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A Brief Guide to Frankincense Essential Oil

Essential Oils

Frankincense – The Holy Grail of Essential Oils

Regularly marketed as the king of essential oils, frankincense has been sought after since ancient times, and for good reason. In addition to many other historical accounts, the famous Bible passage notes that frankincense was one of the three gifts brought by the Three Wise Men and given to baby Jesus.1

In modern times, aromatherapists and all-natural healers continue to take advantage of frankincense benefits. Capable of providing relaxation when used in aromatherapy, the range of health benefits that frankincense offers are nothing short of spectacular. Chances are, you’ve already experienced the meditative and cleansing aroma of frankincense. It may have been through body care products, candles, or incense. Learning more about its benefits will allow you to incorporate it more intentionally into your life.

frankincense rocks

The History of Frankincense

Frankincense essential oil is distilled from the resin of the Boswellia tree that grows in many regions within northern Africa and the Middle East. Oman, Somalia, and Ethiopia are the most prominent suppliers today. Frankincense is also referred to by its Arabic name, "olibanum," derived from "al Luban," which means "milk." This name describes the milky sap that comes from the “wound” in the tree after an incision is made in the bark. The tree secretes the sap to heal and seals the "wound," helping prevent infection. The sap is given time to harden on the tree into small golden nuggets of resin known as "tears" before being collected for extraction.2

Traditional Use

Traditionally, frankincense was used for hundreds of years in incense, primarily in ancient rituals because of its promise to bring tremendous healing properties. Priests, rabbis, and medicine men around the world—especially in the Middle East—appreciated the essential oil for its healthful properties.3 Early use of frankincense resin was reserved for religious services, where it was burned as incense with the intention of the scent floating up invisibly to heaven in order to attract God’s attention. Historically, burning the resin was also a tool to vanquish negative energies or hold evil spirits at bay.

To this day, it is commonly used in churches and temples and believed to affect us at our deepest level, setting our spirit free. Most of all, frankincense essential oil is incredibly aromatic. It gives off a unique sweet scent, contributing to its popularity in both modern and ancient aromatherapy.

The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used frankincense in their religious rituals. Similarly, the Chinese have been known to have used it for years. Frankincense was so valuable during ancient times that it was literally worth its weight in gold. Some cultures even prized it more than gold, making it an integral part of the Silk Road trade. Overall, it has been high in demand, from early history all the way to today.4 frankincense, essential oil bottle, and beaker

Types of Frankincense Oils

There are a variety of different frankincense essential oils that have been used throughout history and continue to be used today. Distilling the essential oils from a variety of different species of Boswellia trees results in a range of different oils, some of which are more potent and powerful in different areas of healing than others.

The different types of frankincense essential oils have diverse chemistries and unique biochemical makeups. This allows each one to offer a range of different health and wellness benefits, even though they are fundamentally the same substance.

Frankincense carterii is the most frequently used of frankincense essential oils out there. It has a smooth, sweet, and citrus aroma that will help relax the mind and your body. It is incredibly high in alpha-Pinene, as well as a number of other monoterpenes. It is also commonly used as a topical essential oil, offering restorative and regenerative properties for the skin. It rejuvenates the skin and evens out blemishes.5

Frankincense frereana is another popular frankincense essential oil type. It is sourced mostly from the more mountainous regions of Somalia. The trees responsible for producing this variety almost always grow at high altitudes, changing the chemical makeup of these essential oils just enough to make them different from other options.

Chemical Properties

Frankincense frereana is much higher in the monoterpenes alpha-thujene, cymene and sabinene than other frankincense essential oils. This allows this essential oil to offer even better properties, making it the best type for relieving symptoms of discomfort. The scent of this oil is immediately recognizable as it is more earthy and citrusy than the other frankincense oils.

Frankincense Serrata is the oldest of all the different frankincense varieties, leading many to believe it is the one referred to in the Bible and Ayurvedic medicine in the past. Its primary chemical constituents include alpha thujene, alpha-Pinene, limonene, and other monoterpenes. This is also the type of frankincense that is most frequently used during aromatherapy sessions and in religious and spiritual ceremonies. The type of resin this frankincense is produced from is more plentiful than some other varieties. It offers more oil per resin. Above all, most forms of frankincense essential oils produce many of the same health and restorative benefits. Though, depending on each individual’s specific needs, one type of frankincense may be better suited than another. [post-carousel /]

Uses for Frankincense Essential Oil

Frankincense essential oil has been used since ancient times. Today frankincense essential oil is still known to be commonly used for a variety of troubles. Below we highlight some of the key health benefits this essential oil offers.

Alleviates Stress

When used in a vaporizer or diffuser on a regular basis, frankincense essential oil has been shown to lead to relaxation. Furthermore, the biochemical agents in frankincense essential oil have anti-stress properties.

Provides Anti-Aging Properties

Frankincense essential oil is commonly used in skincare and beauty care products. This is not just because of its pleasant scent. This essential oil has the ability to even out complexion, and add elasticity to the skin. Additionally, there are many other impressive benefits that frankincense essential oil offers, including improving sleep quality, and alleviating discomfort. 

Safety and Precautions

First, it is important to recognize that there is a difference between frankincense essential oils and fragrance oils. Frankincense essential oils are used for the healing benefits highlighted above, as long as the oil is pure and high quality. Frankincense fragrance oils, however, are safe to use as incense, perfumes, or as deodorants. But they shouldn’t ever be used—or expected to produce results—as a healing agent. They should also never be applied directly to the skin or used in a vaporizer or diffuser.12

For topical application, it is advisable to test the frankincense essential oil on a small patch of skin before applying it to other areas. This is to prevent an allergic reaction. It is ok to use topically when diluted with a carrier oil, cream, or lotion. This allows the individual to experience the full benefits of the essential oil without worrying about adverse skin reactions.

As with many other essential oils, pregnant or nursing women are discouraged from using frankincense essential oil. 

Conclusion

Used for thousands of years, and likely to be used for thousands more, the benefits of frankincense essential oils are well-documented. To experience frankincense health benefits, try using it topically or in a vaporizer, room diffuser, or personal aromatherapy diffuser. Photo credits: DiegoCervo/shutterstock.com, Rost9/shutterstock.com, FotoDuets/shutterstock.com, goodluz/shutterstock.com, PMaxwellPhotography/shutterstock.com

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