With time, as I find better ways of doing things, I update older posts and recipes. This is an edit to a post I published 4 months ago on my other blog, Fair Trade Frankincense. I’m going to mix things up a bit and post it here on Apothecary’s Garden since I seem to have accumulated a different following on each blog. To read the full post, which tells you exactly which types of Frankincense contain the anticancer and anti-inflammatory Boswellic acids, you can click the link  below and check out the full post.

Tapping in to Frankincense and its Boswellic acids-An easy extraction method

Boswellia Papyrifera-Pure Resin extract. For medicine or Perfume.

Boswellia Papyrifera-Pure Resin extract. For medicine, incense or Perfume.

I first came across the pure resin of Frankincense after distilling Boswellia Papyrifera. Gorgeous pools of caramel coloured resin rested on the bottom of the cold still and looked good enough to eat.

I discovered that this pure resin from which all the water-soluble gum had been removed, dissolved easily in warm oils without the grittiness that raw Frankincense delivered with its gum portion. Since many of the therapeutic compounds that Frankincense offers us are found in the resin and are not present in the essential oil, I started incorporating this resin extract in a number of my products and thought it would be a valuable material to share with other Apothecaries, Herbalists and Cosmetics formulators.

If you have ever tried to make an oil based product such as a salve or creme from whole Frankincense, you already know that the water soluble gum in it makes it gritty and must be carefully filtered out to create a creamy smooth product.

In the past, I mentioned it could be taken internally which is true. But, I believe that if you want to benefit from the Boswellic acids present in the resin, the best method is to powder the whole fresh resin and take it either in capsules or by the teaspoon with water as I do when the need arises.

In my humble opinion it is usually best to stick with a whole, natural, unprocessed and unadulterated product when possible. We don’t really know why or how things work, and I  suspect there are good reasons different compounds appear naturally in a plant. So if there is no need to refine it, my choice will always be to use the whole plant material.

If you would like to take concentrated Boswellic acids internally,there are commercial and factory produced products on the market that are standardized to 60%-65% Boswellic acids. A percent that is likely close to what is already present in the fresh oleoresin.

Though this pure resin is a byproduct of distilling Frankincense, not everyone distills or knows a distiller from whom to it. For this reason I present a method for separating the resin from the gum at home without the need for distilling apparatus. Though some of the essential oils are lost through the heating process, it is easy enough to add essential oils to your product during the cool-down stage of your finished product if you so choose.

The fact that all the Boswellic acids, including the much studied AKBA,  ( acetyl-11-keto-β- boswellic acid ), reside in the resin is fortunate for us. This means that we can easily utilize certain types of Frankincense for their Boswellic acid content and its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties in healing oils, salves and cremes.

  This  extraction can be performed in any kitchen and enables not only experienced Herbalists and Apothecaries to make therapeutic products with Boswellic acids, but anyone who wishes to take a more independent approach to their own health and wellbeing. I have clients and customers who make their own oils and salves from raw Frankincense for Rheumatoid Arthritis and other chronic inflammatory issues with good results.

Before going on to describe the extraction method, I have to add that we in the West are buying a growing volume of Frankincense essential oil each year, sometimes at astronomical prices, thinking that we are benefitting from these healing compounds when in fact, the resin that contains all the Boswellic acids, is usually discarded by the distillers as waste, or sold off as inferior incense locally. This is the product we should be buying for its healing compounds, not the essential oils. We should most definitely NOT be ingesting these pure concentrated essential oils thinking we are consuming Boswellic acids.

 We have to start thinking more clearly. These trees will not last forever. Most all Frankincense and Myrrh trees that supply our resins live in the wild, along with their harvesters, under harsh conditions. As they are harvested with increasing frequency to meet our demands, the trees become stressed, produce less resin, yield seed that has a lower germination rate and thus cannot reproduce and regenerate their numbers in the manner they normally do.

  In short, our increased demand is leading us to a decreased supply. This doesn’t mean we should take a passive approach and stop buying Frankincense. That would be a blow to communities who already struggle, and it would simply create a back door and a black market. We need to take an active role instead. Before it is too late.

 Neither the trees nor the harvesters are benefitting from our increased demand for essential oil of Frankincense.  Harvesters, clans, communities in developing countries, see only a few cents of that $50.00 or $100.00 bottle of Frankincense essential oil.  Currently not a penny of our’s goes back to propagating or sustaining the trees, and the harvesters often see just enough to get by.

Frankincense tree

Frankincense tree

In February 2016, after a couple of years communicating with harvesters and elders, flirting with financial, academic and government stakeholders, I will be in the Horn of Africa again.  I believe there is still time to set up a different model of trade for these precious, fragrant and medicinal resources before they are lost. We need programs that sustain both the trees and the harvesters, who are their only stewards

 I have a growing vision of a model based on fair trade practices. It is direct, ethical and sustainable, benefits local ecologies, economies and social frameworks. It supports the harvesters and their communities in stewardship of the land and propagation of the trees in the wild to ensure future harvests will meet our growing needs.

  This world in all its gorgeous diversity is our Apothecary’s Garden. It’s up to us to take care of it.

So, here is a new and improved method for making an extract of Frankincense, high in Boswellic acids and easy to use in cremes, oils and salves.  It is a simple and safe method using water as a solvent to isolate the resin and Boswellic acids in Frankincense. Though I do name it an “Easy” method, Easy is a relative term. It is also a very messy process. For some tips on cleanup see the link at the bottom of this post-“A visual walkthrough”

  • Take 100-500 grams of fresh Frankincense.
  •  In a stainless steel, Teflon coated or glass pot, bring at least 10 liters of water to a boil. More than this is just fine.
  • Place a stainless steel sieve or colander with a fine mesh about 1/2 submerged in the water. Ideally, use a sieve that will rest on the edge of the pot securely, otherwise you will have to hold it at the right height through the process and you will need an extra hand.
  • When it is at a full boil, gently add 100 to 500 grams of one of the 3 aforementioned types of Frankincense into the suspended sieve, careful to not splash boiling water on yourself. It is fine if the resin sits partially above the water, it will soon settle.
  •  With a wooden spoon or some other utensil, gently run the submerged resin granules back and forth through the boiling water allowing the water to wash over them all and dissolve them.
  • The water-soluble gum will dissolve and disperse in the water while the pure oleoresin, the resin with the essential oils, will exit and float around the outside of the sieve. The bark and other foreign matter will collect in the sieve and not pass to the water.
  • Once most of the resin is floating on the surface of the water, it will also push its way back into the sieve. To address this, lift the sieve higher and allow the rest of the resin to exit the sieve. At this point you may need help running the utensil back and forth gently forcing the resin through into the water.
  •  When the sieve is empty of gum and oleoresin, set it aside.
  • Skim/scoop out all the resin that is floating in the pot into a separate preferably stainless steel bowl. I use a small colander/sieve that captures more resin than water for this purpose. It’s ok if you transfer water into the bowl with the resin since you can easily pour it off after the resin sets.
  •  Set the pot of hot water aside to cool. As most of these oleoresins do, they will generally settle to the bottom of the pot as the temperature drops.
  •  When the pot has cooled, pour the contents through yet another fine mesh sieve and add the bits of resin you collect in the sieve to your main bowl of collected resin.
  •   You can collect and save this liquid if you like.  Though mostly made up of water-soluble gum, it is very potent and fragrant. It can be added to bath water for a fragrant, healing bath and kept in the fridge for a week or two. My roommate has experimented with drinking it. He has combined it with different fruit juices and is developing a personal blend. I believe that as long as he does so in moderation it will do no harm. The aqueous solution or tea of Frankincense has been used for hundreds if not thousands of years in traditional medicine for coughs and colds, to stimulate brain function and memory and as an aphrodisiac and tonic. This leftover Frankincense water is quite similar to what you would get from such a tea. Taking it internally is, without a doubt, of less harm and more benefit than ingesting the undiluted essential oil of Frankincense. There are likely more Boswellic acids floating around in this “tea” than in a comparable amount of essential oil of Frankincense. It is bitter so cutting it 1/2 and 1/2 with something sweet helps. As always, pay attention to what your body says. Listen to it and you will know if it is good for you or not.
  • Your resin extract still needs to go through the bath once more to remove traces of water-soluble gum.
  • So, repeat the above process of boiling your filtered resin with fresh clean water in the pot.
  • Stir it around and you will likely see the water getting a bit cloudy. This is the residual water-soluble gum we want to get rid of.
  •  It should only take a few minutes of gentle stirring to wash the rest of the gum out of the resin, so after 3-5 minutes of the melted resin floating around, you can skim it off as before, and place it in a clean bowl to cool and set.
  •  Again, let the pot cool and collect any resin you missed.
  • Though you could use the resin extract as it is, I put it through one final process to dry it of any residual trapped water. It usually collects water in little pockets and bubbles as it floats around the boiling water.
  •  To do this, I crush the resin coarsely, exposing as much of it to the air as I can. I stop when the largest chunks are about the size of a pea.
  • Place it on a clean sheet or pan. A Teflon or silicone cookie sheet or something comparable.
  •  Preheat the oven to about 100 degrees Centigrade and place the pan in the oven.
  •  The resin will melt and flow releasing all the water in the form of liquid and vapor to the air. I tilt it this way and that to expose and pockets of water while it is hot and mobile. Often you can pour off the water as it is released from the resin.
  •  It takes from 5 to 15 minutes of the resin uniformly melted to dry it and it can be removed from the oven and left to cool.
  •   When solid and cool, lift from the cookie sheet, break it in pieces if you like and store in ziplock bags or  a glass jar. Keep it cool or it may flow a bit and adhere to a glass container.
  • I have also used a heat gun, the kind used for stripping paint to melt the resin and remove any trapped water from it. This is an option if you feel like experimenting. If it sizzles a bit it is OK.

You now have a product with a substantial, therapeutically active proportion of Boswellic acids in a concentration much, much higher than you could ever get from a comparable quantity of essential oil without the risk that concentrated essential oils can represent. At the same time you likely have a healthy percent of Frankincense essential oils in their naturally occurring concentration and matrix.

Boswellia Sacra/Carterii resin extract beneath B. Papyrifera resin extracts.

A visual reference for your extract. This is how it should look when you are done. Boswellia Sacra/Carterii resin extract beneath B. Papyrifera resin extracts. The same, but different. Each exhibiting expected variations in colour and fragrance.

It is a substance that dissolves readily in warm vegetable oils, waxes and alcohol, and lends itself with ease to the creation of cremes, oils, salves and more. You know exactly what went into your product from start to finish. You know it wasn’t adulterated along the way, that no solvents, or fillers were added, and that you have a 100% natural product.

I have put together a visual walkthrough of the above process and you can find it here extracting-the-resin-and-boswellic-acids-from-frankincense-a-visual-walkthrough/


 And remember…

 always take clear notes.

 Your future self will thank you.


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