Essential Oil Files: Frankincense

Known to most of us as one of the gifts the wise men presented to Jesus on the occasion of his birth, Frankincense has long been associated with mysticism and spirituality. Often referred to as 'the odour of sanctity' by the Catholics Church, this oil has been used in many religions, from ancient Egyptian polytheistic practise to Wicca, Judiasm, and Catholicism. The resin is often burnt during religious ceremonies to induce feelings of spiritual connection and enhance meditative states: an ancient practice.

Appearing in recorded historical documents since the time of the ancient Egyptians, frankincense is thought to have originated on The Arabian Penninsula and Northern/North-Eastern Africa (especially Somalia). The oil is obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, including carteri, thurferi, frereana, and others. Boswellia carteri is the plant most often used in aromatherapy practise, long prized for its camphorous, spicy scent. Anyone who has attended Catholic mass will know the pungent, mysterious aroma of frankincense resin, used by priests in a censer (brass incense container).

Harvesting: Cuts are made in the bark of the tree, causing the resinous 'tears' to seep through the surface and harden. Oil is extracted via steam distillation with 3 - 7 % yield.

Uses: The National Cancer Institute reports that Indian Frankincense from Boswellia Serrata possess anti-inflammatory properties, which have contributed to treatments for ulcerative colitisarthritis and asthma. The National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine have suggested frankincense may offer immune system support, though more research is needed. Chemicals in the resin may have cancer-fighting capabilities that kill cancer cells while sparing healthy ones.

Contra-indications: Those suffering from heartburn, upset stomach, stomach aches and pains should avoid this oil. People taking anti-coagulant medicine should not use frankincense owing to its blood-thinning properties. Also not recommended if patient has recently taken blood-thinning pain-killing medicines such as ibuprofen, aspirin, etc. Do not take if pregnant, as can cause birth defects and increase chance of miscarriage and premature labour.

Blends well with: spicy scents such as ginger and cinnamon, darker florals such as rose and lavender, and herbaceous scents such as basil and bay.

How to use: As an excellent anti-inflammatory, Frankincense can be diluted 5 drops to 20mL of oil, and applied directly onto the skin. A couple of drops can be added to warts every day until gone. Vaporise Frankincense oil (5 drops to a dish) in an oil burner for sinus and general respiratory congestion, or apply a couple of drops neat onto a handkerchief and inhale throughout the day. Apply a drop of the oil diluted in a few mL of carrier oil (sweet almond is good) as an effective meditation aid: apply between brows, temples, and wrists.

Random Fact: Frankincense trees are extremely hardy: to the point where they have been known to grow out of solid rock. Such plants are valued for providing oil of superior quality.

For more information on this oil, try AromaWeb's profile on Frankincense.