Helichrysum nudifolium is a sun-loving, perennial herb with
a pale yellow inflorescence and shiny, light green leaves. There
are many species very similar to H. nudifolium, which can
cause confusion. Culturally, medicinally, and historically, this
species is one of the most important in South Africa. It has not
enjoyed horticultural exposure; however, it is easy to grow in the
garden and makes a good border plant.
Helichrysum nudifolium is a fast-growing, perennial herb.
The leaves are rough and shiny above, white woolly beneath, in a
basal rosette about 600 x 130 mm. They have 3 to 7 prominent veins
and are aromatic when dry. The flowers are blunt-tipped and pale
yellow in a crowded, flattish inflorescence at the tip of a long
stalk. The flowering stalks can reach a height of 1.5 m. It flowers
during summer and autumn (October to May).
Helichrysum nudifolium occurs naturally in grasslands and
is found from Eastern Cape (old Transkei), through the Drakensberg
and Lesotho all the way up to tropical Africa. It is frost and drought
tolerant as it comes from the high altitude in mountains.
nudifolium is pollinated by bees and the seed is wind-dispersed.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Helichrysum comes from Greek helios meaning the sun
and chrysos gold. Most helichrysums have golden yellow flowers,
thus the name describes this genus well. The name of the species,
nudifolium (Latin), means hairless leaves. There are about
245 species of Helichrysum that occur in southern Africa.
Uses and cultural aspects
Seldom is so much offered by such an easy-to-grow plant. Helichrysum
nudifolium not only has a beautiful, upright growth form and
a full yellow inflorescence, but also has many traditional uses.
It is traditionally used for food, the leaves are cooked and eaten.
Leaves are burned as incense and used in ritual ceremonial occasions
to summon the good spirits of the ancestors. Medicinally the roots
and leaves are used as traditional medicine for chest complaints,
colic in children, coughs, colds, internal sores, fever, headaches,
and for dressing wounds. H. nudifolium can be easily confused
with H. pedunculatum that is commonly used by the Xhosa people
to treat circumcision wounds and is known as isicwe.
Growing Helichrysum nudifolium
Helichrysum nudifolium makes a good pot plant, the striking leaves
provide an interesting contrast. In the garden it can be used as
a border plant or in the mixed border. After flowering, the flower
stalks should be cut back.
This plant is easily grown from seed sown in summer (November-February)
and by division of large clumps in the winter months.
Snails are a common pest and can be removed by hand or by strewing
table salt where trails are seen and activity is most common.
- 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.
- Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A.B.
1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of
Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to flowers of Kwazulu-Natal
and the Eastern Region. The Natal Flora Publications Trust,
- Pooley, E. 2003. Mountain flowers. A field guide to the flora
of the Drakensberg and Lesotho. The Natal Flora Publications
Trust/Natal Herbarium, Durban.
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants. A
guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications,
- Van Wyk, B-E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal
plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Phakamani m'Africa Xaba
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden