Medicinal Frankincense FAQ


Frankincense Papyrifera ground in a steel mortar in preparation for extraction.
Frankincense Papyrifera ground in preparation for extraction.

Let me open by saying there is no special “medicinal’ type of Frankincense. Don’t be fooled by marketing catch words like “Medicinal” or “Therapeutic”. All Frankincense is medicinal, in fact, everything nature produces is medicinal. Your morning oatmeal, the banana you take to work, the dandelions and “weeds” in your yard.  We don’t need corporations to re-brand, re-market and sell us what is already ours to use. What we do need is reliable unbiased information, a little independent thinking and some guidance on how to best use plants to enhance our lives.
I will also mention here that there is no type of Frankincense that is more sacred than another, regardless of the name a botanist gave it. Nature, in her seamless orchestration of planetary life and brilliant diversity, offers no single facet or expression of Herself that is more, or less sacred than another. Just saying.

Since I have spent the past few years studying and working with Frankincense resin, essential oils, trees and harvesters, my knowledge on the subject is a bit more than average. If I am considered an expert in this area it is  a relative thing. I continue to learn and grow daily, as do you, as do the recognized “experts” in any field.

I mention this because as a group, we can be complacent, seeking and accepting authority and “expert” opinions without question. This is one way we give away our power and effectiveness in the world.  I urge you to research and study all topics independently and reach your own conclusions.

All the information of all our cultures and ages is at our fingertips in our new global brain, the internet.  Nurture your own expertise and knowledge and share it authentically with others. Test whatever you learn against your experience, logic, and your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t. You can quote me on that. Also, You will always be the leading expert on You. Get comfortable with it. Explore it.

Medicine for the masses

With a growing, aging western population, a worldwide increase in chronic inflammatory diseases and cancers, the need for anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer  “cures” has skyrocketed. Big Pharma is hot on the case and investing millions in the search for patentable molecules it can own and sell back to us. In some cases, it will simply repackage and resell us what we already have in our backyard. The appearance of new medicine, mostly sourced from traditional ethnic pharmacopoeia, is driven by profit and not transparency. This has led to some inaccuracies and bits of misinformation that are conveniently geared to sell certain products. I will try to correct some of them here.

OK, on to Frankincense…..

Looking quite neglected, a Boswellia neglecta tree I met in Samburu county Kenya.

What is Frankincense?

A short answer is- Frankincense and Myrrh are the oleo gum resins exuded by the Boswellia and Commiphora shrubs/trees respectively, 2 members of the Burseacae, a plant family that includes aromatic trees such as Palo Santo, Ylang Ylang, Proteus and others. They all have a network of resin-bearing ducts that distribute often fragrant oleo gum resin used by the plants for defence against insects and fungi and the repair of damaged tissue.
Frankincense and Myrrh have been used for incense, perfume and medicine for thousands of years in Asia, Europe, Arabia and Africa.
Off the top of my head, a short list of therapeutic applications traditionally associated with Frankincense would include- treating arthritis, rheumatism, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, gastrointestinal disorders, tumors, cancers, infertility, moods, anxiety/depression and memory loss, improving brain function, addressing aging skin and flagging libido.


What are Boswellic acids?

  • All types of Frankincense are composed of varying proportions of  water-soluble gum,  resin, and essential or volatile oils. These resins and volatile oils are lipophilic and dissolve in non-polar solvents such as vegetable oils, alcohol and petroleum distillates.
  •  Boswellic acids are resin acids and make up between 30% to 60% of the resin portion of Frankincense. They can be compared to the rosin we use on violin bows and in paints and lacquer. Though Pine rosin is made up mainly of Abietic acids and contains no Boswellic acids, neither is soluble in water.
  • Recent studies have indicated that the Boswellic acids in Frankincense possess anti-inflammatory and anti-Cancer properties.  Some of the cancer cells they have shown promise and effectiveness in treating are prostate, late stage ovarian, bladder, colorectal, brain tumors and many more.Take the time, do the research, you will find these studies online.
  • Boswellic acids are only present in the resin portion of these oleo-gum-resins, not their essential oils. Though all essential oils can be said to have therapeutic properties, the essential oils of Frankincense contain only trace amounts of Boswellic acids.
  • You can literally knock yourself out with Frankincense essential oil without getting a meaningful amount of Boswellic acids.


  • Which types of Frankincense contain Boswellic Acids ?

  • So far, research has shown the following species of Frankincense  contain Boswellic acids-
  • Boswellia Carterii-Somalia
  • Boswellia Sacra-Arabia
  • Boswellia Serrata-India
  • Boswellia Papyrifera-Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya
  •  It is more than likely that Boswellia Thurifera from the Red Sea area and B. Elongata from Socrata also contain these compounds though analysis of the resin has not been done to date.

    What do Boswellic acids do?

  •  Boswellic acids have been found to inhibit leukotriene synthesis and act as anti-inflammatories. They modulate/regulate the behavior of Leucocytes which are one of the body’s responses to trauma which create inflammation and subsequent pain.(
  •  Boswellic acids have been shown in studies to be anti-prolific and may also cause apoptosis, (death), in a wide variety of cancer cells in the laboratory. There is, however, little “In vivo” research at this point. They need to be tested on people.
  •  Though one resin acid in particular, AKBA or acetyl-keto-beta boswellic acid has been the focus of anti-cancer studies, I believe our use of isolated molecules such as AKBA extracted from complex compounds is what has gotten us into a lot of trouble already.
  • All the compounds in Frankincense have their role to play and indeed likely play more effectively together than separately. In my opinion, we are better off using the whole oleo gum resin therapeutically than dosing ourselves with high amounts of concentrated and isolated compounds.

    What is the best way to use Frankincense and Boswellic acids for their therapeutic properties?

  • Frankincense Serrata is used traditionally, whole, in powder, pill, poultice and oil,  for arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, bronchial issues various cancers and as an ingredient in skincare and beauty products.
  •  In Arabia Frankincense has been chewed for millennia for oral care and general physical/mental well-being. It is taken as a tea, often steeped in water overnight and sipped during the day for inflammations, coughs, congestion, and colds. The grounds should be consumed to benefit fully from the oleoresin.  The recipe is 1 teaspoon course ground Frankincense, in a covered  cup,steeped overnight in room temperature water.
  •  In Islam Frankincense is traditionally consumed by pregnant women to increase the intelligence, (and bravery), of their offspring, and is generally considered to contribute to one’s mental acuity, emotional stability and spiritual clarity. It is sometimes used as a general tonic and restorative.
  • Boswellia Sacra, B. Carterii  and B. Frereana from Somalia have also been used  to address issues of fertility in men and considered aphrodisiacs. Arabian lore indicates that large testicle shaped Frankincense tears, (sometimes called Dakkar, from the Arabic word for masculine), are sexual tonics and aphrodisiacs for men, while pieces more vulvic in shape are believed to have similar effects on women.
  •  Though Boswellia Frereana from Somalia does not contain Boswellic acids, it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory used traditionally to treat inflammations of joints, the GI tract and arthritis. Laboratory studies show it can reduce brain inflammation due to tumors, head injuries and stroke. It kills the H.pylorii bacteria which causes stomach ulcers. It is valued as a high-end chewing gum for oral and gastrointestinal health and is one of the most expensive frankincense types available.
  •  Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia/Eritrea/Kenya and Sudan, which is a source of Boswellic acids, also contains Incensole acetate which is considered a psychoactive compound that crosses the blood-brain barrier, reducing anxiety and eliciting feelings of heightened spirituality and well-being. The incensole and Incensole acetate are delivered to us when using the whole oleoresin internally, through pyrolysis, (burning as an incense), and when using the diluted essential oil externally.
  •  Boswellia Thurifera from the shores of the Red Sea has been shown in the laboratory,  to increase the size of rat testicles and raise their sperm count. True :-)!
  • Frankincense is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I don’t have any expertise or information on that subject. However, the Chinese are currently one of the biggest importers of Frankincense in the world.
  •  There are extracts of Boswellic acids available on the market. I can’t recommend one over the other. Most state they are extracted using ethanol and water, suggesting  one can extract them relatively easily at home by removing the water-soluble gum and essential oils.
  • Personally, I believe it is best to keep things simple and the most direct and effective way to utilize this fragrant potent medicine is by ingesting the powdered whole fresh oleo gum resin.  It is useful and clever to take things apart and understand how they work,  however, there is more to the art of healing than funneling orphaned molecules into our bodies. There are many  interconnected complexities in Nature that we simply have not the tools to measure or discern.
  • I take 1/2 to 1 level teaspoon of finely powdered Frankincense with water 3-5 times a day when needed. For instructions and some tips on easily powdering and storing Frankincense see my post-“How to grind Frankincense and other Oleoresins”.
  • To incorporate the Boswellic acid type Frankincenses in oils, salves and cremes, I use one of the following methods
  • How to make an extract of frankincense and other oleoresins.
  • How to extract the resin and its Boswellic acids from Frankincense
First contact in this Samburu village and market. Negotiating a fair price with the women. One of their few sources of extra income.

Ethics and sustainability

  • I’m really glad you asked. We are quickly losing our aromatic and medicinal plants around the world through mismanagement. If we don’t start addressing this, future generations will have no Frankincense or Myrrh.  If we made educated and responsible choices as global consumers, we could have a huge impact on the world, improving the environment and the quality of life of our brothers and sisters who tend to the garden we rely on. This can happen lightning fast if enough of us care to make a difference.
  •  The increased market demand for these medicinal and aromatic oleoresins is already exceeding the amounts trees can comfortably supply.  Over harvesting, improper harvesting methods, agricultural encroachment, fires and grazing animals, have reduced the number of mature trees in the wild, viability of their seeds, and the ability of trees to reproduce. If I recall correctly, seed germination rate has fallen from 81% to 18% in over-tapped trees. This is alarming.
  • There are areas in Kenya, Somalia and Namibia where Frankincense and Myrrh trees are not tapped and the oleoresins are collected in a most sustainable manner. These practices need to be encouraged especially through preferring these sources to heavily tapped trees.
  • Another critical issue that we stay ignorant of is the quality of life of the harvesters and stewards of our medicinal and aromatic resources. We pay a premium price for their products, yet they often see a minute percent of that price and live with financial hardship, often without proper shelter, food, water, education or medical care. A plan of stewardship could pay harvesters directly, cutting out some of the middlemen, upping their income and reducing the need for excessive tapping. There is no good reason for any person in the world to have a lower quality of life than you or I. There is a flaw in our system, a fly in our Frankincense ointment.
  • Frankincense and Myrrh trees are extremely easy to propagate. Large branches will spring into root with barely a word of encouragement. Planting and stewarding new trees in the wild would ensure a sustainable and lucrative future for the harvesters and guarantee the consumer an ethical, fair trade and sustainable product. How perfect is that! The market for both Frankincense and Myrrh resins and essential oils  is only going to grow and we need to apply a little forethought and foresight before it is too late.
  • I currently work with harvesters in Kenya and Somalia setting up ethical, fair trade and sustainable community-oriented co-ops. These are ongoing projects that will take a few years yet to get up and running smoothly.
  • There are many ways you can contribute to establishing healthier trade in these resins. Foremost by educating yourself, making informed choices and informed purchases. Knowledge is power.
  • You can find suppliers of fairly traded, sustainably sourced products online, or purchase them through my shop.



  1. Hi Dan
    I don’t know if you are the some Dan Riegler but my daughters found a piece of beautiful Native American art by Dan Riegler called From Feathers and wondered if you are that artist.

    1. Hi Sam. Thank you for contacting me. Though I have left a lot of art in my wake, I can’t claim responsibility for that particular piece. Looks like it was created by a different Dan Riegler whom I would love to meet one day.

  2. Hi Dan,
    I appreciate all of the information on Frankincense and Myrrh. I see that you drink a tea with Frankincense. Do you also drink a tea with Myrrh?
    I am a cancer survivor, and am interested in drinking a tea with the resins. I would appreciate your advise on which ones are the most effective to ingest.
    Kindest Regards

    1. Hi Jan. Though it is thought Frankincense and Myrrh compliment each other, there is a study that indicates too much Myrrh can be hard on the kidneys. I usually ingest a powder of Frankincense and will often chew on a small tear of Myrrh. Alternatively, I suggest adding about 10%-20% Myrrh to the Frankincense if you are drinking it as a tea.

  3. Dan,
    I suffer greatly with osteoarthritis in my lumbar spine after receiving two spinal fusions caused by injuring my back lifting my late husband who passed away from M.S. years ago. Traditional medicine has brought me little to no relief, with the exception of physical therapy. Physical therapy has brought me some relief, but not to the point of being able to walk more than a few feet at a time. I am a hiker, so this has been a difficult adjustment.
    I accidentally fell into becoming a producer of goat’s milk soap and now sell it at our local farmer’s market. Which is what has led me to Frankincense. The question that I am sure you are asking is how did it happen accidentally? My sons and I are all artists of various media, ranging from graphic art, sculpting, painting, music, and to my youngest son is an alchemist. For the holidays, we prefer to make one another gifts over purchasing them. So, I decided to make them homemade goat’s milk soap. Having all sons and all brothers, I wanted to create some that had a masculine fragrance, using essential oils. My family and friends loved it so much that they encouraged me to sell it. Practically overnight it happened! Now I have a company in which I sell and make a variety of goat’s milk soap.

    I had a customer ask me about Frankincense, so I researched it, as well as attended a class in which I made a sugar scrub with it. I was amazed when I took it home and aggressively applied the sugar scrub to an acne scab on my face. The next morning, my boyfriend woke up and asked me what happened to the scab on my face, it was completely gone! THAT HAS NEVER HAPPENED! At 51 years old, I usually get at least one irritating acne spot per month. I have tried everything to prevent and treat them. Thus, that is all it took for me to sway my thoughts more towards the benefits that nature provides us! Thus, I am now becoming more like my youngest son, than he is of me; the alchemist!

    I have a question for you about Frankincense (as I am extracting it using your oil/water bath as I type this). I found a great supplier of Frankincense tears, at a price that I can afford. I purchased the B. Carterii species. You mentioned in your “essay” that it has fertility properties, but you did not mention anything else, as far as how it is used. Will it be as effective for osteoarthritis as the other species? Also, can I ingest the oil, and if so what dosage would you recommend? I was also thinking about using the oil as a massage oil; hoping that it will absorb in my skin and provide medicinal use that way also. At 51 years young, I am not so concerned about fertility, and my libido as well as my fella’s is wonderful! I just need to treat the pain so that we can get back to nature!

    P.S. your website is great, and it is designed in such a way that it is very inviting! Well written, well designed!

    1. Thank you Maria and thank you for sharing your story and experience with Frankincense here!
      Alchemy was considered a high art in its time. it was rooted in inspiration, powered by creativity and given expression through fine craftsmanship. You and your creative family have likely done this work before.
      Massage with the infused oil does deliver therapeutic compounds to the body and applied locally is thought to help with pain and inflammation.

      You can definitely take the infused oil of Frankincense internally. Obviously you are using an edible carrier oil such as Olive oil. As far as a daily dose, I think the issue will be, how much oil can you ingest… If you made a strong 1:3 hot infusion of Frankincense in oil, you could say that in a teaspoon of infused oil you were delivering 1/3 a teaspoon of Frankincense, (roughly). I take 3-4 level teaspoons a day sometimes and I haven’t hard of any serious side effects so far. 4 teaspoons of powdered Frankincense would be the rough equivalent of 12 teaspoons oil extract of Frankincense.
      I think you are going to have to explore and find a dose that works for you. As always, starting small is wise.
      Regarding the therapeutic benefits of Boswellia Carterii vs B. Serrata or any of the other Frankincense types that contain Boswellic acids, I believe they are all quite similar in their effects on our bodies and minds.`
      They all have a slightly different chemical composition, but to my knowledge these differences are minor and they do not lend each type of Frankincense specific uses that can not be fulfilled just as well with one of the other species. Laboratory analysis so far show 4 species of Frankincense to contain Boswellic acids-Boswellia Papyrifera, B. Carterii, B. Sacra, and B. Serrata. I have no doubt man of the less known varieties will join them when and if they are analysed.

  4. Hi.. May I know do we swallow or throw away the remaining of the white resin clumps which came from the Frankincense Water after soaking overnight? Is the clumps digestible in our intestine?


    1. Hi. I think that is a choice you can make. Some people dispose of the spent resin after infusing it in water a few times and others consume it or use it as incense. As far as digesting Frankincense and benefiting from the resin compounds that don’t dissolve in the water, there are studies that indicate the Boswellic acids and other resin compounds are better absorbed by the body when taken with fatty foods. This makes sense since the resin is not water soluble, but oil soluble.

  5. Hi Dan, thank you for all the information you share on your website. I have a container of “Omani Frakincens Way Rokh Luban Salalah No.1” that my son brought from Oman. Wondering if you know about this particular type of resin and if it would be beneficial as an extraction.
    Thank you, Joan

    1. Hi Joan.
      I haven’t heard of this particular type of Frankincense, it sounds like it was harvested or graded in Salala, Oman. In my experience, the Omani culture is very serious about its Frankincense and of all the batches and types of Frankincense I have encountered over the years I have only come across one that was not worthy of extraction or distillation. It was very old and had sat in contact with other, stronger aromatics and adopted their combined odors. A simple way to test the fragrance and viability of Frankincense resin is to pour hot water on a teaspoon of the material in a cup. This will release the essential oils to give you an accurate idea of its scent and essential oil content.

  6. Under Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the name for Frankincense is Ru Xiang (Frankincense & Mastic in general, as well as Boswellia carterii specifically are listed under this name, & a good portion of the bulk information below the initial herbal information covers more B. serrata than B. carterii, & also includes other Boswellia species, leading me to believe that the specific scientific name listed under the TCM name is given due to it being what I have seen to be the most commonly or widely available species where both essential oils, raw resin tears being sold come into play in North America where the person who has made the linked site seems to be living in:

    And while it wasn’t addressed above, I highly believe that B. neglecta has a high level of Incensol & Insensol Acetate, as while Dan has not had a strong anti-anxiety reaction to the essential oil, I absolutely have — although I will admit that where the essential oil is concerned the anti-anxiety functionality seems to work much better when I’m very much needing the help & relief compared to when I’m simply dealing with my more normal or common causes of stress that can also worsen my anxiety but not to the horrible levels where the EO really kicks in to help with, & where an infusion of the whole or gum portion extracted off oleo-resin in oil provides consistently good anti-anxiety & more relief rather than anything needing to reach a certain level of “bad” before the hidden strength of the resin really kicks in, so there’s definitely a synergy at work, & that’s just what I’ve noticed working with the “dark” Neglecta that has bits of light here & there that are fun to look for but truly make up a very small fraction of the whole, so I’ll be testing a bit with some of the “light” Neglecta I also ordered from Dan that smells wonderful before the packaging is even opened & definitely gives me the ghost of the feeling like I’m going to start coughing from just inhaling the scent, as doing the gum portion extraction & drying the oleo-resin after to avoid issues with water in an oil based product by surprise also had me coughing my lungs up as they’re usually congested from allergies & over a decade of chronic bronchitis I currently have under control but never truly free & clear & sometimes specific scents can bring about that feeling of me going to be coughing soon as the “light” Neglecta did, so I may finally have clear lungs here soon! But with the major relief from anxiety both lesser & close to a panic attack, a sense of feeling like I can deal with even the things causing the majority of my daily stress that is out of my control & is hard to predict when I’ll be dealing with it on top of illness related stress & anxiety issues & the gentle sedative/muscle relaxing effects I’ve felt just to name a few, I have to conclude that B neglecta contains both compounds, especially after finding a study that was only focusing on the anti-anxiety & stress relief & similar aspects of the compounds that also found the receptors they bind to, which are also found in the skin & are the receptors that allow certain compounds or sensations to either increase or decrease the absorption rate of the skin to topically applied products & includes both capsaicin & menthol which are two “carrier” compounds that help others get past the outermost of the skin’s natural barrier as well as capsaicin helping other herbs/foods/compounds/whatever to be absorbed more fully & be distributed more evenly throughout the body, so the topical application of the Neglecta infused oil working so well for things like anxiety makes sense to me when it’s activating the same receptors in the body’s skin & brain.
    Research link:
    *If the research link wants a login, here is the initial article citing it that clicking on the active link in the bibliography of gets you to the whole research study without issue:
    Just my two cents based on my experience so far working with the Neglecta resin & finding this research that was listening basically the same things I was experiencing, with the exception of not being a mouse, of course. So my theory currently is that the Neglecta contains a decent, if not high amount of these compounds to produce the effects that it does in multiple forms…but I don’t have a lab to ID all of the compounds found within Boswellia neglecta, or anything else, so it’s still an educated guess & opinion on my part. For me the Rivae essential oil also has an incredibly strong knock-out & suddenly asleep after being in “insomnia mode” for over an hour with none of the morning after side effects that prescription or OTC medications can give me, or the incredibly messed up dreams just before waking the next morning that I get when using the essential oil of Lemongrass for sleep purposes as well. So I absolutely agree that the essential oils are by no means worthless & do have their place when used in moderation, but they also lack the synergy & strength of the whole resin infusions, in my opinion based on my own experience working with resins in a couple ways.

    Didn’t mean to do a take over with a wall of text, just share some sources I found that seem pertinent to your post here.

    Thanks again for everything you do & all of the knowledge that you share with all of us!

  7. So, does this mean that the Frankincense essential oils that I buy are worthless? I don’t have time to grind resin. What can a consumer do to get the effects of resin without doing it all myself?

    1. Hi Annette.
      No, it doesn’t mean the essential oil of Frankincense is worthless. It has its own set of therapeutic properties. Someone more knowledgeable than I in Aromatherapy could describe them better than I. It just doesn’t contain the Boswellic acids and other heavier compounds in any great amount. I plan to buy a bigger grinder and see if it is possible to provide fresh powdered Frankincense for my customers in the next few days. Please keep an eye on the shop over the next week or two and perhaps I can help you with this.

  8. Really marvelous essay Dan. I learned alot. In one of your previous posts you mentioned dark and light frankincense appearing on the same tree and noting that they perhaps had different functions for the tree. Have you discovered anything about the differences in other ways?
    From my VERY limited experience, I find dark frankincense used as incense , particularly B.sacra, very relaxing and a quick way my change ideas. More so than any light frankincense.
    Wish we could just stick a Boswellia limb in the ground here in Canada and watch her grow 😉

    1. Thank you my friend. And thanks for making me stretch mind and intuition further with these gifts! The dark Frankincense neglecta makes me feel grounded and calm, removes jagged emotional debris from my heart and mind, whether raw, burned and infused in an oil. So far, any essential oil distillation has not generated the same feelings. More than that, I find it elicits a feeling of courage and inner strength. It has a feeling of down to earth practicality about it, more so than the other types of Frankincense I have experienced. The light, clear Frankincense neglecta feels more mentally stimulating and uplifting, like a glimmer of sunlight through the clouds. It says to me that anything is possible. I find both also stimulate sexual/creative energy. My feeling is that Boswellia neglecta is a very practical Frankincense. The one that rolls up it’s sleeves to get the basic stuff out of the way, and is not afraid to get dirty:-)!

      1. Ahhhhh…. a reply worthy of the poet/alchemist. I don’t see the neglecta light resin in your etsy. I would like to sample “the set”…the Ying and the Yang. The complete neglecta experience 😉 Is it possible?
        Ps. Love the new medicinal plant header on the blog.

  9. Thank you for your time. Important message you gave- do your own research. I also believe we are individuals and have unique chemistry so we must seek what works best for one’s own self. I really appreciate your sharing.

  10. Reblogged this on Fair Trade Frankincense and commented:

    The appearance of new medicine, mostly sourced from traditional ethnic pharmacopoeia, is driven by profit and not transparency. This has led to some inaccuracies and bits of misinformation that are conveniently geared to sell certain products. I will try to correct some of them here.

    1. The only way to destroy a lie is with the truth. Thank you for the detailed, enlightening oration of the type my Grangmother would call The Butt Naked Truth.

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