You can’t really talk about frankincense essential oil without talking about myrrh essential oil. If we look at their history, myrrh was traditionally more valuable than frankincense was, but frankincense was a more scarcer essential oil and as a resin. Therefore, the demand was greatly increased and its value over time has grown appreciably. Now it’s recognized to perhaps be the most valuable of all essential oils.
Anciently, there was a lot of frankincense that was produced, over 3,000 tons annually because of the large demand for essential oils. Now there are only a few hundred tons produced, and it gives you an indication of why it’s important and to understand the quality of any essential oil before you use it. Most essential oils on the market today have otherwise been altered or synthetically created just because of their scarcity or the cost it takes to produce them.
Similarities between Frankincense and Myrrh
They both come from a resin that’s liberated from the trees individually (the frankincense and myrrh trees). The myrrh itself has a very dark color. Frankincense has a lot of color variations in the resin.
The aroma of myrrh tends to be more bitter while the aroma of frankincense has a spicier tone.
Benefits Shared Between Frankincense and Myrrh
- Cell regeneration
- Skin rejuvenator and skin care
- Joint pain and discomfort
- Symptoms of colds and flu
Historical Uses of Frankincense
In 1868, frankincense was sited in India to have been used for laryngitis, bronchitis, and skin problems (ulcers, boils).
It was used orally to improve digestion and to strengthen the gums, and to protect against infection and improve eye sight. Pharaohs, queens, and persons of great wealth used frankincense in cosmetics and beautification facial masks.
Some of the most historical medical related documents, specifically the Papyrus Ebers (one of the oldest medical documents known), documents a rich history of essential oils, and frankincense was isolated to treat a variety of different ailments.
Frankincense was frequently used as incense. They would burn and char the resin to a blackened powder, called kohl, which was used as eyeliner. This was depicted in many of the familiar ancient Egyptian pictographs. The aroma of frankincense is still used today which acts as a powerful mood stabilizer. At the same time, frankincense helps alleviate anxiety and depression because it activates the ion channels of incensole acetate, a unique compound associated with Boswellia frereana.
Different Climates Produce Differences in Essential Oils
One of the reasons why the production of essential oils from the Boswellia frereana tree is superior, is because of the environment of their native habitat they’re grown in. With the process of chemical polymorphism, the environment creates stressors within the plant materials to produce the most potent and effective essential oil. Depending on where they’re grown, this largely determines the oils constituents.
There are some unique differences associated with where these species of essential oils are grown throughout the world. One of these is Boswellia carterii. It has a very arid odor because it has a high concentration of octyl acetate. This is an essential oil used as a flavoring and also an effective bug repellent, but because it’s the most readily available essential oil in the market today, it’s also the most widely researched of all frankincense essential oils.
Boswellia neglecta is generally not considered to be a high grade frankincense essential oil. It’s mostly used as a perfume rather than a species with significant medicinal benefits.
Boswellia rivae actualy grows in Ethiopia, unlike Somalia where Boswellia carterii, Boswellia neglecta, and Boswelllia sacra grow, and it produces an unusual amount of alpha pinene. As a monoterpene, they’re strongly anti-infectious and used for its anti-bacterial activity. It’s especially useful for candida and yeast infections.
Many of the compounds in one frankincense species are going to be duplicated in the other species, although the variation and the amount of those compounds will vary.
With frankincense oil you want a good diversity of compounds. One of the reasons why essential oils are so valuable and beneficial is because they’re not only isolated compounds, they have therapeutic balance, where multiple compounds are working together to create a synergistic effect. Since Boswellia rivae has high amounts of a singular compound, you would want to look for an essential oil that has wider range of benefits because of the compounds complexity.
Boswellia carterii, Boswellia sacra, and Boswellia serrata are not identical species. While Boswellia carterii and Boswellia sacra are grown in Somalia, the sacra species also comes from Yemen. Boswellia sacra is a favorite among essential oil producers, especially in the perfume industry, because it has a very deep woody tone. It’s also one of the least expensive, but not an essential oil you’d typically use medicinally.
Boswellia serrata originated from India and has a number of alpha-pinenes. It has some topical applications, but it’s generally used aromatically.
With frankincense, you must divide the resin. The darker variety of resin are “third quality“, which has traveled furthest from the tree’s incision point and has gathered impurities in the process. This does not necessarily mean the essential oil from third quality resins is of a lesser quality. The more white or opaque pieces of resin are called superfine. Generally, superfine is the resin that remains closest to the tree’s incision point. It has the least amount of impurities.
Modern-Day Uses of Frankincense
- Wounds, scare tissue, and ulcers
- Skin care, wrinkles
- Healthy immune response
- Nervous tension
Cellular Protection of Frankincense
70% of Frankincense is made of monoterpenes. When a cell and the DNA with it become damaged, it sends out a signal called the “Damaged DNA Response“, which either signals to repair the cell, or eliminate it. This stimulates apoptosis (cellular death), and damaged cells that remain have the potential to become mutated and cancerous in the body. Research from the University of California Berkeley demonstrated the ability of frankincense essential oil to help repair DNA once it’s become damaged.
Monoterpenes increase the level of liver enzymes involved in removing carcinogenic toxins. They’ve also been shown to slow and reduce potential tumor formation by interfering with cholesterol synthesis.
Frankincense has Anti-Aging Effects
There’s a limit to how much times a cell can replicate, which is called the Heyflick Limit. Some determining factors are associated with this: poor nutrition, high amounts of toxicity, and free radicals all can impact how effectively and how many times your cell can replicate. The other factor is a specialized protein of cells called the telomere. The more we’re exposed to toxicity and stressed we become, the shorter our telomeres become and the subsequent shorter life span of our cells. Frankincense has the ability to protect the telomeres- proper cellular lifespan.