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History and Name

It is said that Imphepho was the first medicine that was shown to the healers. When they started to use this medicine, it guided them to find and how to use other medicines and so they started to learn about herbs.

Imphepho is valued by traditional medicine men in Africa who use it as a smudging herb to communicate with ancestors and calm evil spirits. Imphepho is believed to help repel negative energy, and it does the same for insects. Breathing the smoke over time can have a sedating effect, which might actually offer assistance when a shaman enters a trancelike state to perform his work. This is much like the way frankincense is used in Christian practice. Many people do not realize that frankincense too, has sedative properties. Some theorize that the breathing of frankincense has contributed to some of the heightened religious experiences Christians have reported. There are other historical cases of incense plants working this way as well, and in fact, these types of experiences also seem to explain why certain plants or their resins have been chosen to be paired with spiritual practice.

It is a very powerful plant and its medicinal uses are the subject of scientific study. It is the most widely used medicinal plant in South Africa. The word Helicrysum is derived from the Greek “Helios” meaning Sun and “chrysos” meaning gold. Most of the flowers of this plant are a golden yellow colour.

The name Imphepho refers to a number of African species in the genus, helichrysum

Use and Benefits

Imphepho is rich in oils and flavonoids that likely contribute to its various special properties.

The smoke of the herb is used as a sacred incense or smudge used to call the ancestors in and invoke trance states, cleanse energy and as an offering when praying. The smoke is also sedative.

Traditionally Imphepho is burned on a potsherd when offered to the ancestors. Sometimes the ashes of the burnt plant are used, which creates new chemicals that have additional benefits.

Imphepho also has a lot of traditional medicinal uses, especially as a topical dressing to wounds. Using Imphepho topically makes sense if it is true that Imphepho has antiseptic, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties (analgesic). It can also be used to make an anti-septic cream because of its natural insecticides. Some people say Imphepho is a good herb for those suffering from anxiety or who need help getting to bed. It also has a positive influence on the liver, bladder, heart and kidneys.

It can also be used to clear the skin. A wash can be made for wounds, rashes, spots, skin ailments and fungal infections. It is also regenerative when used on scars. It is sometimes added to the steam bathes used by sangomas to cleanse away negative energies and to protect. Wounds are washed with infusions of Imphepho to clean and sterilise them and a dressing of leaves are placed on the wounds.

New born babies are washed in Imphepho to cleanse and protect them.

The herb is stuffed in bedding for both humans and animals to repel insects.

The smoke is inhaled for headache.

Tea is made from the leaves for fever, headaches, coughs, colds and flu and also to cleanse the liver and kidneys. For HIV patients Imphepho tea is a must.

In woman’s health it is used for menstrual pains.

Imphepho also appears to have oneirogenic activity, meaning the herb assists with lucid dreaming, dream activity and dream recall. This is similar to other African herbs such as silene capensis and entada rheedii.

An aromatherapy / medicinal oil extract is now becoming available. Medical research has shown that this plant has huge potential for medicinal uses as a possible cure for Tuberculosis and herpes.

The parts of the plant used are mainly the leaves, stems and flowers and sometimes the roots.

Where western medicine is limited, Imphepho is also used for more serious diseases such as tuberculosis, herpes and HIV. Its anti-viral properties have yet to undergo any significant research, but Imphepho could also open up new avenues for Western medicine too as we begin to notice the natural value this region of the world has to offer.


When entering the area where one intends to harvest muthi (medicine) – you must always ask permission of the guardian or grandfather – which may be a very big or old tree growing nearby. Before a plant is cut or dug out – it must be asked if it agrees to be muthi (medicine), and one must explain to the plant what and for whom it is needed.

Making muthi (medicine) starts with how and which plant you take. Two of the same plants may grow next to each other but only one of them may be right for muthi (medicine). Traditionally some Imphepho, snuff, tobacco or a red or white bead is given as an offering or exchange to the plant spirits when harvesting medicines.

The plants are usually wild harvested and platted in garlands or tied in bundles before drying.

There are about 245 species in Southern Africa. (600 worldwide) The most popular ones for muthis (medicines) are ones growing near rivers, water or on mountains. The most common ones harvested for medicine (all referred to as Imphepho) are nudifolium (mostly used for medicinal purposes), petiolare, cymosum and odoratissimum (mostly used as incense).

When medicine plants are harvested it is very important that it is done in a respectful and sustainable way

Specific Information

Helichrysum petiolare is grown for its silvery, densely-felted, aromatic foliage and trailing habit. A soft, vigorous, woody-based sub-shrub, it grows to half a meter tall and spreads to a diameter of about a meter. It flowers in its second year. A slight licorice aroma may emanate from the foliage in the heat of the summer. It is short lived and needs replacing every 2 years. In cold climates it can be grown as an annual but it will not reach the size of plants that have grown for more than one season. Cultivars with variegated and chartreuse leaves are available.

Helichrysum petiolare is listed as an invasive weed in the state of California (USA), where seedlings have escaped from gardens.

Planting Suggestions

Kooigoed is best planted in full sun in well-drained soil and is tolerant of poor soils. It spreads rapidly and should be cut back lightly at regular intervals, rather than cutting back to dead wood at the end of the season, when it may not easily recover . Helichrysum petiolare requires occasional to infrequent irrigation and seems to thrive on a lack of care. More regular watering may be needed in hot, dry inland regions. The plant is susceptible to root rot in poorly drained soils. This plant can be propagated from cuttings or from seed sown in autumn (March).


Do you use Imphepho? How do you use it? How has it helped you? Do share your experience in the comments section below.