Name. Olibanum or Frankincense was named by George Christopher
Molesworth Birdwood who lived from 1832-1917.
Boswellia carterii, the
Latin binomial of one species of Frankincense was named after James
Boswell [companion and biographer of Samuel Johnson] and the word 'carterii'
after Professor H.J. Carter who described the Egyptian mummies and made
the first scientific collection of specimens from Arabian frankincense in
1846. ...“Dr. H. J. Carter was surgeon in an East Indian company survey
ship, the H.M.S. Palinurus which was surveying the south Arabian
coast”. He studied a branch
of Frankincense tree thought to be a species similar to the Indian variety
of Frankincense, B. serrata. Later
work showed that Dr. Carter had actually been looking at B.
sacra. The tree originally found by Carter was named after him by
Birdwood and called B. carterii. Even
later studies showed that in all probability the tree found by Carter and
named by Birdwood was of Somali origin. There are at least 17 species of
Boswellia and they are very difficult to distinguish.
The family name is Burseraceae
and includes Linaloe, Myrrh, Olibanum and Elemi. The name Olibanum is
also derived from the arabic word al
luban or the milk which refers to the milky exudate of the trees that
is the resin.
Botany. Frankincense (Boswellia
carteri) comes from a small tree native to
The resin comes from schizogenous gum-oleoresin reservoirs within
Grading of the Gum. The
tears are brought to market where they are graded
according to color and size.
1. Grade I (tears) : The best, white in color, usually picked off
the bark with no sand attached, usually used as solid incense that is
burned in ritual.
2. Grade II (reddish) : Mixed of white and red in color, which
contains particles of the bark.
3. Grade III (dust and siftings) : Various colors, low price and
the most suitable for the distillation of the essential oil.
Chemistry of the Essential Oil. The chemical components of
Frankincense include 1-a-pinene,
dipentene, phellandrene, cadinene, camphene, olibanol, and various resins.
Olibanol is considered to be in reality a mixture of verbenone, verbenol,
and some other terpene alcohols, including most likely d-borneol.
According to Blumann and Schulz “olibanol” is C26H44O
Physicochemical Properties. —
Qualities. The Frankincense oil that I have from 1972 is deep golden
in color, clear like water, very viscous with a deep intensity of scent
and the fragrance is rich, spicy, balsamic, agreeable, with a citrus or
lemon back note. It has a bitter aromatic taste. The Frankincense from
2003 is much paler gold in color, clear like water, not viscous, with a
lighter smoother but not as richly pleasing an odor.
History. The historical use of Frankincense is in spiritual and
religious rituals. It is one of the oldest herbs/resins used for this
purpose. Rising smoke from burning resins was a means of communicating
with the gods by the ancient peoples, and Frankincense was burned on hot
coals for this purpose as well as for its healing properties and
fragrance. Frankincense was considered a very sacred gift.
In ancient times Frankincense was bought and sold everywhere.
The story most people
are familiar with is that of the three holy kings who presented what they
considered the most precious gifts to the Son of God at
The smoke of Frankincense fills churches and sacred spaces to this
day as well as the ritual areas of many people. From this burning incense
a fragrance issues that “that floats on an invisible thread to heaven to
attract the attention of the Gods”.
For it is on fragrance
that the gods feed and it is fragrance that they desire.
Dr. Michael Stoddord discovered that Frankincense contains a
substance similar to sexual hormones which awaken sexual desire. Reports
for the Academy of Science in Leipzig, Germany claim that when
Frankincense is burned the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol is produced. This
substance is thought to expand the subconscious. Inhalation of
Frankincense slows and deepens the breath and is calming and relaxing.
Modern Uses. The use of the essential oil of Frankincense has
expanded beyond spiritual use. It is a valuable addition to skin and body
care products due to its astringent and antiseptic properties. It is
useful in lotions, salves, soaps and oils and indicated for acne, skin
problems, and boils. Frankincense essential oil benefits the skin by
keeping it healthy and preventing wrinkling and aging. Used by inhalation
in a candle diffusor, Frankincense beneficial in treating bronchitis,
excessive mucus, colds, and coughs. Frankincense is a useful addition to
aromatherapy blends and
potpourri, where it serves to fix the scent and acts as a base note. It is
of particular value in perfume blends of the Oriental style, because it
rounds out and gives alluring tones that particularly difficult to
identify as to the source.
In addition, Franchomme and Penoël suggest that the properties are
anti-catarrh, expectorant, cicatrisant, immuno-stimulating and
anti-depressant. It is indicated for excessive mucous in the bronchial
tract, as an inhalant treatment for asthma, inhaled and massaged to
stimulate the immune system and for nervous depression.
There are no known contra-indications.
Aromatherapy Blends with Frankincense
Bibliography for Frankincense.:
& Penoel. l'aromatherapie exactement. Jollois, 1990.
Ernest. The Essential Oils. vol.
IV, pages 352-356. Krieger Publ. Malabar, FL 1972
Rita C. Based on a paper, Frankincense . 2001
Plants of Dhofar. Publ. Adviser for Conservation of the Environment.
Sultanate of Oman. 1988.
Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils &
Hydrosols. Frog Ltd. Berkeley, CA. 1999
The Aromatherapy Book.
North Atlantic Books. 1992.
Wanda & M. Watt. Frankincense & Myrrh. C.W. Daniel. 1996.
Wildwood, Christine. Creative Aromatherapy. Thorsons. 1993.
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