by Dan Riegler January 17, 2024 7 min read

How to extract the healing properties of Frankincense and Myrrh

There is a lot of interest in the healing compounds found in the different types of Frankincense. Notably, the Boswellic acid family including AKBA which are ONLY found in Frankincense. With the right information these healing compounds can be incorporated in a broad range of cosmetic and therapeutic products in any kitchen.

Boswellic acids have been shown in laboratory studies to help address arthritis, rheumatism, cancer, ulcers, colitis, brain injuries, depression, and much more. They are easily incorporated in cremes, oils and salves to help muscles and joints and 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.

 

Royal Frankincense Balm

Royal Frankincense Balm-Made with Frankincense Extracts

Boswellic acids are NOT found in the essential oil!

Though we rely heavily on essential oils to deliver many  of the therapeutic properties of  plants in our medicine and cosmetics, the brunt of Frankincense’s therapeutic compounds reside in its resin portion and not its essential oil.

In fact, our misinformed and insatiable hunger for Frankincense essential oil is not only blinding us to the true "Hero" compounds in Frankincense, but it is putting some of our Frankincense species at risk and reducing their wild populations through over harvesting to supply us with essential oil.

Frankincense Carterii freshly tapped Ufeyn-Somalia

Freshly tapped Frankincense Carterii-Somalia-A homogeneous emulsion made of Oil-soluble and water-soluble compounds.-Photo credit Mr. M N. Warsame

 

Oleo resins vs Oleo gum resins

Different types of tree resins/exudates require different methods of extraction.  We can divide these into three types.

  1. OLEO RESINS such as Pine resin, Spruce or Elemi resin are composed of essential oils and resins. Hence the name oleo resins. They dissolve completely in warm carrier oils or alcohol. Pretty straightforward.
  2.  OLEO GUM RESINS-Most of our Frankincense and Myrrh  types are oleo gum resins. This means that besides resin and essential oil, they also contain water-soluble gum which prevents Frankincense from dissolving directly in warm oils. For this reason they must be powdered first to expose their constituents to the solvent.
  3. GUMS such as Gum Arabic, Gum Tragacanth or the exudate from the Almond or Cherry tree. Gums are completely and exclusively water-soluble and will not dissolve in oil, fat or alcohol.

Extracting the resin and its therapeutic compounds from Frankincense-Method #1

Frankincense Powder

Frankincense Papyrifera Powder. Oleo-Gum-Resins, like most Frankincense types, must be powdered to expose their compounds to the solvent. One can use a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder. Each has it benefits and drawbacks.

    Vegetable oils & Animal Fats-Traditional solvents 

    We have used vegetable oils and animal fats oils as solvents and carriers for tree resins since time immemorial. 

    • Any vegetable type oil or animal fat such as tallow or lard will work as a solvent for most oleoresins. This includes Olive oil, Coconut oil, nut oils such as Almond, Hazelnut and Macadamia and any of the exotics like Argan oil, Baobab oil etc.
    • Choose an oil based on your needs and preferences. Some oils keep longer than others.
    • Some oils don't do well with the heat of the water bath which can go up to around 90 degrees centigrade. So know your oil's limitations.
    • It is always best to make small batches that will get used before rancidity hits. Within a year. 
    • Keeping oil extracts in containers with little to no air, helps retard oxidization and extend their life as does adding 1 gel-cap, (400 IU) of Vitamin E per cup of oil. (Or MCT oils).

    The process of dissolving oleoresins in oils and fats requires no special laboratory chemicals or equipment, and can be performed in any kitchen with a simple water bath, mortar and pestle or electric coffee grinder.

     

     Instructions for making an oleo-extract of Frankincense

    • Grind the Frankincense to a fine powder.  (See my post on how to grind Frankincense & Myrrh. ). Since they are oleo gum resins, the finer you grind them, the more resin will be exposed to the oil. 
    • Make sure your Frankincense powder is fine and dry. Spread it out and dry it if it clumps.
    • Find a glass jar or mason jar that is at least 3 times larger than  your mixture of resin powder and oil.
    • Add 1 part powder to 3 parts oil, by weight to the jar.
    • Clamp  the jar to the side of the water bath. Do not sit the jar on the bottom of the pot since it can crack from excess heat.
    • You can add room temperature water to the bath before or after you situate the jar.
    • Make sure the water is up to the level of the materials in your jar
    • Bring the water bath to a boil while breaking up any lumps and stirring the blend. 
    • Let the jar sit in a simmering bath with occasional stirring for 3-4 hours. (Once your bath is simmering you can feel free to do other things and visit it periodically to stir.) Top up with small amounts of water periodically if needed. Once the water bath is hot you can top it up with small amounts of boiling water from a kettle.
    • Turn off the heat and let it sit, cool and sediment.

    Filter or macerate?

    At this point you have captured some of the resin acids in the oil. Now, you can either filter and use the extract, OR you can let it sit in a warm place for 4-8 weeks. If you have the patience you will notice the oil is slightly thicker and more viscous after a few weeks which means there are more resin compounds in the oil and of course, more Boswellic acids. people ask me regularly if they can skip the waiting part. You can, but I wouldn't. Next, you will need to filter your oil extract. 

    Filtering the oleo extract

    • Filter the liquid carefully through a fine metal mesh coffee filter.
    • Place the filter in a funnel over a clean glass vessel or jar. 
    • Add the liquid extract.
    • Cover your jar/vessel and set aside. Traditionally a warmish place like on top of a fridge or water heater is recommended
    • Use the residue as an exfoliant, (Put it in a jar in the shower or bathroom),add it to home made soap, skincare products or return it to the earth.
    • If you plan to keep your extract around for over a year, add 400 IU of Vitamin E to each 250 ml. or cup of extract. And it will keep a little longer.

       

      Frankincense carterii oleo Extract

      Method # 2 for extracting Frankincense-Using a Resin Extract

      A resin extract is the pure resin of Frankincense after it has been separated from its water-soluble gum, usually through  the process of distillation. The benefit of using a preparation made with the resin extract is that all the resin acids are present in the oil. Once a resin extract is dissolved in warm oil, all that remains is a residue of detritus and bark that can be filtered out. Your oil contains all the resin acids that are present in the Frankincense.

      What is a Resin Extract?

      During the distillation process Frankincense tears are washed in boiling water. Their volatile essential oils evaporate and are collected. The gum portion of Frankincense dissolves in the boiling water of the still and the pure resin portion collects in the still. When the distillation is done, the hot liquid is poured out and when cooled, the hardened, pure resin is collected. This is the resin extract and this material will dissolve directly in warm oils and waxes.

      I collect and process all the Frankincense resin extract from our shop distillations and list them in the shop for sale. I grind, dry and sift the resin extracts to remove all traces of water from them. Thus they are ready to use immediately in an oil extract. You can find a selection of Frankincense resin extracts in the Natural Skincare collection and in the Resin Extract collection

       

      Frankincense Rivae Resin Extract

      Make your own resin extract.

      Over a decade ago, I outlined a method for separating the gum from the resin without distilling it which created a pure resin extract of Frankincense.

      It was a difficult, time-consuming and very messy process that involved boiling Frankincense in a sieve that is partially immersed in boiling water. It yielded a good quality product, but at the same time, pretty much destroyed all the kitchen pots and utensils that were used in its production. I felt terrible for all the people that had to go through the challenges of that process! 

      It is much easier and more cost effective to purchase the post distillation resin from someone who distills Frankincense. If you are interested in preparing your own resin extract while bypassing the distillation process, let me know in the comments, and I will publish the instructions as a separate post.

       

      Frankincense Rejuvenative Creme-Made with the whole resin and not Frankincense essential oils

        How to make a Frankincense cosmetic crème

        I am not an expert in cosmetics formulation, and there is an abundance of excellent information online written by people with much greater knowledge of this art than I. I suggest you find a formula with detailed instructions for making an oil/water creme that appeals to you, and replace the carrier oil portion/phase in any of these recipes with your Frankincense Oleo Extract to make a creme. 

        There is always an exception to the rule!

        As mentioned above, most Frankincense and Myrrh resins are Oleo-gum-resins and will not dissolve directly in carrier oils. However there are exceptions to this rule. The Frankincense "Thurimels" AKA the Honey Frankincense types will dissolve directly in warm oils. These include the Thurimels, of Frankincense Rivae and Frankincense Neglecta.

        Frankincense Frereana is also a pure oleo resin. Though it has therapeutic properties, it does not contain Boswellic acids.

        Are there other methods to extract the Boswellic acids?

        Yes. There are 2 other methods I use to harness the power of Frankincense in cosmetic and therapeutic products. Stay tuned for future tutorials.

        Do tell

        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 what we have, 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.

        Dan

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