Frankincense is considered one of the gifts the three wise men offered to the baby Jesus and holds a special place in the teachings of Christianity.
This fragrant resin has long been valued in religious practice and today it is used widely in natural health remedies and aromatherapy. It is known to keep our cells and tissues healthy as well as to promote healthy cell regeneration and is useful in treating dry skin, reducing scars and stretch marks and generally reversing signs of aging.
Frankincense – What is it?
It is a sap with a milky white consistency which forms on the bark of the Boswellia genus trees (Boswellia sacra and Boswellia carteri), which grow in African and Arabian regions, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and Oman, of which Oman is the most ancient and best known source, frankincense having been traded and shipped from there for thousands of years.
Frankincense, also known as olibanum, is extracted as a sap, left to harden for several days into a gum-like resin, then scraped off into droplets shaped like tears. The color indicates the quality – the best quality frankincense is silvery and clear with a greenish tinge, whereas the cheapest and most widely available is brownish yellow. The highest quality frankincense is usually reserved only for the sultan and rarely shipped out of Oman.
Traditionally burned as incense, it was also charred and ground to make a powder which was used by Egyptian women as kohl eyeliner. Nowadays, the resin is steam-distilled so as to produce the aromatic essential oil that can be beneficial in so many ways. The aroma of frankincense is a mix of earthy, woody, spicy and slightly fruity notes, which is soothing and relaxing. The oil is said to be fresher, cleaner and sweeter than the resin of frankincense.
Frankincense oil – its uses
For thousands of years, frankincense oil has been used as an anointing oil in religious ceremonies and has always been revered in the Middle East. It has also often been used as a popular ingredient in cosmetic preparations and has even been uncovered in the remains of ancient Egyptians and Anglo-Saxons
In my opinion, frankincense is among the top essential oils that you can use to promote your health. In aromatherapy, it can be inhaled or diffused and is known to have sedative properties; relieving feelings of stress, anxiety and anger and inducing feelings of relaxation, satisfaction and mental peacefulness. It is also useful for its comforting properties, helps to overcome despair and to improve visualizing and the person’s spiritual connectedness.
Frankincense oil is believed to beneficial in promoting healthy cell regeneration and keeping the existing cells and tissues healthy, especially improving skin health. The astringent properties of frankincense help to:
- Stop bleeding of cuts and wounds
- Speed up healing of cuts, insect bites, boils and acne
- Reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks
- Strengthen the gums and hair roots
Frankincense oil – its composition
Among its main components we can list: ketonic alcohol (olibanol), resinous matter (30-60 %), terpenes (such as a-pinene and p-pinene), dipentene, camphene and phellandrene. In addition, it contains actanol, pinene, bornyl acetate, incensole and incensyl acetate, linalool, and octyl acetate.
The most valuable components are the monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, according to Connie and Alan Higley, authors of ‘Reference guide for essential oils’. They claim that the monoterpenes help to prevent and eliminate toxins from the kidneys and liver as well as having antibacterial, antiseptic, analgesic (mild), stimulating and expectorant properties.
In addition, the sesquiterpenes can pass the blood-brain barrier and act in stimulating the brain’s limbic system, as well as the hypothalamus, pineal and pituitary glands.
Frankincense oil – its benefits
Its benefits for our health are largely due to its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, digestive and expectorant properties. In addition, it possesses carminative, cytophylactic, cicatrisant, uterine, emenagogue and vulnerary effects.
Frankincense oil is often called an elixir because it benefits overall health of the human body, including the respiratory, digestive, nervous and excretory systems, as well as boosting immunity and aiding the absorption of nutrients. The oil has been shown to be useful in the following health conditions:
- Colds and respiratory disorders
It can help to break up deposits of phlegm in the lungs and respiratory tract and relieve congestion associated with bronchitis.
Cardiff University research scientists have found that it can help inhibit the production of certain inflammatory molecules, thus preventing breakdown of cartilage tissue that causes arthritis and RA.
Frankincense, or boswellin (a member of the Boswellia genus), has also been shown to reduce inflammation significantly in animal studies. I have seen its effects as a natural painkiller for many former RA patients and it is one of my personal favorites.
- Oral health problems
- Uterine health
The oil helps in the regulation of estrogen production in women and reduces the risk of formation of cysts or tumors in the uterus in the post-menopause period. It also helps regulate the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women.
- Digestive disorders
Frankincense oil can help to stimulate peristaltic motion which allows the food to move properly through intestines and to speed up secretion of bile, acids, and gastric juices.
The oil is also being researched for its cancer treating potential. Scientists have observed a certain agent in the oil that may help in stopping the spread of cancer.
Frankincense oil – how it’s made
The oil is derived from steam-distillation of the raw resin. You should be careful to buy only high quality, 100% pure essential oil, and not to confuse frankincense fragrance oil with the essential oil. The fragrance oils are often artificial and contain synthetic chemicals, whereas the essential oil is derived from plants. Fragrance oils may smell nicely and be cheaper but lack the therapeutic benefits that organic essential oil provides.
Frankincense oil – how it works
You can apply the oil topically, use it in a diffuser or vaporizer, or even ingest it in extremely small amounts. To relieve pain, you can simply massage it on the affected area. For massages or topical application, it can be applied directly or mixed with carrier oils such as sweet almond oil or jojoba oil. To treat colds and clear up respiratory blockages, use an inhaler or diffuser, or you can simply sprinkle a couple of drops onto a clean cloth and inhale its scent. For a rejuvenating soak, it can be added to the bathwater.
Frankincense oil – how safe it is
Although it is generally safe, I still advise checking sensitivity to frankincense by doing a spot test first. To take it internally, it’s also best to dilute the oil in some edible carrier oil (coconut oil), a glass of purified water, a teaspoon of honey or any other non-dairy, non-acidic drink. If you like, you can put 1-2 drops of the oil under your tongue. It is, however, not recommended for children aged six or younger, and even older children and teens require higher dilutions than adults.
Nevertheless, you should always read the label carefully because not all brands are intended for internal use.
Frankincense oil – the side effects
Users of this oil have not reported any severe side effects. In a few rare cases, however, it has been reported to cause skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems such as stomach pain, nausea and hyperacidity.
In addition, its blood-thinning effects may increase the danger of abnormal bleeding in those people who are taking anticoagulant medicine or who have some bleeding disorder.
As with many other preparations, frankincense oil is not recommended for pregnant and nursing women since it acts as an emenagogue and could induce menstruation, which could pose a real health threat for the unborn fetus and mother.