by Mindy Yang

Frankincense, often known as olibanum, is an aromatic gum resin obtained from African and Middle Eastern trees of the genus Boswellia, chiefly Boswellia carteri. The tree is small, growing to a height of 3 – 7 m (10 – 23 ft), and is related to the tree which produces myrrh.

Frankincense has been used since ancient times in religious ritual and, indeed, is still used today, as a major ingredient of church incense. It was very highly valued by many early cultures – thus one of the three gifts from the Magi to the infant Jesus – and it is believed that the Phoenicians zealously monopolized its trade for a quite considerable time.

Dioscorides and others mention the therapeutic use of the gum in the treatment of skin disorders, in ophthalmology, haemorrhages and pneumonia. Soldiers were treated with frankincense: a sixteenth-century surgeon, Ambroise Pare, noted that it stopped the blood flowing out of wounds, and helped scar tissue to form quickly. He also said it was good for breast-feeding abscesses. This century, a French doctor, Professor Cabasse, recorded frankincense’s effectiveness in treating skin cancer.


Deep incisions are made into the trunk of the tree, from which white resinous matter exudes in large ‘tears’, ovoid in shape. These dry and fall to the ground where they are collected. The tears are whitish yellow, milky and waxy. (It tastes like turpentine and butter.) Commercially, it is usually supplied in yellowish blocks covered with white dust; it is also available powdered.

The oil is steam-distilled from the gum, which contains approximately 3-8 per cent essential oil. This is colorless or pale yellow; it has a balsamic fragrance, subtly lemony, and sometimes with a note of camphor. The principal constituents: Ketonic alcohol (olibanol), resinous mat¬ters (30 – 60 per cent) and terpenes (camphene, dipentene, a-and p-pinene, phellandrene).

  • Like other resins, frankincense is said to be bechic, a sedative, pectoral and a good antiseptic. It is effective in inhalations for catarrhal discharge and respiratory congestion. Put 2 drops of the oil into a bowl of hot water and inhale for 7 minutes, head covered with a towel. Mix together 10 ml (2 tsp) soya oil, 2 drops wheat germ and 6 drops frankincense oil. Use this to massage the sinus area, the ganglions behind the ears when sore, temples and chest. Do this a few times per day.
Other uses
  • Frankincense oil can help meditation at home. Place a few drops on a piece of cotton wool near a warm radiator or light bulb, or in a dish of hot water. Do your exercises, yoga or otherwise, nearby, closing your eyes and breathing deeply.
  • Frankincense has been used in many potpourris and burning perfumes throughout the centuries.

Mindy Yang
Mindy Yang


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