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Frankincense Essential Oil

Frankincense Essential Oil Profile

Frankincense is also known as Olibanum.

Frankincense is a tree resin that has been used and valued since ancient times for its medicinal, cosmetic, aromatic and spiritual applications. In Christianity, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh were the gifts given to the baby Jesus by the three wise men.

Frankincense Essential Oil is distilled from the resin. The essential oil tends to smell sweeter, cleaner and fresher than the resin, and more people prefer the aroma of Frankincense Essential Oil to that of the resin when it is being burned as incense.

Frankincense Essential Oil is used most often for spiritual, perfumery and incense /room fragrancing applications, but it is useful as an expectorant and sometimes is used in respiratory and cough formulations.

Frankincense Species

There are several species of Frankincense. They all share some similar therapeutic and aromatic properties (see the Uses and Benefits section below for more info):

  • Boswellia carterii / Boswellia sacra
  • Boswellia serrata
  • Boswellia frereana
  • Boswellia neglecta
  • Boswellia papyrifera
  • Boswellia rivae

It's best to review the GC/MS report for the Frankincense Oil(s) that you are working with or are considering purchasing. Based upon the GC reports I have reviewed for all species, Frankincense Essential Oil, from any species, tends to range in monoterpene composition from 75-90%.

Emotionally, I find the aroma of Frankincense Essential Oil to be spiritually grounding, calming and relaxing without being sedating. The aroma is resinous, earthy and also has a slightly fruity/sweet, warm, spicy attitude to it. The country of origin and quality of the frankincense tears play a big part in the overall aroma of the essential oil.

Bottle Depicting the Typical Color of Frankincense Essential Oil

Frankincense and Spirituality

I adore the aroma of Frankincense Essential Oil and include it in room fragrancing, incense and spiritual blends all year round.

I also love using it during meditation. Robbi Zeck shares that "Frankincense deepens and slows the rhythm of the breath, providing safe passage to the inner realms of the unconscious during meditation." [Reference: Robbi Zeck, ND, The Blossoming Heart: Aromatherapy for Healing and Transformation (Victoria, Australia: Aroma Tours, 2008), 82.]

Biblical References to Frankincense

Frankincense is mentioned in several places within the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Many of the references to incense are believed to be references to Frankincense resin.

Shown below are three of the references to Frankincense mentioned in the Bible. These references are all likely referring to Frankincense Resin, not Frankincense Essential Oil. I have seen some people claim that Baby Jesus was given Frankincense Essential Oil by the Magi. Jesus was likely gifted with frankincense resin. Unfortunately, there are some individuals who sell essential oils that try to claim that many aromatic references in the bible are referring to essential oils. As much as I would love that to be true, it's incredibly unlikely. Please see AromaWeb's article entitled Essential Oils and the Bible for more information.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Take fragrant spices - gum resin, onycha and galbanum - and pure frankincnese, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the word of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred.'"
— Exodus 30:34-35 (NIV)

"Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense made from all the spices of the merchant?"
— Song of Songs 3:6 (NIV)

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh."
— Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

Sustainability Concerns for Frankincense Essential Oil

The Frankincense species of Boswellia sacra is near threatened according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (see section below for more info). Due to the growing demand for all species of Frankincense Essential Oils, it's very important to use the oil very mindfully and ensure that you are purchasing only from sources that are mindful of frankincense conservation. Although The IUCN REd List only lists Boswellia sacra as being near threatened, the other species may also be highly at risk because the IUCN Red List has not yet evaluated them.

Botanical Name

Most Commonly Available: Boswellia carterii

Also available:

  • Boswellia sacra
  • Boswellia serrata
  • Boswellia frereana
  • Boswellia neglecta
  • Boswellia papyrifera
  • Boswellia rivae

Typical Method of Extraction

Hydro Distillation: Although many reputable authors, educators and vendors list Frankincense Essential Oil do list it as being steam distilled, Frankincense Essential Oil is typically hydro distilled. [Sources: Robin Schiller-Kessler CA, Admin for Frankincense Resin//And All Tree Resins, Trygve Harris, Owner and Founder of Enfleurage and Jamie Garvey, Co-Founder of Böswellness.]

Plant Part Typically Used

Resin

Color

Light Yellow

Consistency

Thin

Perfumery Note

Base

Strength of Initial Aroma

Mild - Medium

Aromatic Description

Frankincense Essential Oil smells fresh, woody, balsamic, slightly spicy and fruity.

Frankincense Essential Oil Uses and Benefits

The following uses and benefits are attributed primarily to the essential oil steam distilled from Boswellia carterii:

  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Extreme Coughing
  • Scars
  • Stress
  • Stretch Marks

Source: Julia Lawless, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1995), 96-97.

There is a great deal of risky and inaccurate information being propagated about the applications of Frankincense Essential Oil in cancer treatment and prevention. For more information, read Frankincense Oil and Cancer in Perspective by essential oil expert Robert Tisserand.

When researching the appplications of Frankincense Essential Oil, it's important to be sure that you are verifying the applications for the actual essential oil from reputable sources. Some sources mistakenly confuse the benefits of the essential oil with those of the infused oil or pure resin.

Sustainability and Conservation Status

Boswellia Sacra is Near Threatened
Source: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/34533/9874201

As mentioned above, the IUCN Red List only lists Boswellia sacra as being near threatened. However, the other species may also be highly at risk because the IUCN Red List has not yet evaluated them.

To learn more about the conservation status of essential oil bearing plants and how to use the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, please refer to AromaWeb's Guide to Essential Oils and Sustainability.

Major Constituents of Frankincense (Boswellia carterri) Essential Oil

  • a-Pinene
  • a-Phellandrene
  • (+)-Limonene
  • B-Myrcene
  • B-Pinene
  • B-Caryophyllene
  • p-Cymene
  • Terpinen-4-ol
  • Verbenone
  • Sabinene
  • Linalool

See Essential Oil Safety for a more complete list of typical constituents.

Source: L. Hall, Chemotaxonomical Investigation of Frankincense Producing Boswellia spp. from Somalia and a Quest for Quality Standards. (Thesis. University of Strathclyde, 2000). Source cited in Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 287-288.

Frankincense Essential Oil Safety Information

Tisserand and Young precaution to avoid use of the oil if it has oxidized. Skin sensitization is more likely when using oxidized Frankincense Oil. Reading Tisserand and Young's full profile is recommended. [Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 287-289.]

General Safety Information

Do not take any oils internally and do not apply undiluted essential oils, absolutes, CO2s or other concentrated essences onto the skin without advanced essential oil knowledge or consultation from a qualified aromatherapy practitioner. For general dilution information, read AromaWeb's Guide to Diluting Essential Oils. If you are pregnant, epileptic, have liver damage, have cancer, or have any other medical problem, use oils only under the proper guidance of a qualified aromatherapy practitioner. Use extreme caution when using oils with children and be sure to first read the recommended dilution ratios for children. Consult a qualified aromatherapy practitioner before using oils with children, the elderly, if you have medical issues or are taking medications. Before using this or any essential oil, carefully read AromaWeb's Essential Oil Safety Information page. For in-depth information on oil safety issues, read Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young.

Shelf Life

View Shelf Life Information

Important Information About the Profiles

The essential oil information provided on AromaWeb is intended for educational purposes only. The references to safety information, constituents and percentages is generalized information. The data is not necessary complete and is not guaranteed to be accurate. The essential oil photos are intended to represent the typical and approximate color of each essential oil. However, essential oil color can vary based on harvesting, distillation, age of the essential oil and other factors. Profiles for several absolutes are included within the directory, and are denoted as such.

Essential Oil Book Suggestions

Click on a book's title to view details and read a full review for the book. Visit AromaWeb's Books area to find details about many other essential oil and aromatherapy books.

Essential Oil Safety

Own Safety Profiles for 400 Essential Oils and 206 Constituents:
Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals
Authors: Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young

The Complete Book Of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy

The Complete Book Of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy
Includes 125 Essential Oil Profiles
Author: Valerie Ann Worwood

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