Frankincense (Boswellia spp.)

Frankincense (Boswellia thurifera, Boswellia serrata, Boswellia sacra)

Other common names: Olibanum, Ru Xiang, salai guggal, Indian frankincense, Arabic frankincense. 

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Family: Burseraceae

Actions:

Anti-inflammatory, aromatic, anticoagulant, immune booster, emmenagogue, diuretic, decongestant, expectorant, antitumorigenic, diaphoretic, anticarcinogenic, analgesic, stimulant, carminitive, digestive, antimicrobial, vulnerary, genitourinary tonic, sedative, astringent.

Boswellia_sacra_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-022

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Franz Eugen Kohler

Harvest:

Frankincense is traditionally harvested from May until the first autumn rain – usually in mid-September. Incisions are made in the tree’s trunk, and the oozing resin is allowed to harden, after which the cuts are made deeper. After approximately three months of this process, the clear resinous “tears” and cloudier, lesser-grade drippings can be scraped off and separated by purity. Currently, some species are at risk  due to over-harvesting.

Part used: Resin

Constituents:

Volatile oils, acid and gum resins (containing boswellic acid and alibanoresin), bassorin, 4-O-methyl-glucuronic acid, incensole acetate, phellandren, ketones, aromatic terpenes, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes.

Indications:

Arthritis, asthma, gas/indigestion, coughs, pain, congestion, excess mucous, bites/stings, infections, laryngitis, bronchitis, fevers, depression and anxiety. This resin has also shown promise in treating or preventing certain cancers (bladder in particular, but medical studies are still in progress.)

Medicinal preparations:

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Boswellia sacra. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Scott Zona

Internal

For centuries, frankincense resin has been taken internally – particularly in Africa and Asia. However, due to concerns about impurities and other factors, it is more commonly used as an external remedy now (or in aromatherapy). If you want to use it as an internal remedy, only do so after consulting with a qualified practitioner who can ensure you a clean, safe, therapeutic-grade product.

Do not take the essential oil internally. Although some practitioners disagree with me on this, I never recommend ingesting any essential oil. Not only are they highly concentrated, but some are adulterated with chemicals that are not safe for consumption, so please be careful.

External

Olibanum_resin

Frankincense resin. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Peter Presslein

 

Frankincense has been used in poultices, steam inhalations, incenses and aromatherapy applications. The essential oil can be extracted via steam distillation of the dried resin, however, some manufacturers use solvents. This can be diluted in a carrier oil and used in topical applications, such as massage oils, liniments or chest rubs. Be wary of “cheap” frankincense oils, which may be synthetic or poor quality.

Contraindications:

See notes above on internal use. Regardless of quality/purity, do not take internally if pregnant or nursing, or within 2 weeks of a scheduled surgery. It can act as a blood-thinner, and may interact with other blood-thinning medications (including aspirin, Ibuprofen, Warfarin, etc.) If used for digestive complaints, be aware that in some cases it can actually irritate the stomach lining as it stimulates digestion – this may result in worsening pain for those with peptic ulcers or similar conditions. Discontinue use immediately if symptoms worsen.

Those with sensitive skin (or an allergy to frankincense), may experience rash or irritation after applying topically. Patch test on a small area of skin and wait 24 hours before applying to a larger area.

I suggest consulting a pharmacist or physician before starting any herbal supplement if you are taking a prescription medication or have serious underlying health concerns.

Boswellia-sacra-greenhouse

Boswellia sacra. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Energetic/traditional use:

Frankincense has a rich history of ceremonial use, and was given as an offering to religious deities in several cultures. It was depicted in Egyptian art, and was considered trade currency, as well as medicine. It was also used as a perfume, hemlock antidote (I’m not sure how effective) and cosmetic (ancient Egyptians used charred frankincense to make the kohl they lined their eyes with).

Energetically, frankincense has a warm, dry, sweet constitution.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended as general education on herbs and is not intended to take the place of medical care. Please consult a health care professional before embarking on any health regime.

 

 

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