We have relied on Frankincense resin for centuries to treat Arthritis, inflammation of joints, the urinary and gastrointestinal tracts, pain, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and colds, cuts, and wounds. It is traditionally used to improve memory and brain function, as an aphrodisiac, sexual tonic and to address issues of infertility in both sexes. It is well-known for its cosmetic skin rejuvenating properties, adding elasticity to mature skin and reducing wrinkles. Lately, we have seen a slew of studies that indicate the Boswellic acids found in the resin portion of some Frankincense types possess anti-cancer properties.
Working with Frankincense
A Frankincense salve can be as simple as hot Olive oil infused with Frankincense thickened with a little beeswax in the Bain Marie. In fact, it has likely been prepared in exactly this fashion for centuries.
The type of oil you use is dictated by personal preferences and intended use, as is the type of butter or wax you use to thicken it. There is an ever-increasing number of exotic oils and butters available and they will all work equally well dissolving the resin portion of Frankincense. The amount of Wax or butter to add can be as little or as much as you like. I usually add just enough to keep the salve in the tin and on the skin for a good period.
The trick with working with Frankincense is understanding that it is an oleo gum resin, has both a water-soluble fraction, (the gum part), and an oil-soluble fraction, (the essential oils and the resin), and that it is the oil-soluble oleoresin that we want to isolate for this application.
There are two methods I use to create a Frankincense salve.
- The first is by creating an oil extract or infusion of fresh frankincense in a carrier oil of my choice. (See the post-How to make an oil extract of Frankincense and other oleoresins).
- The second is by making a resin extract of Frankincense and dissolving it in warm oil as a base for a salve.-(As in the post-How to extract the resin and Boswellic acids from frankincense).
Both will create wonderful healing and fragrant products, but today I will focus on making a salve from the oleo extract.
If you want to deliver Boswellic acids with your salve, you can choose from the 4 Frankincense types that have been shown to contain these healing compounds.
I will reiterate here that there are little to no Boswellic acids in the essential oil of Frankincense. The Boswellic acids, AKBA , and other resin acids are only present in the resin portion of these oleo gum resins. Though all essential oils have therapeutic properties, you will not harness the full therapeutic potential of Frankincense unless you work with the whole oleo gum resin or the oleoresin portion.
A hot oil infusion of Frankincense
When preparing a hot oil infusion or extract of Frankincense, we will powder the Frankincense granules to expose as much of the oleoresin as we can to the oil. This can be done using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. In both cases, we need to spread the powder out and stir it periodically for an hour or so and allow the newly liberated moisture to evaporate. When we grind oleo gum resins, we release up to 10% moisture that has been locked in the gum since the day it bled from the tree. Once the powder dries it will stay loose in a sealed container and will not clump when compacted in capsules. (See-Instructions for grinding Frankincense, Myrrh and other oleoresins).
The simplest way to prepare a salve of Frankincense, (or Myrrh, or both), is –
- Powder and dry the oleo gum resins.
- Place the powdered material in a pot, jar or bowl in the water bath.
- Add a carrier oil of your choice at a minimum ratio of 1:3 by weight. This means 30 grams, (1 ounce), of powdered resin to 90 grams, (3 ounces), oil of your choice. Depending on your application or the amount of Frankincense you have on hand, you can, of course, make an efficacious product with a higher ratio of oil. I prefer to work with a ratio of 1:3 or 1:5.
- Bring the bath to a boil and keep it on a low simmer for 3-5 hours stirring occasionally and adding water to the bath periodically if needed.
- Remove the jar/bowl from the heat, let it sit and sediment a couple of hours, a day or overnight. You can let it sit much longer and many people do so for a full lunar cycle or longer when potentizing more complex medicines.
- After the undissolved particles have settled to the bottom of the jar, pour the oil through a filter, separating them from the oil.
I use a metal mesh coffee filter to separate the undissolved water-soluble granules from the resin-infused oil. If you don’t filter it, you will have a gritty, grainy salve that will feel more like a greasy exfoliant than a nourishing healing salve. If desired, a finer filtration is possible using the corner of a pillowcase or a paper coffee filter.
If you are using a paper coffee filter, keep the sediment out of the filter till the very end, otherwise, it will clog the paper and the process will take much longer to complete. Another trick to filtering through paper is to heat the infused oil in the water bath before filtering. Hot oil is less viscous than cool oil and will pass through the filter paper more quickly.
Once you have a filtered fragrant clear oil, back to the water bath it goes.
In the bath with Maria
Elegant in its simplicity, the Bain Marie, or water bath is a sophisticated piece of ancient technology. It is a precise and reliable thermoregulator that works as flawlessly today as it did a thousand years ago when knowledge of its use was reserved for initiates of the secret and sacred arts. The Bain Marie is not named after a person, but a principle. And I will leave the pedagogy at that for now.
As the water in your Bain Marie boils, the wax/butter and Frankincense oil will melt together. I like to give them time to heat thoroughly and sit together at the highest temperature for a while to bond. Don’t rush them.
To test the consistency of the mix, I place a few drops of salve to cool on a plate or piece of tinfoil at room temperature. This way I can gauge its current texture and fine-tune the product by adding more wax, butter, oil or any other ingredient that I have incorporated in the formula. When the drop test yields a product you are happy with, remove the salve from the water.
You noticed I didn’t give you a recipe or precise proportions for the waxes or butters in your salve. I am going to let you add these ingredients in small increments, testing the results often till you are happy with the texture, consistency, and fragrance. This is an excellent introduction to your materials and where you make your product uniquely your own. To do this properly and be able to keep accurate notes on what proportions worked best for you, pre-weigh the containers holding your waxes, butters etc. When you have created the product that pleases you, weigh the partially emptied bowls and tally the difference which is what went into your product. Write it down in your formulary for future reference.
Working with essential oils
If you have essential oils you would like to add, now is the time to stir them in as it cools down. I keep essential oils to under 2% for safety reasons. Remember, you already have the aromatic volatile compounds from the oleoresin in their natural proportions.
Sometimes, it can be tempting to overdo it with therapeutic essential oils. I usually find it is more satisfying to keep both the aromatic profile and the therapeutic qualities of the oleoresin front and central and only add essential oils with a light hand and an eye for harmony in fragrance and function. Resins deliver a broad spectrum of therapeutic compounds and come with their own “custom-made” essential oils. There is no doubt essential oils can provide a supportive role in the finished product, but I have found it is usually best to use a little less rather than a little too much.
Once your essential oils are blended, pour the hot liquid into containers and let it sit undisturbed till it is well solidified. I often use a plastic measuring cup that has a handle and a spout for ease of use and minimal spills when filling tins.
Blending Frankincense & Myrrh
I started writing this post because a reader left a comment asking if she could combine Myrrh in these Frankincense formulas. I got a bit carried away, but I didn’t forget. The answer is YES. You can powder Myrrh and combine it with the Frankincense powder for your oil extract. From there it is easy to make a salve as described above. More than this, there is a special synergy between these 2 trees and their oleoresins. They are known to not only compliment each other but boost each other’s therapeutic qualities when compounded together. In the plant kingdom, Frankincense and Myrrh have a unique bond, resonance, and a polarized symmetry unlike any other 2 plants I know of. Given time I will write more about this.
So. Have fun and remember to take clear notes.
Your future self will thank you.