Boswellia thurifera

Frankincense and Aromatherapy

Frankincense is highly associated with religion and spiritual practices. In the ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman civilizations, Frankincense has played an important part in spiritual practices. One reason being that with so many people gathered in one place there were a lot of germs. Burning the Frankincense helped clear the air and protect people from sickness. Many people also believed that the smoke of the incense would carry their prayers to heaven.

Frankincense is an aromatic resin. It comes from a tree called Boswellia thurifera, which is native to Northern Africa.The tree looks like a shrub and sprouts small flowers. A deep slash into the bark of the Frankincense tree is made so that the resin can ooze out. When it first comes out the resin is a milky white color. It takes several weeks to three months for the resin to fully harden. The hardened resin takes on a tear shape and turns a brownish color. This gummy resin is then harvested by scraping it off the Frankincense tree. Today, Frankincense can be burned in its hardened, gummy form; but it has gained a lot of its current popularity by being processed to oil form and used in aromatherapy. When itís processed to this oil form it takes on the name essential oil. Frankincense is still used in its gummy, hardened form today. You can burn this to use as incense. With Frankincense essential oil you can burn it in an oil lamp, in a candle or add it to a pan of hot water.

Burning the actual Frankincense or the oil is most often used for its stimulating and disinfecting properties. When the vapors are inhaled they will help to elevate your mind, relieve depression, slow and deepen your breathing, and fight against infection by supporting your immune system. Using essential oils for massage or skin care is also a part of aromatherapy. You get the benefit of inhaling the vapors as well as the physical benefits for your skin. Frankincense kills bacteria, which makes it great for cleansing your skin, especially for clearing up acne. It renews skin cells and restores the skin tone, which means that itís helpful in the treatment of scars and wounds. Frankincense also fights against wrinkles. Because of its inflammatory properties you can also use Frankincense to soothe joint pain and arthritis. Frankincense is used is during childbirth. Because it slows and deepens breathing, itís perfect to use during contractions. Many people are opting to use aroma-therapy during labor.

Frankincense and myrrh were the first tree resins (sap) used by the Ancient Egyptians. They were burned to clear the air in sickrooms and during religious ceremonies to drive away evil spirits. There are four main species of Boswellia which produce true frankincense and each type of resin is available in various grades. The grades depend on the time of harvesting, and the resin is hand-sorted for quality.

Frankincense: Clears the mind, spirit and lungs. Has a calming effect in stressful situations. With its warming and soothing effects on the mind and emotions it is excellent for meditation and prayer.

Traditional medicine

Frankincense resin is edible and often used in various traditional medicines in Asia for digestion and healthy skin. Edible frankincense must be pure for internal consumption, meaning it should be translucent, with no black or brown impurities. It is often light yellow with a (very) slight greenish tint. It is often chewed like gum, but it is stickier because it is a resin.

Frankincense olibanum resin

In Ayurvedic medicine Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata), commonly referred to as "dhoop," has been used for hundreds of years for treating arthritis, healing wounds, strengthening the female hormone system, and purifying the atmosphere from undesirable germs. The use of frankincense in Ayurveda is called "dhoopan". In Indian culture, it is suggested that burning frankincense daily in the house brings good health.

Burning frankincense repels mosquitoes and thus helps protect people and animals from mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria, West Nile Virus, and Dengue Fever.

Frankincense essential oil

The essential oil of frankincense is produced by steam distillation of the tree resin. The oil's chemical components are 75% monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, monoterpenoles, sesquiterpenols, and ketones. It has a good balsamic and sweet fragrance, while the Indian frankincense oil has a very fresh smell. Contrary to recent claims, steam or hydro distilled frankincense oil does not contain any boswellic acid as these components (triterpenoids) are non-volatile and too large to come over in the steam distillation process. The chemistry of the essential oil is mainly monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes with small amounts of diterpenoid components being the upper limit in terms of molecular weight.


Olibanum is characterized by a balsamic-spicy, slightly lemon, and typical fragrance of incense, with a slightly conifer-like undertone. It is used in the perfume as well as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals industries.

Medical research

For therapy trials in ulcerative colitis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis there are only isolated reports and pilot studies from which there is not yet sufficient evidence of safety and efficacy. Similarly, the long-term effects and side effects of taking frankincense has not yet been scientifically investigated. As of May 2008 FASEB Journal announced that Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have determined that frankincense smoke is a psychoactive drug that relieves depression and anxiety in mice. The researchers found that the chemical compound incensole acetate is responsible for the effects.

In a different study, an enriched extract of "Indian Frankincense" (usually Boswellia serrata) was used in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study of patients with osteoarthritis. Patients receiving the extract showed significant improvement in their arthritis in as little as seven days. The compound caused no major adverse effects and, according to the study authors, is safe for human consumption and long-term use.

In a study published in March 2009 by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center it was reported that "Frankincense oil appears to distinguish cancerous from normal bladder cells and suppress cancer cell viability."