Helichrysum and Myth
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum, Asteraceae) has various myths attached to it, pertaining to transformation and beauty. One origin myth state that helichrysum, which is derived from the Greek words helios (sun) and chrysos (golden), was once the nymph, Galatea, daughter of Dori and Nereu.1 Galatea loved the shepherd, Aki; however, the cyclops Polyphemus wanted Galatea for himself and killed Aki. Poseidon transformed Aki into a river, the Acis in Sicily. Galatea would sit next to the river Acis crying, and her tears were transformed into helichrysum. Another transformation story has Artemis transform Amaranthus, the prince of Euboea, into helichrysum after an angered Poseidon drowned him.2
Helichrysum was woven into crowns to adorn statues of Apollo and Athena. It is possible that the Greeks believed that Apollo wore immortelle, another name for helichrysum, to remind his supplicants of his immortal nature, but also when he was giving oracles.3 Since other species of helichrysum (H. decorum; H. aureonitens) have been used for entering trance states prior to divination in South Africa,4 the possibility arises that the Delphic Oracle might have used helichrysum in her prophecies. Also known as the Delphic Bee, the helichrysum flowers might have been perceived as a way to connect with the bees themselves as well as being reminiscent of bee pollen.
Athena’s relationship to helichrysum is very tangential. In the Odyssey, she appears to the princess of Phaecea, Nausicaa, in a dream and tells her that she needs to wash her bridal clothes, although Nausicaa was not engaged at the time.5-7 Nausicaa heeds the dream and meets Ulysses, who has been shipwrecked on the island by Poseidon. When Ulysses appears naked, all the maidens with Nausicaa run in terror, but Nausicaa acts the virgin warrior maiden and stands her ground. Ulysses respectfully maintains his distance and explains his plight. To help with his recovery, Nuasicaa provided Ulysses with her golden oil of helichrysum, said to be the secret to her renowned beauty. After using the golden oil, Ulysses regained his vigor and beauty.
For more on helichrysum, please see this article.
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1Helichrysum (immortelle, amaranth, sempreviva, dwarf strawflower) Ηelichrysum Italicum Microphylum. Aegean Herbs website. Accessed March 7, 2022. https://en.aegeanherbs.com/helichrysum.
2Ashley E. Helichrysum for the Wound that Will Not Heal. Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform; 2016.
3Emmanuel. Immortelle essential oil, symbol of love and sustainability. Soin et Nature website. November 12, 2021. Accessed March 7, 2022. https://blog.soin-et-nature.com/en/immortelle-essential-oil-symbol-of-love-and-sustainability/.
4Sobiecki JF. A review of plants used in divination in southern Africa and their psychoactive effects. South African Humanities. December 2008;20:333-351.
5About Helichrysum Italicum – Immortelle – Healing properties. Novi Dan website. Accessed March 7, 2022. https://novidan.ba/about-helichrysum/#:~:text=According%20to%20a%20Greek%20legend,met%20the%20king's%20daughter%2C%20Nausicaa.
6Frame D. Athena among the Phaeacians. Center for Hellenistic Studies website. November 3, 2020. Accessed March 7, 2022. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/douglas-frame-athena-among-the-phaeacians/.
7Nausicaa. Greek Mythology Link website. Accessed March 7, 2022. http://www.maicar.com/GML/Nausicaa.html.