How to extract the healing properties of Frankincense and other oleo-resins
There is increasing information online about the healing properties of the different types of Frankincense. Notably, the Boswellic acid family including AKBA which make up a large proportion of the resin in these oleo-gum-resins. In general, they all share anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which make them ideal for many external and internal applications. Phytochemicals in Frankincense have been proven useful for arthritis, rheumatism, cancer, ulcers, colitis, brain injuries, depression, and much more. They are especially useful in cremes, oils and salves to help rejuvenate the skin, increase elasticity, reduce wrinkles and signs of aging. Many of these healing compounds can be absorbed through the skin and are able to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Oleo-resins are composed of volatile oils, or essential oils, and resins which are not volatile and cannot be separated via water or steam distillation. Though we rely heavily on essential oils to deliver the therapeutic properties of plants in our medicine and cosmetics, many of Frankincense’s therapeutic properties reside in its resin portion. Boswellic acid, lately researched and promoted heavily for its anti-cancer properties is one of many heavier therapeutic compounds that are not naturally present in the distilled essential oils
The whole oleo-resin provides a broader spectrum of phytochemicals, and from a holistic and synergistic point of view more effective than the isolated essential oils.
There is not much information on processing oleo-resins online, nor is there an abundance of research available on the many types of Frankincense compared to other medicinal Herbs. This is slowly changing as the interest in therapeutic properties of oleo-resins increases.
A great number of the tree oleo-resins in our little garden world hold therapeutic properties that we have used for thousands of years, long before distilled essential oils were commonly available. Mastic, Spruce, Pine, Fir, Opoponax, Myrrh, Frankincense and many others have been highly valued for their healing properties. We are only beginning to appreciate the degree of their healing potential.
Oleo-resins are usually extracted via volatile solvents. The most common are ethanol and petroleum distillates. Once the oleo-resin is separated from any water-soluble gum and foreign material, the solvent is evaporated and the remaining sticky mass utilized.
Another approach is to use non-volatile solvents such as vegetable oils and animal fats to extract the therapeutic compounds from oleoresins. They are much gentler than many volatile solvents, do not harm the environment in their production, use and disposal and pose no threat to our health in topical or internal applications. They are easy to make, purchase and use, they break down and decompose without adding toxins to the environment, and are safe and easy enough to use in any kitchen and home. Using non-volatile solvents creates new opportunities for self care and making our own medicine.
Non-volatile solvents for Frankincense oleo-resins
The use of vegetable oils as solvents and carriers for oleo-resins makes these products eminently suitable for external use as oils, liniments, cremes and salves. It can also provide an option for a more readily digestible and easily assimilated product for internal use.
This type of extraction requires no special laboratory chemicals or equipment, and can be performed in any kitchen or field with a simple water bath, mortar and pestle or electric coffee grinder. Oh, and a pillow case..
Solvent/carrier oils for whole oleo-resins
I have found 2 vegetable oils work particularly well with most oleo-resins. They are Jojoba oil and Olive oil. I stick to cold pressed extra virgin Olive oil even though it often has a more bitter flavour and scent.
Jojoba works well if the finished product is for external application only. Jojoba is really a wax and not a true oil. It keeps extremely well on its own, though if making an emulsion type crème, a broad spectrum preservative is needed due to the presence of water.
Oleoresins are natural preservatives. Hence their extensive use historically for embalming and preserving corpses…. However, I can find no studies that show exactly what percent of oleoresins will preserve vegetable oils or aqueous solutions, and for how long. So for the time being some type of preservative is called for.
Olive oil is an ideal carrier and solvent. It has been used for centuries for its therapeutic effects on skin, hair and GI tract. If you plan to keep any vegetable oil or animal fat product longer than 6 months unrefrigerated, Vitamin E will greatly delay rancidity and extend its shelf life.
Any vegetable type oil, (not mineral-based), or animal fat such as tallow or lard will work as a solvent for most oleoresins.This includes Coconut oil, nut oils such as Almond, Hazelnut and Macadamia and any of the exotics such as Argan oil, Baobab oil etc. Choose an oil based on your needs and preferences. Some oils keep longer than others though Vitamin E will extend the life of most oils.
Instructions for making an oleo-resin extract
- If you are using any type of Frankincense, Mastic, Myrrh, Elemi or other hard brittle oleo-resins, grind them to a fine powder first. (See the post on how to grind Frankincense & Myrrh. ). The finer you grind them, the more readily and quickly they will dissolve in the oil.
- If using fresh pliable oleo-resins such as Spruce, Pine or Fir, the soft saps can be used as they are.
- In a water bath heat up 1 part oleo-resins by weight to 2-3 parts oil in a glass or mason jar. (See A Solid moustache wax recipe) for complete directions on making and using a water bath at home.
- When the bath reaches temperature and starts boiling, stir to break up any lumps and let sit in a simmering bath with occasional stirring for up to 3 hours.
- Remove from the bath and filter when no more oleo-resin can be dissolved.
In the case of Boswellia Frereana, Maydi), the oleoresin dissolves into the oils within minutes of the bath reaching the boiling point. (It has little to no water-soluble gum). As soon as you have a hot homogenous liquid you can proceed directly to filtering.
Filtering the oleo-resin extract
- Filter the hot liquid carefully through a fine metal mesh coffee filter, the corner of a well washed and thoroughly rinsed and dried pillowcase, or through a good piece of cotton cloth similar in weave to a bed sheet.
- Place your filtering material in a funnel over a clear glass vessel or jar. (so later you can gauge when most of the sediment has fallen).
- Add the hot liquid extract.
- If using a cloth filter, twist the excess cloth on top to form a sachet, and press out the liquid from this bag with the back of a spoon.
- If using a metal mesh filter, running the back or side of the spoon against the mesh will keep the liquid flowing and the mesh open.
- Working with the extraction while it is still hot keeps it mobile, liquid and more easily filtered. It will thicken a bit when cool.
- Cover and set aside.
- Compost the residue or return it to the earth.
- Wait till all sediment falls to the bottom of the vessel. This could take a day or so.
- Pour or siphon off the clear liquid, leaving the sediment. You can return this or use it for external applications.
- If you plan to keep your extract around for a while, add 400 IU of Vitamin E to each 250 ml. or cup of extract. And it is ready to use.
For internal use I suggest starting with 1/2 teaspoon of extract with food. See how your body feels about it. This is uncharted territory and you are ultimately in charge of your own health. We don’t know how much is too much. However compared to ingesting pure essential oils as some do, this method is relatively easy on the body and I believe likely more effective.
For external use, apply to face, joints etc as often as desired. Again, listen to your body….
To make a Frankincense or oleoresin cosmetic crème
I am not an expert in cosmetics formulation. There is an abundance of great recipes online written by people with much greater knowledge of this art than I. I suggest you find one with detailed instructions for making an oil/water creme that appeals to you, and replace the oil portion in any of these recipes with your oleoresin extract to make a healing creme. The guidelines below are simply that, loose guidelines based around a recipe that works for me at the moment.
- Set up a fresh water bath with one jar for oil and a large jar for distilled water.
- Put the filtered and sedimented extract back in a jar in the water bath.
- Add distilled water in the second jar in a quantity that makes up 75% to 80% of the total weight of your finished creme. More water means a slightly thinner lotion or creme.
- If you are not using delicate oils, heat the water bath till boiling till both jars and the bath have reached the same temperature-If you are using oils that won’t tolerate high temperature then follow the instructions that come with the oil and bring both vessels in the water bath to the appropriate and same temperature.
- Calculate the total of all the oil soluble components you will have in your product, carrier oil, essential oils, waxes and oil based preservative if you are going to use one.
- Add 25% of the weight of the oil based portion of your product in emulsifying wax.
- Blend the wax in the oil completely.
- Remove from the bath and add the water slowly to your oil/wax mixture in a large enough bowl or jar to hold both materials comfortably.
- Stir or blend the oil-wax mixture for a couple of minutes and let sit. Every 15 minutes or so, repeat the blending till the mixture is room temperature and has started to thicken.
- This cooldown period is the time to add your essential oils and any other products that are heat sensitive. the weight of essential oils is added to the overall weight of the oil when you calculate how much wax to add.
- When room temperature and of the right consistency pour into clean, sterile containers. If you have not added a preservative then keep refrigerated.
- For long-term unrefrigerated use, a preservative is a must since you have added water to the formula. Bacteria and moulds are “suitcase in hand”, just waiting to move in. Liquid Germal Plus works well as a broad spectrum preservative and seems relatively benign.
- Add during the “Cooldown” stage and follow the directions that come with the product. It is considered one of your oil soluble ingredients and should be added to your calculation of how much wax needs to be added to your formula.
- Of course you can improvise with the formula to your heart’s desire. Depending on the purpose of your creme and your personal preferences, there are many waxes, oils, colourants and essential oils you can fine tune your product with. These are just the basics. I expect you to explore, be creative and have fun with it.
- For an excellent an excellent website dedicated to all facets of lotion and creme making, recipes, instructions, and tutorials, please visit Makingskincare.com.
I am told regularly by concerned friends that I should not share secrets, methods and successful recipes online. I disagree. I believe we are at a stage in our evolution as a global society that all information needs to be shared freely and openly. The internet is our collective brain and even our collective consciousness. We all draw from it, and contribute to it one way or another. The time for hiding things, for secrets and shadows in the world is past. We need to share whatever we have. If we all shared freely and none of us hoarded any resources, there would be more than enough of everything to go around. There would be no lack in the world, no poverty, and likely no war. If we all actively sought opportunities to share, the transformation would be immediate. I also believe whatever we put out there always comes back to us in whatever form we need.
So. Have fun, be responsible for your health and wellbeing, and share what you have.
And always, always keep clear notes!
Your future self will thank you.
I am interested in your point of view on the following idea: dissolve boswellia tears in turpentine.
I take turpentine (internally) periodically and recently got interested in boswellia. So I was wondering if steeping frank tears in clean turpentine for a certain number of days or weeks (to be determined) would extract the boswellic acid?
As an experiment I have a tablespoon soaked in turp in a small bottle sitting for a few days and start seeing a thick cloud forming on top of the tears and was wondering if that’s the therapeutic part or something else.
Your comment much appreciated.
Yes, Frankincense oleoresin will dissolve in Turpentine and other essential oils in much the same way as it does in warm oil and alcohol.
The water soluble gum will be left behind as granules that you can sediment or filter out.
Heating thr mixture in a water bath will help dissolve the resin and speed up the process. I suggest a gentle heat between 40-60 degrees centigrade. It will benefit from macerating for a few weeks in a warmish spot. I would leave it to sit 4-6 weeks before filtering and bottling it. Make sure you powder the material as fine as you can. The thick cloud you saw floating in the turpentine is likely the resin dissolving in the turpentine.
Good luck with your experiments!!
thank you very much for sharing this article! Yesterday, I did my own oil extract of Boswellia papyrifera into fractionated coconut oil. The colour turned out exactly as yours, however, the smell surprised me. I expected similar smell as to when frankincense is incensed but the smell of my oil reminds me of fresh lemons instead. It has a very subtle acidic smell. Is it correct or should I be suspicious something turned wrong during the process of making? Thanks
Usually the scent of the infused oil is similar to but stronger than the fresh resin. Not at all like the burned resin.
If your oil does not smell like the fresh resin then I would check your oil to see if it has gone bad or if any of your tools and vessels came in contact with a substance that could pass on it’s fragrance to your product.
A good way to capture the scent of your fresh resin is to hold some if it tightly in your clenced hand, let it sit and warm for a few minutes, then put your nose to the warm resin and gently inhale.
HI dan, question when do you know that you’ve extracted all the frankincense tears into the oil? first i ground up the tears into a fine powder, then i put it in a jar and added oil to it, then placed that into a pot of water and turned up the water so it was just under boil, very hot, i still see lots of white sediment at the bottom of the oil after a few hours, does it stay like this? or am i done? thanks, anna
I tested the results after infusing powdered Frankincense for 3 hours in a boiling water-bath and letting the infusion stand for 4 weeks. I found I had extracted approximately 90% of the oil-soluble resins. The sediment at the bottom of your infusion is mostly the water-soluble gum that will not dissolve in the warm oil. Once filtered out it makes a great exfoliant in soaps and other skincare products.
This was very informative! Do you think I could use coconut oil instead of olive oil? Thank you very much for all info!!
Most vegetable oils available for use in cosmetics, (or food), are suitable carriers and will dissolve the resins.
Rendered pigs lard was used in times past as a base for medicinal ointments and cosmetic creams. Today is is usually oils produced from trans fats in cosmetics and commercial ointments & creams..Pigs fat in particular is very similar to & permeable to human skin. Vegetable and seed oils have become popular only very recently
Thank you for this post and your amazing point of view!
Thank you so much Dan for this excellently written article . It gave me exactly the information I needed and I particularly agree wholeheartedly with your feelings about the world’s need for this kind of open sharing at this time .
Thank you /dan for sharing your information. I agree with you about free sharing and do this on my own blog. Grateful for the information on Frankincense. I will be trying out your methods.
Maybe you can help me. I have some Labdanum it’s like a dark very sticky stuff and smells very good but I am just getting interested in Essential Oils and wanted to try some health remedies and some perfumes so I got this Labdanum but no idea how to make it into something like a liquid I can use to make perfumes unless maybe wondering if I put a little in a glass jar and added some essential oils to it a few days if that would add fragrance to that oil so I would still get the fragrance of the Labdanum and can then I guess strain it and add a couple more essential oils and come up with something that would work because I don’t see anything else I can do especially because it’s extremely sticky. I would appreciate any advice I can get. Got to get off here a little while and so glad maybe I finally found something that will help with this Labdanum.
You could indeed infuse your Labdanum resin in an essential oil for a very potent fragrance material.
Traditionally, Labdanum resin is infused in either alcohol or a carrier oil, filtered, and then added to a blend or a perfume product. These are all options for you.
Thank you for sharing what you know, and are learning. Hoarding comes from fear (of lack, of loss) while sharing comes from love. You are choosing love—good for you!
Hi Dan. I have infused frankincense in a 1:3 ratio of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil by crushing the Boswellia Sacra and putting the jars in a water bath in a crockpot for 26 hours on low. No boiling. The color is beautiful. I’m looking to have an oil I can use for topical treatment as an anti-tumor agent to help with lipomas on my arms. I have had someone tell me recently that the only way I can get the Boswellic acids I need for this use is to make a tincture. Is this true? I love your knowledge and I suspect that my oil is good. I went by instinct and love my finished product. I just wanted to run it by you. Thank you for your help and I can’t thank you enough for sharing your knowledge so I can find it.
You are right to listen to your intuition.
The resin acids, including the boswellic acids are indeed collected via the warm vegetable oil.
While it is true that an alcohol tincture will collect them, it is not practical for topical use since it leaves a sticky residue of resin on the skin. An oil extract prepared just as you have done is a much better product for external use and likely delivers a higher concentration of Boswellic acids.
A tincture collects both the water-soluble gum and the resin/essential oil while an oil extraction absorbs only the resin and essential oils.
I believe the boswellic acid is in the gum, not the resin, so an oil extraction actually wouldn’t be successful for this purpose.
Hi Derek. That’s interesting. Can you elaborate?!
Found my way here looking for info… My research says the Boswellic acids are in the resin, not the water soluble gum. So discarding the water as per your directions makes sense. Another interesting point though – boswellic acid needs to be combined with either fatty alcohol (like vegetable wax emulsifiers) or fatty acids (oil) in order to be effective. I recently made a ‘dit dat jiao’ hit formula, per traditional chinese medicine, with an alcohol extraction. Pretty bummed about how sticky the feel was. I wanted a liquid final product, not an emulsion, so I ruled out adding oil to compensate. I tried a small percent of cetearyl alcohol, and it improved the stickyness quite a bit, though not completely. On the downside, it also muted some of the menthol by binding to it as well I’m assuming. Just more of a ‘slow release’ effect, vs instant visceral cooling. Anyway… file it away under random data.
Dan, Have you ever used dmso to dissolve the oleoresin in? I know it is classified as a solvent, but it is so much more. Just curious what you thought. It has properties, I am told, like Frankincense, in that it crosses blood/brain barrier…thanks man, for all you do…
Hi Frankie. As if yet, I have no personal experience with resins and DMSO. If you try it please let me know how it went.
Hi Dan! Thank you for this thorough article! I do have a couple questions- do you know if emu oil would make a good carrier for infusing the resin?
Also, if it dissolves into the oil, what are we filtering out withe the pillow case/sieve?
And you mentioned water a few times so I’m a little confused. Does the resin contain water? Will it introduce water to the oil?
I have a customer who uses Emu oil exclusively with great success. The only drawback, as far as I know, is that it may have a limited shelf life.
Frankincense contains oil soluble resin and water-soluble gum. After we grind the material and extract the oil soluble resin, we need to separate the water-soluble gum which remains in the oil undissolved. Hence the pillowcase.
Regarding your last question, there is a very small % of water present in the gum and it is separated when the gum is removed.
Thank you Dan for sharing such wonderful and precious knowledge in such a hugely helpful way. I found your website a couple of months ago when I wanted to know about buying a good quality Frankincense on my trip to Jordan and Israel in January. Now I’m back to learn how to use the resin I bought. I’m going to try the warm oil strategy first, though my husband might make a small distiller for us. Especially if we could also distill eucalyptus oil. Being from Australia there’s plenty of that around! Perhaps you can tell me if the same distilling method is good for eucalyptus leaves? A book I have on oils says eucalyptus is best distilled for extraction, and there’s only the one general method of distilling, right? Thought I’d ask while I’m here before ‘googling’ it. Thanks again!
Yes! You can use the same type of distiller for eucalyptus leaves. Some folks prefer to do a hydrodistillation where the leaves are immersed in the water in a similar manner to frankincense, a hydrodistillation, and others prefer to suspend the leaves in a basket above the boiling water and perform a steam distillation. Both can be conducted in a simple still and most stills come with a basket for steam distillation from the vapours if the boiling water..
Hello Dan! I think I found a way to get the harder older resin powders to melt into my jojoba. And I have a question further down.
I infuse my jojoba with cottonwood buds first. Strain and put the strained oil in a jar in a ban marie to warm up.
Meanwhile, I have powdered my pine/fir/spruce resin I collect (most of it hard) the Frankincense oleoresin powder I had get from you. (to powder I put the chunks in a ziplock bag and with a mallet I gently pound the bag, put the crushed/powder resin and collect the fine powder.
I have an old 1/2 gallon stainless steel percolating coffee pot with a spout. I add the powder resin (1/2 pine and 1/2 frank) slowly as it melts on a medium heat.
As stir and watch, the resin slowly melts, as it accumulates I pour into the warm jojoba. Since the unmelted resins sink, it is easy to just slowly pour it off without any unmelted chunks falling in.
It doesn’t take too long to melt the resin and add it all to the warm oil!
So my question is – even on a med heat the resin gets pretty hot and bubbles a little. I don’t want to burn it. I am curious what your thoughts are on my process? It seem good just want to make sure I am not over heating the resin. I like that I can add the melted resin slowly into the infused oil so I don’t damage the cottonwood infusion in anyway (I do warm infusion with fresh leaf buds for this infusion). This oil I will make into a salve with beeswax etc.
Any comments are appreciated! I see others experiments here with melting harder, older resin powders and thought I would chime in now that I have “discovered” my process in case anyone wants to offer their thoughts.
Many blessings! Valerie
Hi Valerie. Thank you for your comment. The percolating pot is a great idea. Does the resin sit at the bottom or does it dissolve and disappear into the oil? Does all the resin dissolve in the oil, or are you left with a residue after you turn off the heat? The ideal is for all if the resin to get absorbed by the carrier oil
As long as you have the oil sitting in a water bath or a double boiler, you will never need to worry about overheating the resin. The bath will keep the temperature under 100 degrees centigrade or 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thank you for such a wonderful article! I was wondering if it is necessary to filter at all, or can the oil be used as is. I want to use it internally for medicinal purposes. Also can it be used immediately instead of letting it sit for a few weeks. Is there ay advantage to using the oil medicinally rather than just the ground powder? Will it digest better? Thank you.
Hi a few questions. What carrier oil will keep the longest (years?) when infusing with frankincense resin. What is the best frankincense to use for a most fragrant aroma when infusing in oil.
When it comes to choosing the best Frankincense fragrance, it really is a personal choice and everyone is different. As far as a carrier oil that will keep for a long time, I use Jojoba or Fractionated Coconut oil. Both will last many years under normal conditions.
You are doing a great Job,
can you help me how to extract oil from Myrrh?
Thank You In Advance!
The essential oil can be extracted from Myrrh via distillation and an oil extract can be produced by infusing powdered Myrrh in a carrier oil of your choice. The process is identical to that used to make a Frankincense oleo-extract, however, Myrrh contains a substantially smaller amount of both resin and essential oil and yields these more reluctantly. A longer stay in the hot water bath and extended maceration of up to 6 months give better results with Myrrh. Even then, because of the reduced amount of essential oils in the resin, there will not be as strong a fragrance as a Frankincense oleo-extract.
Hello, can I put a lid on mason jar when it is being bathed in bain Marie, picture shows them with lids ?
Hi Mandi. Yes you can as long as you do not put it on tight. I do so sometimes to keep splashes of water from spraying in.
Yes, I sometimes put a lid on the jars but very loosely and only to keep water from splashing in if I don’t have a lot of clearance in the water bath between the water and the tops of the jars. I do not tighten the lids.
I have read your article on the oil extraction of different resins. Will it be possible to use the same method to extract the dragon blood?
Hi Ms Isa.
Yes, most types of dragons blood resin will yield themselves partially to a hot oil extraction. There will always be some compounds that do not dissolve in the oil.
thank you for all the info. I have followed your site for a while as you have some of the better incite to working with resins that i can find.
I do have one question. I have read through most of the comments and your articles.
when i do a heat extract in oil of the frankincense. I cant seem to get the powder to fully dissolve in the oil. I have currently done 2 extracts on the same powder and both seem to be absorbed into the oil. so I feel like a 1:4 or even 1:5 ratio is maybe too low and the oil has reach saturation each time. is it normal for the resin to to dissolve completely in the oil?
would appreciate your feed back and experience
Hi. Most frankincense is made up of oil-soluble resin and water-soluble gum. When dissolving frankincense powder in warm oil you will always have a residue if undissolved gum. Some people use this fraction as an exfoliant in cosmetic products.
Thank you for all of the information. I am awestruck, and will not spend another penny on frankincense essential oil for my face now that I realize how much more healing the whole resin is. I have a question! You have another post on the website wherein you use two jars in the water bath, and add the oil a little at a time. Yet here the resin and oil are heated in the same jar. Can you please clarify?
Hi Dan! I’m am so glad I found your site. Your articles have really made me excited to try new things with frankincense. I was wondering if I could still use the resin for salve if I make tea out of it first? Once the water part has been used, couldn’t I just dry and powder what’s left and put it in oil, and then make a salve?
Hi. The beauty of the emulsion created with a traditional frankincense tea, is that a good portion of the resin joins the water and water-soluble gum.
Though most of the resin will be taken up in the emulsion, there could be some left. You can definitely dissolve it in warm oil and make a medicated oil or salve. The only drawback using this material is that there won’t be much of it. Especially if you repeat the infusion of the material more than once as is done traditionally.
Hi Dan, Thank you for sharing this info! It’s great! Can you please tell me what temperature I am meant to heat the water to? Thank you 🙂
Bring the water in the water bath to a boil and let it simmer to provide an even temperature for your products.
Thanks for this valuable information!
Can I use Oleo extracts to make alcohol based perfumes? Or it is better to use tinctures?
In general you can add a small amount of oil based extract to an alcohol-based perfume. Usually up to 10% before you see clouding.