Frankincense & Myrrh, a Theory on Holistic Tinctures

A Thought on the holistic tincturing of oleo-resins.

Each type of Oleo-Gum-Resin such as Myrrh, Opoponax, Mastic, the many types of Frankincense etc., contain different proportions of water-soluble gum and alcohol soluble oleo-resins, (resins and volatile oils).

I propose that when one of these Oleo-gum-resins is tinctured to extract its medicinal constituents and properties, that the 2 solvents used for tincturing, be in the same ratio to each other, as the ratio of gum to oleo-resins in the material being tinctured.

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera 60 grams. An oleo-gum-resin
Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera 60 grams. An oleo-gum-resin. Has a different percentage of gum to resin than Boswellia Rivae.

In a traditional medicinal, water/alcohol tincture, the gums are dissolved by the water, the oleo resins by the ethanol,(alcohol). What is left over after this extraction is mainly bark and other insoluble extraneous organic material. (Spagyric tinctures often put this to good use). The point of tincturing is to extract as much of the soluble active medicinal components as possible. Ideally exhausting the material by transferring all its chemical constituents to the medicine, while preserving any preexisting synergistic effects between them.

Considering that all parts of these natural Oleo-Gum-Resin exudates, (saps), contain valuable chemical constituents and compounds, and if there is no reason to isolate or change the natural composition of the material, it would  be a more efficacious  medicine if preserved as close to its natural state as possible

Myrrh tree, Myrrh Oleo-Resin, Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Ermias Dagne
Myrrh tree, Myrrh Oleo-Resin, Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Ermias Dagne

I propose that the best way to create a water/alcohol tincture that is true to its source material, is by using the same ratio of water to ethanol as the plant material exhibits in its ratio of gum to oleo-resin. That this is the only way to accurately migrate  the whole material authentically, with its inherent medicinal potency, and any “synergy” that is naturally present in the original material.

Boswellia, Frankincense Papyrifera. Gum, Resin and volatile oils.
“Solve'” applied to Boswellia Papyrifera. The triad is separated into its 3 components. Gum(on right), Resin, (on left), in solution, and essential oil. (Not in  their naturally occurring proportions ).

Thus, if a sample of Myrrh oleo-gum-resin contains 60% gum and 40% oleo-resins, and a Tincture was made using 100% ethanol, it would only extract the resins and volatile oils. It would have a negligible amount of water-soluble gum. Certainly nothing close to the gum to oleo-resin proportions found in the original material. One would assume this extraction would not offer the same medicinal effects as the whole oleo-gum-resin. 1- Because the water-soluble gum contains   chemical constituents that have medicinal value on their own. And 2- because whatever effects the synergy of the whole material had in its natural form, would be lost.

Myrrh is a common resin in the Horn of Africa.
Myrrh is a common resin in the Horn of Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this method, a solvent mix composed of 20% alcohol and 80% water would not extract a tincture that was representative of the original material either. Rather it would contain more gum than oleo-resins than the original Myrrh. The same could be said of any other combination of these two solvents other than a combination of water to alcohol that reflected as closely as possible the actual proportions of gum to oleo-resin found in the material tinctured.

Some types of Frankincense contain very little gum, such as Boswellia Frereana.  As low as 0. 5%-0.1%, see AritiHerbal table of Extractability of Boswellia Resin. Other types of Frankincense have greater proportions of gum to oleo-resin. According to this theory of holistic tincturing,  the unique qualities inherent in each oleo-gum-resin, can only be  reproduced in a tincture if the natural ratio of gum to oleo resin in the source material is reflected accurately in the ratio of water to alcohol in the tincturing solvent. One could assume it would keep the same natural synergy in the original material intact by keeping all the chemical constituents in the same relative proportion to each other in the finished product or tincture.

Boswellia, Frankincense Frereana. Called Yeminite chewing gum.
Containing almost no water-soluble gum, Frankincense Frereana does not dissolve when masticated, for this reason it is used as a chewing gum and can be purchased under the name “Yemenite chewing gum”. It is composed mainly of resin and essential oils.

I am not a trained scientist, nor do I have access to the instruments that would put this theory of holistic tincturing to the test.  I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone besides myself, or if there is any corroborating research out there to support this theory, but I would Love to hear any opinions, conflicting or supporting.


As an addendum ,( written a month or two after this post), I need to add that after thought, contemplation, examination and the occasional dream, I realize there may be one other way to extract all of the essential oils, resin and gum from these oleo-gum resins. The one way they could be extracted in their entirety and with their naturally occurring proportions intact, without a knowledge of their inherent gum-resin-oil ratios is, If  a “disproportionately large” amount of alcohol/water is used for the extraction. So instead of making a 1:5 or 1:6 tincture with 1 being the oleo-gum-resin, something like a 1:10 tincture could be prepared. using much more water than the quantity of gum required, and much more alcohol than the oleo-resin required. In this way all the components could be extracted. However…the obvious drawback, is that there would be a much higher quantity of liquid and a lower proportion of oleo-gum-resin. So it can be done, but with a price. In a way, cheating a bit. This 1:10 ratio tincture, though containing all the soluble and desired parts of the material, would be very weak, which is not ideal and I see no finesse, or advantage to it. It would be very very difficult, if even possible, to remove the excess solvents without losing some of the volatile oils.

Since I am on the topic I will take this opportunity to raise a point that I will address in greater detail  in a future post. Lately there has been a lot of talk about the healing properties of Boswellic acid found in Boswellia Sacra. Though much important research has been done on the different types of Frankincense, and Boswellic acid does show great promise as an anti-inflammatory and antitumor, among other important applications,  it is not a volatile  or essential oil . Which means little, if any Boswellic acid is found in the essential oil of Boswellia Sacra/Carterii.  Whatever Boswellic acid is present in the oleo-gum-resins of some of the members of the Boswellia family, resides  in the resin part, not in the “Oil”, and is not normally extracted with the essential oils. If a  company claims that its essential oil of Frankincense Sacra has a “high percentage  of Boswellic acid, then one should ask, how did it get there??

Food for thought.



  1. You were speaking of water and alcohol combo to render a tincture from boswellia.
    What if you treated the brew as a hydrosol as a first step and then treated the residue with alcohol. after allowing the booze to do its thing…combine the two liquids together. Would that not do the trick?

    1. Peter. Had to think about your idea….and well..
      It is brilliant, and why didn’t I think of that! :-).
      A little more work but could give you a perfect holistic tincture reflecting the original ratio of gum to Oleo resin in the material.
      So, do a water extraction first, then when the material is exhausted, do an alcohol extraction of the residue. Only bark and extraneous particles should be left. Then recombine the two liquids. An elegant solution.
      I will have to revise the post and include your insightful alternative.
      Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. I made a myrrh tincture, when it was finished infusing I added some purified water to make a mouthwash, it turned a milky white, like in the picture you have in this article. Is it safe to use ?

    1. Hi, and thank you for visiting.
      Yes absolutely! The alcohol helped the water and oleoresins combine to make an emulsion. It won’t keep as long as it would with the higher alcohol content you started with, so if you have a large quantity of this emulsion, best to keep it in the fridge.

  3. Hi dan

    Just a quick clarification on certain issue which of great importance to the harvesters.
    both the boswellia carterii and frereana are exclusivly found only in the northern highlands of somaliland in a region known as sanaag.

    Other than that keep up the good work. I always find your knowledge intriguing and Honest.

    Kind regards


    1. Dear Hassan, Thank you so much for your interest in my blog, and especially for your insightful comment. Though I am more familiar with the Ethiopian varieties of Frankincense, and the Yemenite grown Boswellia Frereana from personal experience, you are quite right. I should not neglect to mention the origins of the Yemenite B. Frereana trees, is, actually Somalia. I believe all the Yemenite trees were originally collected and transplanted from Somalia where B. Frereana is found growing in the wild. I will go over my posts and add this important information to my references to B. Frereana. I will also make sure I have not neglected to mention that Boswellia Carterii is native to Somalia alone. Thank you for pointing this out. I hope some day I will be able to visit Somaliland and the Sanaag highlands, but till then I will have to rely on information provided by kind individuals such as yourself.
      Currently I don’t even have an authentic or verified sample of Boswellia Carterii in my possession. When I do, I look forward to working with it and writing about it. I will make a point of sending you a link when I do.
      Warm regards, and thank you for your kind words.

    2. Hi dan

      I have 0.5 kg of b.carterii resin 2013 harvest, i can always post it to you from the uk, where im based.
      ive just returned from somaliland ( not somalia-thats where all the madness is going on!! ). Easy enough to get from ethiopia.

      Quick questions ive just started to distill myrrh for the very first time. However im stuck on removing the emulsion & water. Its been a week now, as it settles to the bottom, its still has a milky complexion. How do i filter it and only have clear oil.

      Let me know your thoughts.
      Many thanks

      P.s where do i send the 0.5kg ?

      1. Hi. Thank you for your gracious offer. I would love to have a confirmed quantity of B. Carterii to work with, but I can’t directly help you.
        I have not yet distilled Myrrh. The supplier who does distill my oils, refuses to distill any more Myrrh for the difficulties it poses. Sounds like you are experiencing similar issues.
        If you like I can check with him and forward his address to you. I thought the names Somaliland and Somalia were interchangeable. I will have to look it up. I am happy to send you something from my store if there is anything of interest to you.
        My address is D. Riegler
        208 Macnab St. N.
        Hamilton ON
        L8R 2M4 Canada

      2. Hi

        Its alright mate, its sorted. Just wanted to know how to clear the cloud of impurities from the oil. SALT. added a little salt and refiltered. Beautiful look and smell.

        I will send you the resin. Will post it out on monday, might take a few days to reach you.

        In regards to somaliland/somalia. Its a big no-no. 30yrs of civil war between the two countries. The northern part s/land in the county of sanaag is where 90% of the :
        B.frereana /maydi
        Are found

        , im looking toexport oils and resins to your part of the world,and looking for information on your market. Ie: if any one would be interested in large quantities ?

        Appreciate your responses and looking forward to your comments.

      3. Salt… Sounds like an eloquent solution!! I was thinking freezing would work, but salt sounds simpler..
        I am interested in talking further about importing all the above mentioned oils and oleoresins to North America. When you are ready- contact me at Cheers and good luck!

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