- Boswellia carteri
There are few essential oils available with a longer and more distinguished history than Frankincense, Myrrh, Galbanum, Labdanum, Cinnamon and Storax. These have all been known and used since ancient times and all are mentioned more than once in the Bible as well as other historical texts. This resin was known around the world for thousands of years simply as ‘incense’, and has been in use by mankind since antiquity.
The word Olibanum comes from the Arabic al-luban and means 'the milk' — the true incense. The word Frankincense comes from the old French word fraunk-encens and means the true or real incense.
Frankincense in particular is an oleo-gum-resin. Oleo-gum-resin is a term to describe oleo (oily or fatty in nature or look) gum (partly soluble in water) resin (partly or wholly soluble in alcohol). Therefore, an oleo-gum-resin has a nature that is partly soluble in water and alcohol and looks oily. It consists mainly of oil, gum and resin. Moreover, a good example of this would be Myrrh, Frankincense, and Opopanax.
Often the terms gum, resin, resinoid, essential oil are simply used to describe the steps in the processing of natural exudates from certain trees such as Myrrh and Frankincense. These two wild trees, which to this day are still left in their wild state, organically grown, not cultivated, or farm-grown, are harvested by tribes such as the Bedouins in Somali.
The trees are excised. The globs of gum exude from the excision as a sticky white substance. This is obtained by first making deep vertical incisions in the bark. A narrow strip of bark about 4 inches is peeled off and the milky white liquid comes out. After about three months, it solidifies into tear-shaped lumps. The globs (or tears) are collected, brought to market, graded according to size and color. In the case of Frankincense, the smaller, lighter-colored tears are used in ritual and as church incense. The tears are graded in the marketplace, purchased by large companies and sent to their home countries for processing. Frankincense is about 65% gum (water soluble), 30% resin (alcohol soluble), and 4% essential oil (oil soluble).
The tears are processed by heat and extraction to produce the purified resin. The resin is then further processed via the application of alcohol in a vacuum extraction to produce the liquid resinoid. The resinoid is then further processed with the application of heat, alcohol, vacuum-extraction, and distillation to produce the essential oil. As each of these steps progress, less and less substance is produced, and the price goes higher and higher.
A plasticizer has to be added in extremely small amounts (1/10th of 1%) to the essential oil to keep it in liquid form. Leave an essential oil of Frankincense or Myrrh out in the air, and it will soon solidify as the alcohol and plasticizer evaporate. Therefore, Frankincense and Myrrh, Labdanum, Galbanum, do not yield true essential oils according to strict aromatherapy terms.
Description of Olibanum.
Olibanum, also called
Frankincense, is a natural oleo-gum-resin.
It is a physiological, liquid product in the bark of several
Boswellia species) It contains many interesting chemical compounds
including verbenone that is an anti-fungal.
Trees are most abundant in
Bedouins make incisions of
the bark at regular intervals. This
increases the production of Olibanum.
The viscous oleo-gum-resin oozes out, but will resinify or
solidify when left out in the sun. This
is then broken off its branches or collected from the ground.
It is sorted and graded in the
"Experience in selecting the correct material for distillation or for the extraction of resinoids or absolutes, is a rare and valuable skill, and is partly based upon years of experimenting with the distillation and extraction of all grades of Olibanum." (Arctander)
The Botany and History.
In Fantastic Trees, Menninger divides odiferous trees into two categories: the bouquets and the stinkers. In the same book, Botting describes Frankincense as follows:
“The frankincense tree...looks like a decomposing animal. It has stiff low branches. The leaves are scant, curly, and indented. A thick bark and a tiny whitish peel cling closely round the trunk of a peculiarly blotchy color. The woody fiber of the tree, distended with sap, looks like rotting animal flesh, and the clear, yellowing-white resin comes from incisions with a strong aroma. The fruit is a berry the size of a marble and the flowers are few, red and germanium-like on the end of short spikes.”
Frankincense comes from
certain species of trees that are found only in southern
Now, virtually all of the
commercial Frankincense comes from
trees originated in the Dhofar valley region and were of great economic
importance to people such as the
Queen of Sheba and King Solomon.
It has also been found to be exported to
Frankincense trade peaked at the time of the
The Scent and Uses.
The slightly viscous oil is pale yellow to greenish with deep balsamic, fresh-resinous aroma. It has fruity and citrus notes of Lemon and Green Apple as well a deep rich spice notes. This very complex odor is useful in the perfume industry as well as in specialty skin care as well as the usual meditative/ritual uses.
Frankincense is used as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent. Because of its verbenone content, it is also powerfully anti-fungal. It is used for wounds, acne and dry, chapped and for mature skin. When inhaled it also supports the respiratory system and the immune systems if weakened by flu, bronchitis, coughs and colds. Inhalation also soothes the nervous system during times of grief, anxiety stress and nervous tension.
Frankincense has the ability to slow and deepen respiration, which allows feelings of calmness, comfort and serenity. this helps a person to feel centered, introspective and meditative/
Resources and Bibliography
Perfume and Flavor
Materials of Natural Origin by Steffen Arctander.
Volume 2, Guenther's The
Fantastic Trees by
Edwin A. Menninger.
& Things by Jeanne Rose.
6. The Plant-Book by D. J. Mabberly
375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols.
by Jeanne Rose.
Source: A very lovely Aromatherapy Kit for Meditation is available from The Herbal BodyWorks. This contains 6 of the known ancient resinous oils that have been in use for thousands of years. The kit is $65 and contains Frankincense, Myrrh, Galbanum, Spikenard, Gifts of the Magi, and Solomon’s Cedarwood. [415/564-6785].
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