A plant long cherished by inhabitants of the Alps has captured the attention of scientists in search of the next big thing in anti-aging remedies. Edelweiss, or leontopodium alpinum, is a small white flower that blooms in rocky limestone soils between 6,000 and 10,000 feet. While it has long been used as a traditional remedy for respiratory and digestive ailments, recent evidence supports its increasing use in facial creams and serums.
A 2003 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found strong evidence of antimicrobial activity in edelweiss plant constituents, which supports traditional uses. A 2004 study in the journal Planta Medica suggests strong anti-inflammatory activity, particularly from constituents in the plant's aerial parts. And because the plant grows in high elevations, it has developed natural ultraviolet ray-blocking abilities that can also protect human skin from the sun's harmful radiation.
Initial research is so promising that Italian biotech company IRB has created an anti-aging ingredient based on edelweiss stem cells grown in a culture medium. The product is high in leontopodic acids, powerful antioxidants that fight enzymes that break down collagen bonds and hasten the aging of skin.
"We've been amazed at how potent the antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of the plant are," says Silke Fuchshofen, vice president of sales and marketing for the U.S. division of Athanor Swiss Alpine Cosmetics, based in New Lebanon, N.Y. The company makes anti-aging creams and serums with edelweiss extract and other wild-harvested and organic ingredients.
With anti-aging products increasing in popularity among baby boomers, retailers may benefit from keeping an eye on edelweiss products and the supporting research. Sales of anti-aging products are predicted to grow at a 20 percent rate for the next five years—despite the recession—according to Chicago-based market research firm Mintel.
Mitchell Clute is a Fort Collins, Colo.-based freelance writer.