helichrysum in its natural proportions of 25-50% alters the fragrance of all of the other ingredients. Thus, a fragrance expert can tell if neryl acetate is missing or in too low a concentration by the overall bouquet of the fragrance from all the other constituents. There are few people in the world who can do this.
Some time ago, Young Living received what was to have been a year’s supply of Helichrysum. As soon as Gary Young smelled it, he knew that neryl acetate, the main ingredient, was missing. He reported his analysis to Dr. Sue Chow, the head chemist in the Young Living Testing Laboratory who did an analysis. Sure enough, Gary was right. There was no neryl acetate.
So Gary rejected the shipment and returned it to the supplier. He refused to market a false oil to Young Living distributors, even though no one would have known unless they had an expert nose like Gary ‘s or a $100,000 gas chromatograph to analyze it. That shipment was refused even though this meant that Young Living would have to do without Helichrysum for an extended period of time. Such is the integrity of Young Living and its founder.
However, that batch of false Helichrysum was not wasted. When it went back to its supplier, it was sold to another company who markets it as therapeutic grade Helichrysum. Either that company lacks the technical expertise to recognize a manipulated, non-therapeutic grade of oil and has been duped by its wholesaler, or that company knows better but lacks sufficient integrity to refuse to peddle a fraud.
So how do you know your Helichrysum is good? Unless you have the nose for it or the advanced laboratory equipment to analyze it, you can’t know. Ultimately, you may be able to find out by trial and error by seeing if you get therapeutic results from the oil or not. But testing the authenticity of an oil by clinical trials is difficult and time-consuming requiring some skill in applying the scientific method. In the end, you can only know the quality of your oil by knowing a supplier who can identify the purity of a therapeutic grade oil and whom you can trust.
In Young Living we have both the know-how and the integrity. When you buy Young Living Helichrysum, you know it is good. Any other brand is anyone’s guess.
Reprinted from The Raindrop Messenger, a free online newsletter, with permission from Dr. David Stewart. To subscribe or download back issues, visit www.RaindropTraining.com