Frankincense Essential Oil- Benefits, Uses, and Origin
The name frankincense translates from the Old French franc encens which literally means “high-quality incense”. It has been harvested and traded from the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula for more than 6,000 years and has been used in various religious ceremonies in the Middle East. It is extracted from the resin of different Boswellia trees, the most common of which is B. carterii. The trees are tapped two to three times a year to harvest the resin, and the best ones are harvested from the final taps. Today, most resins used for frankincense oil come from the plants cultivated in northern Africa such as Somalia, from which the Roman Catholic Church sources its stocks.
The uses for frankincense oil continue to grow with much research. Traditional Chinese medical records pair frankincense with its equally famous kingly gift: myrrh. In addition to being part of the gifts presented by the Magi of the East to the child Jesus, frankincense and myrrh were also famous for the treatment of blood stagnation, inflammatory diseases, and relief for pain and swelling in ancient medicine.
Frankincense essential oil is obtained when the tree resins collected from B. carterii undergo steam distillation. More than 75% of the oil’s components contain monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes such as alpha-pinene, limonene, alpha-Thujene, and beta-Pinene. Frankincense oil comes in a variety of grades that depend on the time of harvesting.
Ancient Uses of Frankincense Essential Oil
The trade of frankincense goes back to 4000 BC. It was one of the prized produce traded on the back of elephants through the Silk Road connecting the east and the west. Frankincense oil was traditionally used as antibacterial during surgical and internal medicine practice by the Chinese.
The Egyptians used frankincense to cleanse body cavities during mummification, whereas the ancient Hebrews used it as an incense offering during sacrificial rites at the Ark of the Covenant. The frankincense oil is also used to cleanse the house or building of bad or evil energy, including being used in exorcisms by Abrahamic religions.
Uses of Frankincense Essential Oil
Today, frankincense essential oil is found to have multiple health benefits. Clinical studies have found that the resin from which frankincense oil is derived is effective against asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, and relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
The centuries-old use of frankincense essential oil to relieve asthma has been researched and proven effective by studies. Compounds found in frankincense are proven to prevent the production of leukotrienes, which cause the constriction of bronchial muscles during asthma attacks. These compounds also affect the inflammation and mucus-causing agents in people with asthma.
Promotes relaxation and tranquility
Because of its sweet and woodsy fragrance, frankincense essential oil is often diffused to elevate daily spiritual and meditational experiences. People who practice yoga incorporate frankincense into their yoga routines to promote tranquility and aid in meditation. Blending sandalwood and chamomile oil to frankincense oil and diffusing it in the room can help during meditation.
Keeps the gut healthy
A 2017 study found that when combined with other herbal medicine, frankincense essential oil is effective in reducing abdominal pain, bloating, as well as depression and anxiety experienced by people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The frankincense resin was also found to effectively suppress symptoms of ulcerative colitis, one of the most common and pervasive inflammatory gut conditions.
Prevents oral infections
Frankincense essential oil may be effective in reducing microbes that cause oral disorders, proving the oil’s antibacterial properties. A study showed that frankincense was effective against the aggressive gum-disease causing bacteria Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans.
Reduce arthritis and other inflammatory diseases
Leukotrienes are not only found in the bronchial muscles of people with asthma. It also causes inflammation in people with arthritis. The terpenes found in frankincense essential oil appear to be its strongest anti-inflammatory compound. Frankincense also helps reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Promotes healthy-looking skin
Frankincense essential oil is also used as an ingredient in skin-care products to relieve dry skin and prevent wrinkles, age spots, scars, and stretch marks. Frankincense essential oil may be added to facial moisturizer to highlight the natural beauty and even out skin tones. It is also found to be compatible with bentonite clay masks for a more nourished and fresh skin.
For a soothing massage
Frankincense oil is a great treat for tired hands and feet. A couple of drops onto the skin gives a soothing and warm effect especially when used during a light massage. The oil also relieves cracked skin that is commonly found on the hands and feet.
Has anti-cancer properties
One of the most interesting findings on the health benefits of frankincense may be its anti-cancer properties. The boswellic acids found in frankincense were found to prevent the spread of cancerous cells in a test-tube experiment. To date, studies suggest that frankincense may be able to fight breast, prostate, pancreatic, skin, and colon cancer cells.
Safety and Precaution Tips
Frankincense essential oil has been used for centuries and is generally safe for most people. However, it is still important to consult a medical professional before using frankincense, especially for pregnant and nursing women.
Some studies report that frankincense may have side effects including indigestion, constipation, and nausea.
Caution is also needed in using frankincense as it may interact with some medications such as blood thinners and nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. A 2020 report found that frankincense is one of the components that may interfere with the body’s inflammatory response during a COVID-19 infection, whereas another suggested that it may be a good complementary therapy to COVID-19 treatments. More research is needed on its safety especially its interaction with other medicine.
For topical application, it is important to dilute the frankincense essential oil with a carrier oil. Doing a skin patch test first can help determine one’s reaction to the essential oil.