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The many benefits of Frankincense tea

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Frankincense tea, also known as a Frankincense infusion, is a time-honoured remedy in many cultures and medical systems. Some of its traditional medicinal uses have been researched in recent years and I am surprised to see that many of the classic therapeutic properties associated with Frankincense tea are substantiated in the laboratory. I have listed a few here, but trust you to do your own research as well.

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A Frankincense infusion is a traditional and time-honoured remedy in many cultures. It has broad therapeutic applications, is easy to make at home and puts less stress on trees that are already burdened by our demand for Frankincense essential oil.

Not the essential oil

Our recent obsession with Frankincense essential oil can easily blind us to the plethora of therapeutic compounds found in the whole oleo gum resin and is no doubt increasing the pressure we are putting on trees that are already over-harvested and over-burdened with our growing demand for Frankincense essential oil.

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After distilling a small amount of essential oil of Frankincense, the resin which contains the Boswellic acids and other valuable therapeutic compounds is usually discarded as waste. Increasingly, pharmaceutical companies are buying up the spent Frankincense resin and processing it into Boswellic acid supplements. A rapidly growing and very profitable market.

A Holistic approach

The following gem is borrowed from one of the linked studies below. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

“However, exclusive focus on individual biochemical targets neglects the fact that strong synergy of multiple constituents in a crude drug may prove more potent and effective than any single purified compound, or that interactions of co-occurring phytochemicals may help nullify the toxic effects of individual constituents. So while it is important to understand the active agents within medicinal plants, it should also be with caution that we extract and use constituents in isolation.”

Kurt Schnaubelt,

Traditional therapeutic benefits of Frankincense

Frankincense tea has a broad range of traditional therapeutic applications..

  • As a sexual tonic and aphrodisiac
  • To increase fertility in men and women.
  • To stimulate brain function, memory and intelligence
  • As a home remedy for coughs, colds and congestion
  • To reduce the pain and inflammation associated with Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • As a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Alleviating respiratory complaints such as Asthma and Bronchitis.
  • To treat diabetes.
  • To ease the irritation of urinary tract inflammations

A teaspoon of Frankincense tears steeped overnight in water is a traditional healing formula that has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years

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Frankincense Carterii harvest Ufeyn Eastern Bari district Somalia. An oleo gum resin, Boswellia Carterii tears form on the tree as a homogenous white emulsion of oil and water soluble compounds which lend it its name of Luban and Olibanum. An infusion of the whole tears mimics this emulsion and delivers both the gum and the oil soluble resins which contain the Boswellic acids and other non-water-soluble therapeutic compounds.

An aqueous solution and emulsion

I found no research that enumerated all the chemical constituents delivered through an aqueous solution of Frankincense. However, it is safe to assume that the emulsion created by an infusion of Frankincense in water is similar in composition to the fresh tears and delivers both the water-soluble gum and the oil-soluble resin acids, (including the Boswellic acids), which are today considered the most sought after therapeutic compounds in Frankincense.

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An infusion of Frankincense tears steeped overnight in water is a traditional remedy for many ailments and an effective anti-inflammatory.

How to prepare Frankincense tea

The traditional ratio of Frankincense granules to water is about a teaspoon of tears  to 1 or 2 cups of water.

  • Place a teaspoon of Frankincense tears in a cup, mug or bowl. large tears can be pulverized or crushed with a mortar or pestle, or by putting the tears in a ziplock bag and bruising them with a hammer.
  • Add 1-2 cups, (250-500 Milliliters) of room-temperature water. Some people use boiling water though I can’t say if one method is better than the other. Both seem to yield the same results.
  • Cover the container with a saucer or plastic wrap and let it sit overnight.
  • Sip the tea/infusion throughout the next day.
  • If you prepare too much you can keep it in the fridge for a day or two.
  • If you want to prepare a larger amount for future use, freeze it in ice cube trays, then store the frozen cubes in Ziploc bags in the freezer. Thaw them as needed. they should keep well for up to 6 months.
  • Remember, traditional use suggests consuming small amounts throughout the day. It is likely more beneficial to consistently drink a cup or two slowly throughout the day than to consume large quantities over a short period.
  • Listen to your body, and don’t overdo it.
  • Often, the tears can be infused in water once more and still colour the water.
  • When they are spent they can be consumed, (washed down with water or taken with food), and a new batch prepared.
  • Though there are no major side effects to consuming too much Frankincense, if you experience digestive discomfort in any way, take a break and moderate your intake.

Which types of Frankincense are best suited to making a tea?

Not all Frankincense types are suited to this type of preparation. Some Frankincense resins have no water-soluble gum and will not create an emulsion when steeped in water. If the solution does not turn white or cloudy overnight, know that the resin acids are not included in the “Tea”.

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Some types of Frankincense are suited to preparing Frankincense tea, and others are not.

The following species of Frankincense are the best suited and most popular types for this application and contain water soluble gum. Click on the links for a detailed description of each type.

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Frankincense Sacra-Royal green Hojari, Oman. Some types of Frankincense are suited to preparing Frankincense tea, and others are not. Royal Green Hojari Frankincense is traditionally reserved for medicine and tea in Oman.

Not suitable for teas

Though Frankincense Rivae, Neglecta and Frereana contain many therapeutic compounds, their lack of water-soluble gum means their resin acids will not be delivered through an emulsion.

Boswellia/Frankincense Frereana-Somalia. Known as Maydi, Frankincense Frereana has no water-soluble gum which makes it ideal for its traditional use as a long-lasting and healthy chewing gum, but ineffective in a tea. Though Maydi contains little to no Boswellic acids, it has its own set of therapeutic compounds

Scientific research

Laboratory studies of the tea, infusion or aqueous extract/solution of Frankincense support many of the traditional uses. Below, are a few of the studies I came across. I urge you to do your own research. An online query such as “Frankincense tea” or”Frankincense infusion” won’t yield many results. However, if you phrase your search, “Aqueous solution of Boswellia”, or something similarly scientific,  you will be well rewarded. I have by no means collated everything there is, and can’t judge the veracity of all the studies, but a few hours searching proved fruitful and educational. The potential benefits of a simple tea of Frankincense are extensive and yet to be fully explored. Here are a few.

Studies like these remind me how much we don’t yet know about nature, our bodies and diseases. There is so much more for us all to learn. It also tells me that our obsession with taking things apart and consuming individual active compounds, ( such as essential oils), is likely to our detriment, that of the land and the plant species that give us our medicine.

This is an updated version of a popular post. originally published in 2017.

Dan

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Ambergris-How to prepare an oil, Attar and tincture

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Also known as “Floating Gold” and Whale vomit, Ambergris is one of the rarest & most precious gifts of Nature. Coveted since ancient times for it’s value in perfumery, incense making and traditional medicine. Considered an aphrodisiac since time immemorial, it fetches Astronomical prices for those lucky enough to find it washed up on beaches around the world.

Ambergris is a waxy material similar in chemical structure to cholesterol that collects in the stomach of the Sperm Whale, (Physeter macrocephalus). Produced in its bile duct, it coats irritants and indigestible objects and prepares them for safe evacuation. Theories vary as to which end of the whale they find egress.

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Gold Ambergris found in the South Pacific

Till recently these indigestables were limited to Squid beaks and other natural inclusions of an oceanic diet. Now, however, one finds a variety of foreign objects collected in whale digestive tracts and wrapped up in Ambergris.

Ocean Gold in the age of plastic

A recent purchase of 2 lumps disclosed layers of plastic bags tightly wrapped in Ambergris pointing a finger at the deteriorating state of our oceans. A reminder for us to forgo the use of plastic whenever possible.

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Ambergris laden with partially decomposed pieces of plastic bags. Indonesia

A unique perfume ingredient

In perfume, Ambergris is used as a fragrance material and a fixative, lending marine, animalic and Musk notes to perfumes while slowing down the evaporation of more fleeting fragrances. Like other animal sourced perfume ingredients, it adds a dimension that is difficult for synthetic and botanical aromatics to deliver on their own.

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Oddly, the magic and transformative power of Ambergris in perfume lies not in the strength of its aroma or olfactory contribution. Liminal, as if anchored in the intangible interstices of scent and senses, it rounds out and pulls together a bouquet from underneath while adding depth, tenacity and a unique dimension to compositions by means of a mechanism that is not well understood.

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Brown or black Ambergris with a deep, “dark”, animalic scent.

As an incense material

Ambergris is traditionally burned as incense though the odor is not to everyone’s taste. Conversely, it can be blended into a compound incense directly or in the form of a tincture which will disperse through the material prior to the alcohol evaporating.

Ambergris, Burning-Ambergris-John-Parker-Sargent
Burning-Ambergris-John-Parker-Sargent

In Gourmand food

Historically, Ambergris has been used to flavour egg dishes, wild game, ice cream, tea, coffee and liquers. In Morocco, a small piece of is adhered to the inside of the tea pot lid where it imbues the infusion for a lengthy period with it’s unique fragrance. In Turkey, it is boiled in the traditional Turkish coffee as an aphrodisiac, to bolster the libido and male constitution.

As medicine

Used for centuries in Unani and Ayurveda systems of medicine, Ambergris has a traditional role as an Aphrodisiac and is used in formulas that treat sexual debility, premature ejaculation and in tonic formulas for the heart, liver, brain and kidneys.

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Gold Ambergris carefully separated from the layers of plastic bags.

Different types of Ambergris

Though Ambergris is found in many shades, sizes and shapes, it can be generally divided into 3 types, grey, gold and brown/black.

The lighter coloured material often has a dry marine odour, with hints of Tobacco and ocean breeze. It has a light, clean and crisp fragrance.
The gold can have a soft, dry, Amber scent with Oak and Tobacco couched in Petrichor, (the scent of earth when it rains). It has a brisk marine note and a pleasant, soft animalic musk. It often has a gold colour with black striations.
The Brown material borders on black, and is a bit softer/stickier than the other types. It has a strong, dark, earthy scent and a musk-like animalic note layered over wet-cured tobacco and the scent of the ocean.

Aromatically, the 3 types range in intensity of scent with Grey being the lightest and Brown/Black having the most intense, or strongest fragrance, The Gold material sits between them in intensity of aroma.

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Brown/Black and Grey Ambergris in the shop

Tinctures for perfume

They are all suited to tincturing in alcohol and extracting in oil, though I find the Gold and the Brown material really shine as oils.

An alcoholic tincture brings out different notes than an oil infusion and highlights the Tobacco and marine notes present in the material.
An oil infusion creates a product with more of the animalic and musk notes. Smelling it makes my heart skip every time.

In perfume, Ambergris is used at very low proportions, often dissolved at 1% in high proof alcohol. Only a small amount of this tincture is needed to lend a perfume blend a unique edge.

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To prepare a tincture of Ambergris

Usually made in concentration of 1% to 5%, a 1% tincture of Ambergris is prepared in the ratio of 1 gram of Ambergris crushed or powdered in 99 parts 94%-96% ethanol. It can be initially warmed in the water-bath to speed up dissolution of the material in the alcohol. When powdered, heating to 40 degrees Centigrade for 15 minutes is usually enough. Kept in a sealed glass jar in a warm place, the scent of this liquid will evolve for 6 or more months. A 3% tincture is made with 3 grams Ambergris and 97 parts alcohol, a 10% tincture with 10 parts ambergris and 90 parts alcohol etc. 6 months is the standard maceration time for Ambergris tincture. Once the liquid is ready, it can be filtered through paper, bottled and kept in a cool dark place until needed. The tincture can be gently evaporated in a shallow cloth-covered dish at room temperature to create an absolute/resinoid. This product is a clean and concentrated form of the material and blends easily with essential oils and alcohol. When used, there is no need to filter the product.

To prepare an oil of Ambergris

An oil of Ambergris is prepared in much the same way as an alcohol tincture. Fractionated Coconut or Jojoba oil are used since they are stable and have an indefinite shelf life. Gently warming in a water-bath facilitates breakdown of the material in the oil and a 6 month maceration yields good results.

When the infusion is ready to be decanted it is allowed to sediment then vacuum filtered through paper and bottled for use.  Though it can be gravity filtered through a paper coffee filter, it is time consuming.

Preparing an Ambergris “Attar”

What is sometimes called an “Attar” is produced by macerating Ambergris in an essential oil such as Sandalwood, Rose, Oud, Frankincense or another stable aromatic liquid. Amyris, Copaiba, Gurjun, and other essential oils that age well can be experimented with. These can be used as standalone concentrated perfumes or as ingredients and fixatives in perfume blends. The process is identical to preparing an oil infusion and up to 10% Ambergris is a good general guideline depending on the essential oil and type of Ambergris used. The term Attar is used loosely here, and traditionally refers to the product created by distilling one aromatic plant material into the essential oil of another. Here we take aromatic license to include infusions of animalic aromatics in essential oil since the animalics cannot be distilled. Theoretically it is possible to distil an essential oil such as Sandalwood into an oil infusion/extract of Ambergris but it too would be stretching the term.

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Finding so much plastic in Ambergris has prompted me to rethink my shop packaging choices. We are now transitioning from plastic Bubble bags to recycled corrugated cardboard packaging and hope to shift to recycled paper mailers later this year.

If you decide to prepare any of these products yourself, remember-Always keep clear notes! Your future self will thank you. Dan

References- https://juniperpublishers.com/jcmah/pdf/JCMAH.MS.ID.555705.pdf https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8540767