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frankincense essential oil

  • Common name:
    Olibanum, Gum Thus.
  • Botanical (and family):
    Boswellia Carterii. Family Burseraceae.
    Note that four different species of Boswellia are recognized as parent plants in the production of Frankincense.
  • Distribution:
    Found in the mountainous areas of Western India, Southern Arabia and North-eastern Africa.
  • Description of plant:
    A small tree or shrub with many pinnate leaves and white to pale pink flowers.
  • Extraction:
    Steam distillation from selected oleo gum resin.
    (Incisions are made in three bark which exudes resin in yellow drops or 'tears')
  • Charactersitics:
    A pale yellow or pale amber greenish liquid with an odour which is fresh-terpeney, almost green-lemon-like, or reminiscent of unripe apple peel. A certain pepperiness is mellowed with a rich, sweet-woody, balsamic undertone.
  • Odour effects:
    Comforting and soothing.
  • Cautions:
    Can be soporific in large doses.
  • Main chemical constituents:
    n-Octyl acetate - 41 %
    Alpha Pinene, Beta Pinene, Alpha Thujene, Alpha terpinene, dipenten, p-cymene, myrcene, phellandrene, limonene - 45 %
    n-Octanol, farneso - 6%
    (Major differences occur between resins from Aden, India or Eritrea.)
  • Properties and indications:
    Known to slow down breathing. Also reputed to induce conditions of spirituality. Tends to bring about an elevating and soothing effect on the mind.
    Effective on mucous membranes, helping to clear lungs. Has a marked effect on respiration, and may be useful for asthma sufferers. Has a soothing action on head colds. Has a helpful action on the genito-urinary tract, being useful for conditions such a cystitis and nephritis. Soothes the stomach, easing digestion, dyspepsia and belching.
    An absolute tonic for aging skin. Could help to smooth out wrinkles and help balance oily conditions. Effective with wounds, sores, ulcers and carbuncles.
  • Other uses:
    Employed in some liniments and throat pastilles. Used widely to make incense. Used extensively in perfumery to impart oriental and spicy notes.
  • Blends well with:
    Basil, Black Pepper, Galbanum, Geranium, Grapefruit, Lavender, Orange, Melissa, Patchouli, Pine, Sandalwood.

More on frankincense

Mankind’s fascination with this oil, and resin, goes back thousands of years. ‘Incense’ refers to aromatic smoke ( Latin – incensum ), “to kindle”, and frankincense means “true incense”. Franc, in Old French meant free, pure, abundant. In many circles, this special product is known as Olibanum, from the Arabic ‘luban’, referring to the milky juice that the trees exude. It is also thought to mean “Oil of Lebanon”.

Frankincense is steam-distilled from the gum-resin which is present physiologically in the bark of a large number of species of small, hardy trees from the genus Boswellia ( family Bursaraceae). Although the most widely known is B.carteri, there are at least 17 Boswellia species, a number of which yield commercial quantities of gum, such as B.neglecta, B.serrata, B. frereana, B. thurifera and B. papyrifera. These tough trees are found in the mountainous areas of Western India, Southern Arabia and North-Eastern Africa. They are hardly ever cultivated, and today still, the whereabouts of some is a well kept secret because of the massive potential exploitation that prevailed around the time of the Roman Empire. Somalia is a major producer in recent times. The bark is carefully scraped or chipped to increase the flow of liquid resin, which dries to yellowish ‘tears’ in the sun. Local goat-herders in North Africa are given special combs, to obtain gum-resin from the beards of their animals, once penned in the evening!

It requires a very good distillation technique to obtain a high quality oil. The resultant product is a mobile, pale yellow to amber-green liquid with fresh-terpeney, green lemon-like/unripe apple-peel odour. A peppery note and rich, sweet-woody balsamic undertones make up this complex, delightful smelling essential-oil.

Frankincense was a very important product in the religious and domestic lives of Ancient Egypt, Persia, Hebrew, Greek and Roman civilizations, finding use as a cosmetic and perfume ingredient, an aromatic incense, and in many religious rituals.

The essential-oil operates at a physiological, psychological as well as spiritual level. General opinion is that by far its most prominent property is the positive effect generated on the nervous system, where it can be used to relax as well as revitalise the system. It can act as a mild tonic and may have an anti-depressant effect. It also has a very beneficial effect on the respiratory system, expelling catarrh, and helping to counteract bronchitis and asthma. It can be used to strengthen the immune system and can be effective against inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. It makes a wonderful addition to creams, especially for aging skin, having a renown effect on scars, wounds and wrinkles. Energetically, it assists with the smooth flow of Qi, where stress has led to stagnation of energy flow, and irritability.

Religious and spiritual traditions all over the world have recognised the profound effect of Frankincense in meditation, contemplation and prayer, stilling the mind and allowing focussed concentration. Its effect in slowing down the breath is well known, enabling a state of tranquillity, insight and spiritual self-discipline.