Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Many Benefits of Frankincense

Extracting the Frankincense Resin

The word Frankincense actually refers to the dried resin from the Olibanum tree. Frankincense essential oil is distilled from the resin itself, not from the tree.

Frankincense is a derived from the plant genus Boswellia, family Burseraceae indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen and Sultanate of Oman), India and the Red Sea region of North-East Africa (Somalia and Eritrea). Incisions, about two inches long, are made in the trunk of the tree which then exudes a milky gum-like substance or resin. This resin, when exposed to air, hardens into droplets or “tears”. These tears are allowed to dry for about two weeks before collection and then stored for approximately twelve weeks to harden. The exception is made for production of some essential oil. In this situation, the resin is not allowed to dry but collected as a semi-solid material, yet in most cases the oil is extracted from dried resin.

The method of harvesting, or tapping, of Boswellia varies according to species and the customs of the region. For example, in Somalia tapping usually occurs in two separate periods, each lasting 3-4 months with successive 15-day intervals. The period between harvests depends upon the onset and extent of rains. In India, the collection is done once a year, commencing at the end of October. In Oman, there are ancient rituals pertaining to resin harvest as well as a sense of guardianship for the trees passed down to each generation.

Active Components

There are numerous species and varieties of Boswellia trees; major species being Boswellia serrata found in India, Boswellia carteri in East Africa and China, Boswellia frereana in Somalia, and Boswellia sacra in Arabia. Quality of frankincense resin is based upon colour, purity, aroma and age. In general, it is thought that the more opaque the resin the higher the quality with Omani frankincense regarded as the best in the world. The majority of ultra-superior Omani B. sacra is said to be purchased by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said the ruler of Oman.

Active medicinal ingredients of frankincense have been reported in recent science journals to be sesquiterpene hydrocarbons, monoterpenes, diterpenes and boswellic acids; compound variation differs between species and even among the same species depending upon the climate, geographic origin and harvesting conditions.

Medicinal and Therapeutic Uses

Compounds of frankincense have been found to exhibit in vitro (outside a living organism, usually in a test tube or Petri dish) antibacterial, antifungal, immunomodualtory (ability to regulate functions of the immune system) and in recent years immunostimulant activity. Studies have also found anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties of Boswellia. It is thus apparent that frankincense has a wide range of uses. Selected below are just three traditional applications for treating illness and are currently of interest in medical research.

A search of for Frankincense oil and Cancer will bring up many interesting results, so whereas much research uses the resin, the essential oil, and again particularly the CO2 distilled essential oil has great therapeutic value.

Injury: Powder of the dried resin of Boswellia is a common ingredient of herbal plasters and pastes to treat wounds. A recent study from Hebrew University, Israel (J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2008 Jul;28(7):1341-52) indicated that Incensole acetate (IA), an isolated from frankincense resin, was shown to reduce neurological damage from head injuries.

Oral Health: The dried resin of Boswellia has been used to support oral health for thousands of years in Middle Eastern areas. It is common for Arabian people to place the resin in their mouths and chew it to strengthen teeth and gums. Known for its antimicrobial properties, it is also used to assist with infection of the teeth and gums.

Asthma: Much like arthritis, asthma is an inflammatory-caused illness. A 2006 paper from the University of Tuebingen, Germany indicates that boswellic acid, an active component of frankincense, has shown to act as an anti-inflammatory agent in preliminary studies. The paper further states that boswellic acid inhibits 5-lipoxygenase as well as cytokines and thus promising for treatment of asthma without the side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.


It is evident that frankincense holds historical and traditional significance. Research indicating the current medicinal value of Boswellia species is growing. Such positive initial results merit further investigation into potential clinical uses; it is now recognized that some of the ancient remedies may result in the creation of novel drugs. Such results also stir a sense of excitement and possibility for those seeking alternative treatments to debilitating and even life-suppressing illnesses. The value of frankincense was recorded as being a gift for the baby Jesus and is now a gift for modern people as well.

posted by Tarah Michelle Cech, ND @ 8:17 PM

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