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April 03, 2023
Frankincense is an ancient resin with a rich history. It has been highly valued for centuries, especially for its important role in incense making. This precious oil is derived from a majestic tree of the Boswellia genus that grows in Africa and the Middle East. When the tree is tapped or sliced diagonally, a milky white substance is released and allowed to dry on the tree to form the resin, or “tears”, on the tree. This resin is collected and distilled to create the essential oil.
It is important to note that the collection of frankincense resin requires responsible harvesting practices. The tree must only be tapped a few times, then allowed to rest and recover. Just like humans, the tree needs time to recover from injuries. This resting phase ensures that the trees are not over-harvested and can continue to provide this valuable resource for future generations.
One of the ancient, sacred materials, Frankincense was, of course, one of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus, giving us some insight into its historic value. Frankincense was introduced to Europe by Frankish crusaders, hence the name Frank-incense. “Franc” means pure, where “encens” means to burn. It was considered pure incense, and was used in religious ceremonies as it was thought to purify the air through its strong scent and heavy smoke. In the East, it is also known as olibanum.
The color of frankincense resin can vary depending on the environmental and harvesting conditions, ranging from clear to white to gold. The clearer the resin, the higher the quality. The resin and essential oil have also been used, from ancient times to the present, in perfumes, cosmetics, and salves.
Frankincense essential oil is extracted through steam or hydro distillation, and its therapeutic properties can vary. It is known for its ability to promote relaxation, calmness, and grounding, making it an ideal oil for meditation and yoga practices. It is also known for its skin-healing properties and can be beneficial in reducing the appearance of scars and blemishes.
Although it has many uses, here are my top 5.
Using Frankincense in Skin Care
Frankincense essential oil has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which help with fine lines and wrinkles. It stimulates new cell growth, helping the skin to heal faster. Resin oils, which heal the tree when it is wounded, provide similar benefits in healing our wounds and minimizing scars. Frankincense soothes inflammation, redness and itching, making it a great choice for mature skin care, dry skin care, and a beneficial ingredient in aftershave or beard oil.
Frankincense helps the Respiratory System
Frankincense can provide relief from congestion. It opens the airways by easing the constriction of bronchiole muscles. It is an expectorant, and reduces mucous overproduction which may be helpful for those with asthma.
Use Frankincense for Breathwork
Frankincense is a relaxing oil which encourages us to take a deep breath in. It can be helpful for breathwork aimed at lowering stress and managing anxiety. Enhance your meditation or yoga practice with frankincense’s grounding quality and ability to increase focus.
Use Frankincense to Create a Sacred Space
Frankincense has been used in ceremonies for centuries, as an airborne deodorizer and air cleanser. It promotes a sense of emotional wellbeing, and may enhance feelings of intuition and spiritual connection. It is considered a chakra connector and therefore can be used in synergies for any chakra including overall chakra healing and opening. Frankincense is a great essential oil to use to create a sacred space
Using Frankincense for Perfume
Frankincense essential oil is a gentle and relaxing base note with an earthy aroma. Use it as a fixative in your blends. Try this relaxing blend from Standing Stone Wellness. The combination of frankincense and bergamot essential oils allow us to bring in the sunshine, while providing relaxation and a sense of calming.
Frankincense Essential Oil and the Effect of Boswellic Acid on Health
While this topic deserves a blog post of its own, I think its important to touch on the perhaps confusing stories surrounding Frankincense and tumour cell cytotoxicity. Part of the chemical makeup of Frankincense resin is boswellic acid. It is this component which is believed to have anti-tumoral activity. Unfortunately, in the case of boswellic acid, although it is present in the resin, it is not shown as present in the distilled essential oil. When an essential oil is distilled, individual chemical components must be detected through chemical testing before it can be considered for therapeutic benefit. During the process of extracting an essential oil, some components may not come through because they are too heavy. In other cases the component may be sensitive to the extraction process and therefore be destroyed, for example through heat sensitivity. In the case of boswellic acid, although it is present in the resin, it is not shown as present in the distilled essential oil. Therefore, aromatherapists believe that the essential oil has no cancer fighting properties.
That story changes however, when frankincense is extracted using ethanol, and becomes a frankincense extract. Studies have shown that ethanol extracted Frankincense includes up to 7 boswellic acids. “boswellic acids have been shown to possess anti-cancer activities through their cytostatic and apoptotic effects in multiple human cancer cell lines including meningioma cells , leukemia cells , hepatoma cells , melanoma cells, fibrosarcoma cells , and colon cancer cells .”[i]
This is promising research which needs more time and more case studies to understand efficacy.
A Note on Frankincense Sustainability
As mentioned above, Frankincense essential oil comes from the resin of the Boswellia genus of trees. These trees grow in a number of different geographic locations, including Somalia, India, and Ethiopia. It is important to note that the constituents of frankincense oil differ according to the climate, harvest conditions, and geographical sources of frankincense resins. There are a number of Boswellia trees that can provide us with an essential oil including Boswellia carteri, Boswellia serrata, Boswellia frereana, Boswellia rivae and Boswellia sacra to name a few. Boswellia sacra is currently on the near threatened list[ii] issued by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is always important to use essential oils sustainably and cautiously. Less is more. If you have questions about using essential oils, use our Contact Us form. As a certified aromatherapist, I’m happy to help out with questions.
It is always advisable to consult with an expert when using essential oils. Frankincense may cause skin irritation once the oil is oxidized. Essential oils should be diluted into carrier oils before being used directly on the body. Store your essential oils in dark containers to protect them from light. Glass bottles are best as essential oils erode certain types of plastic. Keep them in a cool, dry place to ensure that you get the longest shelf life possible.
Frankincense is one of my favourite essential oils, and with so many uses it’s no surprise. I find that it blends well with most other scents, adding a hint of sophistication and calm.
Yours in wellness,
The information on our website is not intended to cure, diagnose or treat medical conditions, nor is it a substitute for medical advice. Please consult with a physician before beginning this or any other new health care program. The information contained on this site is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be substituted for the advice provided by your doctor or other health care professional. If you rely upon any programs or techniques, or use any of the products and services made available by or through the use of our website for decision making, without obtaining the advice of a physician or other health care professional, you do so at your own risk. The views expressed on Standing Stone Wellness have not been evaluated or endorsed by any private or public entity.
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