Frankincense is the name generically attributed to the oleoresins secreted by different shrubby plants of the genus Boswellia, the most important of which is the Boswellia sacra. Let’s find out with Dr. Comollo what the properties and use of frankincense essential oil is like, how it is produced.


Frankincense: what is it?

The name Frankincense generically identifies the oleoresinous secretions of many species of the genus Boswellia Roxb. ex Colebr., belonging to the Burseraceae Kunth family. It comes from the Latin incensum, past participle of incendere, or in + cendere (to candere = to be shining, lit, flamboyant), therefore as a final sense of burning, implied something aromatic, thus, or odorous resin.

The frankincense trees: Boswellia Carterii

Boswellia belongs to the great family of the Burseraceae, which includes 540 species divided into 21 genera of tropical areas and which for the most part produce oleo-gommo-resins following bark lesions. Boswellia Roxb species. give incense, those of Bursera Jacq. and Canarium L. give elemi, those of Commiphora Jacq. myrrh, bdellium and other resins, the Protium heptaphyllum Marchand provides the Brazilian elemi.

The Boswellia sacra Flueck. (synonym B. carteri Birdw.) is a tree native to Ethiopia, northern Somalia, southwestern Oman and southern Yemen, which grows up to 8 m in height, with bark that is peeled like sheets of paper and leaves grouped at the ends of tangled branches. The stem of the plant is normally multiple, but can also have a single trunk. The flowers are in axillary racemes up to 10 cm long, grouped together at the ends of the branches. Each flower has five yellow-white petals. The fruit is a capsule. All parts of the tree are highly resinous.

Usually in a plant we can distinguish various types of structures that secrete essential oils and resins: – secretory cells, – cavities or secretory sacks, – secretory canals, – lactic tissues. Bowellia has, like endogenous secretory structures, cavities or secretory sacks (of schizolysine origin) in which a gommo-resin is secreted and the composition of this resin remains rather constant in the different organs. The frankincense essential oil is extracted from the resin by distillation.

Frankincense essential oil: production and characteristics

The frankincense essential oil, obtained by distillation in water / with a current of steam from the resin of Boswellia carterii Birdw., Has a full, round scent and is somewhat reminiscent of honey. It is used in many high quality creams and ointments.

The frankincense essential oil that you can find in Erboristeria Como is of high quality, organic and suitable for aromatherapy. It comes from plants of Boswellia carterii Birdw. of Somaliland (State of East Africa not recognized by the international community, composed of the northern provinces of Somalia) from spontaneous collection on organic certified lands at 100 m asl. The resin is collected in a sustainable way so that the tree is not damaged. Usually the incense collection starts in April: a tool called menghaf is used, a kind of sharp chisel on one side to decorticate the branches and not sharpened on the other to collect the resin. With the “menghaf” 10 to 30 oval decortications (4-8 cm) are produced on the most robust branches of the plant; from the decorticated areas it exudes white resin that progressively solidifies in the air. The resin is allowed to flow for two or three weeks, after which it begins to be collected; however this first resin is not very abundant and of mediocre quality. The decortications are cleaned and after two weeks the second harvest begins which produces an abundance of incense and of better quality than the first. The resin is collected with the same system three or four times a year, until October, when the tree is left to rest until the next season.

Our Gadoi-Magnifica Essenza frankincense essential oil is a mobile liquid, light yellow or amber-green. Sweet, balsamic and woody aroma with fresh and citrusy notes, or of green apple, but not of turpentine. If distilled for a long time the aroma acquires a great tenacity, with final notes reminiscent of amber and cistus. Ethiopian essential oil has a powerful, head-like, terpenic and pleasantly resinous balsamic smell, with a very slight medicinal note, and a very slight anise presence. The final note has a powerfully green quality of cut stems, mixed with an oily resinous quality, which is most noticeable after repeated tasting.

Composition of our frankincense essential oil: the essential oil is terpene-based, in fact it contains alpha-pinene (37.9%), (+) – limonene (10.2%), beta-fellandrene (5 , 3%), p-cymene (4.3%) viridiflorol (3.8%), terpinen-4-ol (2.3%). Noteworthy acids present in the resin of Boswellia sacra: α-boswellic and β-boswellic acids.

Frankincense essential oil: properties and use from the past

The Frankincense was classified by the ancients as “hot”,”astringent” and “resolutive”, traditionally used as fumigation both therapeutic and after having cooked foods with an unpleasant smell (fish), or to remove mosquitoes and other insects. In Oman it is burned in temples and churches, but also in the house to welcome guests. It is also used in local applications such as balms and ointments, or as a powder or ash as a dermatological preparation. It is added to water to flavor it first to drink it, and as a digestive.

The first certain data on the custom of burning aromatic and resinous plants comes from the discovery
of an incense burner in the excavation area of ​​Qustul, in today’s Sudan, dating back to around 3,400 BC. Since the dawn of human history a rather limited group of aromatic materials has been used to make incense, in practice to create environmental fragrances. Many of the compounds present in these materials have a steroid-type chemical structure or a steroid odor (Boswellia spp.; Commiphora myrrha, Styrax benzoin, Cinnamomum cassia, C. zeylanicum, Santalum album, Cedrus atlantica, Vetiveria zizanoides).

Used in perfumery for the notes described above. It gives delicious effects associated with citrus fruits where it changes the sweetness of bergamot and orange oils. The essential oil of incense is in itself a base for all perfumes and is an important ingredient in many oriental bases, amber, floral perfumes, citrus colonies, spice mixes, violet perfumes, “masculine fragrances”, etc.

Frankincense essential oil: properties according scientific literature

The frankincense essential oil:

  •  according to Roulier (1990), is analgesic and analgesic as are the essential oils of cloves, lavender and mint.
  • according to P. Shelley, is excellent for anxiety and meditation. It is from antiquity that incense is used as a calming agent to induce a state of fulfillment, and it is useful against irritability, sadness, depression (in particular, in depression due to sorrow, accompanied by nightmares: ” Boswellia carteri is the only essential oil valid for both symptoms, so half of the drops used must be of this oil “). Boswellia carterii improves mood, alleviating sadness and stimulating the functions of the immune system. In the “aromatherapy treatise” Shelley also writes that: “The vaporization of lavender oil at night has improved the insomnia of some subjects with light insomnia. It binds well with the frankincense essential oil“. It is also bechico, antiseptic for the environment of the sick, anti-wrinkle.

Frankincense essential oil: cautions

Do not use if beyond the expiration date because the oxidized oil could cause irritation. Store in sealed containers, away from light and heat, if possible in the refrigerator.

Dr. Laura Comollo

For any clarification or for more information Contact us.

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