Frankincense

frankincenseFrankincense also known as Olibanum belongs to the Burseraceae family. In their book ‘Frankincense & Myrrh’ Martin Watt & Wanda Sellar tell us that over 25 different species of Frankincense have been recorded, however the variety most often used in Aromatherapy appears to be Boswellia carterii. This variety is native to the Red Sea region of North-East Africa and the major production areas are Ethiopia, Somalia and Oman.

The main source of the essential oil is the bark exudate. A milky white liquid slowly oozes out of the bark and forms beads. This occurs either naturally or more often through cutting the bark with a deep horizontal incision. When the tears dry in the sun they form a yellowish tear. These are then scrapped off the bark and collected into baskets. The frankincense tears consist of 60 – 70% resin, 27-35% gum and 5 – 7% essential oil. (Watt and Sellar). The pale yellow essential oil is obtained through steam distillation and Guenther tells us that the yield can vary between 5 – 9%. Frankincense has a woody, spicy and slightly sweet aroma and blends well with all citrus and spice oils.

In perusing literature one can find many instances where Frankincense gum has been used, not only in incense but also in treating skin complaints and other physical complaints. In some countries the bark has been boiled to make a wash for treating fever. It has a long traditional use as incense and it is used in many religious ceremonies even today.

Psychologically, Frankincense has calming and relaxing properties. It can be helpful with stress, anxiety, depression, irritability and panic. It is said that it can bring peace and it is very useful in meditation.

On the physiological, level it has expectorant and mucolytic properties and can be helpful when dealing with coughs, bronchitis, colds and flu. It deepens the breathing. Its calming properties can also be used on skin complaints and it is thought to be helpful with dry and mature skins.

Contraindications: Generally considered non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing. Some authors suggest that this oil should be avoided during pregnancy, or the first trimester, while others do not have this contra-indication at all. Given that Frankincense can have a very varied chemical composition it might be wise to use with caution during pregnancy. Wanda Sellar suggests that Frankincense can be of value during labour because of its calming action. It can also be used for post- natal depression.


Martin Watt and Wanda Sellar, Frankincense & Myrrh, C.W. Daniel Company Ltd, Essex, England, 1996
Wanda Sellar, The Directory of Essential Oils, C.W. Daniel Company Ltd, Essex, England, 1992 revised 1999
Ernest Guenther, The Essential Oils Vol.IV, Krieger Publishing, Malabar, Florida, 1952, reprinted 1976.
Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 201 Course 2000 revised 2001

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