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.
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).
Freshly ground Frankincense powder
Stirring the fresh frankincense powder to keep it loose while it dries.
Powdered, dried and sifted to remove any lumps that escaped grinding
Frankincense powdered, dried, sifted and weighed
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.
Weighing Frankincense powder
Weighing carrier oil
A simple water-bath system for processing larger quantities. A steel bowl sitting snugly on a pot of water.
The insert. A perfect match for the water bath. Aesthetics are an important element in all forms of artistry.
Reuseable metal mesh coffee filter
Water-soluble gum after the hot oil extraction
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.
Prepare Waxes or butters
Beeswax added directly to hot oils.
Cocoa butter added whole to hot blend.
Filling tins with measuring cup.
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.
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.
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. Thisis 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.
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.
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.
With a growing interest in the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity of Boswellic acids, Acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA), Incensole and Incensole Acetate which are found in some types of Frankincense, the market for Frankincense products is growing rapidly.
Identified to date in only 4 types of Frankincense-Boswellia Serrata from India, B. Papyrifera from Ethiopia, and B. Sacra from Arabia and Boswellia Carterii from East Africa, (See dissert. Michael P. pg. 137.) , these compounds are resin acids and make up the heavier resin portion of these oleo gum resins, which is left behind when Frankincense is distilled. For this reason, it is not physically possible for there to be anything but trace amounts of Boswellic acids in the essential oil of Frankincense. No matter what the company reps tell you. ( See Wikipedia-Boswellic acids)
It is safe to say that all the literature and information that claims Boswellic acids are found in the essential oil of Frankincense are written and disseminated by essential oil companies who seek to boost their sales of Frankincense essential oils.
It is also safe to say the studies one finds online at PubMed and other otherwise reputable sites claiming the essential oil of Frankincense cures cancer or contains Boswellic acids are written by a core of individuals who either own or work for certain well known essential oil companies. Please look closely at these studies and make your own evaluation. Don’t take my word for it. Take your time and read the fine print. Correct me if I am wrong.
This is has become generally accepted misinformation, misleading at the very least and keeps us ignorant of how we can truly utilise Boswellic acids for our own health and wellbeing. It goes without saying that this information has also led to an increase in the unhealthy use of essential oil of Frankincense internally where it has served little function beyond straining and in some cases damaging our organs. There are no Boswellic acids in the essential oil of Frankincense.
This recent increase in Frankincense essential oil sales has a far-reaching impact all the way back to the harvesters and the trees. Suffice to say, at the very least, our growing demand for the essential oil of Frankincense has led to serious overharvesting, contributing to trees dying much quicker than they can propagate themselves. We are going to lose them in a few short decades. (See the work of Dr. Anjanette Decarlo in Somaliland here-http://www.conservecalmadow.org/).
We are also participating in a supreme waste of precious natural resources since the Boswellic acids we think we are getting are only present in the resin portion of Frankincense and discarded as valueless after distilling out our essential oils.
If we are being misinformed, and the Boswellic acids are not present in anything other than trace amounts in the essential oils, then where do we find them, and how can we utilise them safely for their healing potential?
Well, I’m happy you asked…
To my knowledge and in my experience, there are 5 ways to utilise these healing compounds, easily and safely, for external and internal use.
5 safe and rich sources of Boswellic acids from Frankincense
Using the whole fresh oleo gum resin, frozen, ground and as a powder. (See “How to grind Frankincense and Myrrh”). I take 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, 3 to 4 times a day. I find it a stimulating tonic and excellent anti-inflammatory. Studies indicate that when it is taken with oily/fatty food, our uptake and assimilation of the Boswellic acids is much higher. This could be fries, Avocado, salmon, oil and vinegar salad dressing or any other source of digestible fats that will help dissolve the resin portion and aid in its digestion.
Though this resin extract can be taken orally and does contain a high percentage of Boswellic acids, one has to wonder if a more holistic approach which includes the naturally occurring gums and essential oil that are in the fresh whole Frankincense might be of more benefit than an isolated concentrate…(Which takes us back to method number 1 above). I initially developed this method to facilitate the making of medicated cremes, salves and oils where the water soluble gum portion would have to be filtered out.
Purchasing an extract of Boswellic acids. There are a few patented processes and products on the market that offer a 60%-65% concentration of Boswellic acids. Most are made by washing the material in both water and alcohol to isolate the pure oleoresin from the gum and foreign particles such as bark and sand. Due to the high cost of these extracts, they are more suited to internal use and not the preparation of salves, cremes or medicated oils.
The word tincture comes from latin and means “to dye or colour”, referring to the menstruum, or the solvent liquid receiving the colour or character of the material it is extracting. Our English word, “tinge”, shares the same etymological root.
The word Menstruum is rooted in Old English and Latin. From the word “Mensis”, it refers to the liquid solvent we use to extract the therapeutic compounds from plant material and its meaning is “a month”, not just any month, but a Lunar month which we see implied in the words menses and menstrual. This is important since Astrologically, the Moon “rules” and influences all things fluid, as seen in the ebb and flow of the tides most obviously. This knowledge can be put to good use when we are preparing high-quality tinctures and other fluid plant preparations.
Tinctures offer us a convenient and effective method to extract and utilize the active compounds in medicinal and fragrant plants, and are just as useful now as in centuries past. Tincturing will separate the soluble, active compounds from cellulose, bark, starches and other non-active components. Though, in theory, different solvents such as petroleum distillates, Acetone, Glycerin, and Acetic Acid will also dissolve medicinal compounds, alcohol is considered now, as in centuries past, the “Universal solvent”, and still held as the best tincturing medium or menstruum available to us.
Water acts as a solvent for water-soluble compounds only. and has no ability to preserve itself as a tincture. For this reason products collected via water have a very short shelf life. A tea can be considered a tincture of sorts as can an infusion or decoction, however, they are limited in the range of compounds they can absorb and by their inability to keep for more than a few days before succumbing to bacteria and moulds.
Alcohol will mix readily with water and even when present at a very low percent, will help preserve a tincture. This means that an alcohol-water mixture can capture both the water-soluble and the alcohol-soluble compounds, and will preserve them all for future use.
This is especially important since both Frankincense and Myrrh are not pure oleoresins, but oleo gum resins. Each containing varying amounts of water-soluble gum along with their alcohol-soluble resins and volatile oils. Gums which will not be dissolved by alcohol but water alone. These gums are not as well studied or understood to date and we may wish to include them in our tinctures and medicine for different reasons.
Though the method of making a tincture from Frankincense is fairly straightforward, there are different types of Frankincense that can be used for different purposes and there are alcohols of varying water/alcohol ratios we can choose from for different applications.
A high-proof alcohol that contains little water and it will extract mainly the volatile oils and resin from oleo-gum-resins and little of the water-soluble gum. An alcohol with more water in it such as a 40% alcohol, also termed, 80 proof, will dissolve and hold a reflective proportion of the water-soluble gum when one is working with Frankincense and Myrrh. We can control the percent of gum in a tincture by adjusting the percentage of water in our alcohol/water tincturing menstruum.
Alcohol based tinctures offer us a simple, safe, effective and practical method to capture and deliver these resin acids and other healing compounds including the essential oils in their naturally occuring proportions.
Tinctures can be used alone, to make compound medicines with other plant tinctures, or contribute to syrups, liqueurs, lacquers, liniments and other products for our health and enjoyment. Tinctures can also be a starting point for medicinal extracts and natural perfume tinctures or absolutes of fragrant plant material from which the alcohol is later evaporated.
Below are 3 different types of tinctures one can make with Frankincense or Myrrh depending on our needs.
A Simple Tincture of Frankincense or Myrrh
An every day and all-purpose tincture and medicinal. Simple, straightforward and easily made at home. This sets out the basic method for the following alternative and more complex processes. It is these fundamental processes, combined with practice, knowledge, experience and vision that can lead to a mastery of the art and superior products that excel in colour, scent, shelf life and efficacy.
In a clean resealable glass vessel place 1 ounce or 30 grams finelypowdered, fresh Frankincense or Myrrh oleo gum resin. See the post, “How to grind Frankincense and Myrrh” to avoid delays and learning the hard way. A larger jar is preferred to a small one. A good volume of space above the liquid encourages a microcosmic environment where vapours will naturally rise with the ambient heat, condense, collect and rejoin your menstruum. Much as in Nature. You can of course, double, triple or quadruple this formula as long as you keep the same ratio.
To the powdered oleo gum resin add a Vodka of your choice, unflavoured and at least 40% alcohol or 80 proof. You can use Brandy or even Whisky as long as it is unflavoured and with no additives. A higher ratio of alcohol to water will deliver more resin and less water-soluble gum to your tincture. 96% alcohol is about the highest percentage we can get and it can be used straight or diluted with water to achieve any % or proof you desire.
At a ratio of 1:5, add 150 Ml. of alcohol to the powdered material. This is the standard acceptable ratio for tincturing dry plant material in most Herbal circles.
Run a tiny bit of vegetable oil on your finger, around the thread of the jar, almost to the lip. This will ensure the lid is not sealed close by resin that seeps in through capillary action while you are shaking the tincture daily. Hand tighten the lid on the jar.
Place in a relatively warm place.
Shake at least once daily making sure all the material is dislodged from the glass each time.
Continue the maceration for at least 1 full moon cycle, approximately 4 weeks. Ideally 1 1/2 or 2 cycles, and it can be left indefinitely with no harm. Always plan and time your tinctures by the moon, not by Solar days or weeks.
Remove the tincture when you are satisfied no more colour is transferring from the material to the menstruum, (the liquid). There are many approaches to this process. Some require precise timing based on astrological and other esoteric calculations which lead to a higher quality product. However, as mentioned, we are dealing only with the basics here, so 8 weeks is a good minimum to yield an effective tincture and transfer the most important compounds to the alcohol.
Pour your finished tincture through a fine filter such as a clean paper coffee filter set in a funnel.
Fold the edges of the paper over on to the now exhausted material and press gently with the back of a spoon to squeeze out the last of the moisture while being careful not to rip the paper and allow solids into your clean tincture.
Cover your filtered tincture and let it sit undisturbed a day or two to settle and sediment.
Pour off or syphon off the clear liquid into clean sealable bottles or jars and label them accordingly.
Make sure you have recorded the whole process and any pertinent information in a journal or formulary for future reference.
An oleoresin tincture of Frankincense or Myyrh
We will choose to make this type of tincture when we desire only the resin and essential oil content of the Frankincense or Myrrh, with no water-soluble gum. We will use the purest alcohol we can find which is 95%-96% alcohol, branded as “Everclear” in the U.S.. This is likely the closest most of us can get to a food grade pure alcohol since is is very difficult for us to create an alcohol that is purer. This is partly due to alcohol’s hydrophilic nature and its ability to absorb moisture from the air.
The resin and essential oil portions of Frankincense, Myrrh and other oleo-gum-resins have received most of our interest and research lately, and are known to be the source of many of their medicinal compounds. In the case of the Frankincense family, these are mainly the Boswellic acids, AKBA, Incensole and Incensole acetate which so far have only been found in Boswellia Papyrifera, B. Sacra/Carterii and B. Serrata.
This tincture offers us the complete array of compounds in both the essential oil and resin portions of our oleo-gum-resins. It collects a negligible amount of water-soluble gum and is most useful in preparing liniments, and serves as a perfume tincture which captures all the aromatic compounds of the material and can transfer them easily to our perfume or fragrant product. The combined fragrance profile of both resin and essential oils is richer than that of the essential oils alone. In traditional herbal practice, tinctures are most often prepared in a ratio of 1 part dry herbal material to 5 parts menstruum. This can be used as a standard for Frankincense and for Myrrh tinctures used in the above applications.
An alcohol extract of Frankincense or Myrrh
A more concentrated version of an oleoresin tincture that serves preparations such as the “Myrrh anti-fungal lacquer” and produces a tincture from which we can gently evaporate the alcohol to create an absolute or resinoid for perfumery, salves, cremes or internal applications such as gel caps and suppositories.
Though we could, in many cases, use a 1:5 ratio of menstruum to material since we are going to evaporate the alcohol anyway, a 1:3 ratio performs as well and wastes less alcohol.
The instructions are the same as above, but if we wish to create a solid product, after maceration and filtering our tincture, we set it out in a shallow pan, covered with a loose cloth and allow the alcohol to evaporate at a low temperature. Once a solid is available, we will collect it and store it in an airtight container to be powdered or melted and added to our products. This extract, if devoid of water-soluble gum, will dissolve readily in hot oils that may be used as the bases for salves and cosmetic cremes.
A Holistic tincture of Frankincense or Myrrh
There is something to be said for the concept of Holism, where we create products that are as close to their natural state as possible. Where we strive to keep our processing to a minimum, maintain the integrity, life force and “intelligence” of the original plant material intact. Keeping its components as close to the proportions and ratios present in nature is one step we can choose in this direction.
We do this by matching the ratio of water to alcohol in our menstruum to the ratio of gum to oleoresin in the material.
In Myrrh, Commiphora Myrrh, we find a consensus that water soluble gum takes up 65% of the material. We will prepare a menstruum with 65% water and 35% alcohol.
These 3 Boswellia species all contain between 18% and 25% water-soluble gum so we will have to settle on a rougher estimate. With variations in climate, geography, and differences between first and consecutive harvests each season, no two batches of Frankincense are alike, and it is not realistic to expect any kind of precise foreknowledge of the constituents of Frankincense without sophisticated testing equipment on hand, which few of us have access to. For this reason we must proceed with an educated guess, a feel for the material, our intuition or whatever works for us individually, keeping in mind there are few true absolutes in life and that in these more esoteric pursuits, our intent is also an important part of the formula.
Since the Ontario Liqueur board has started selling a high-proof, 76% alcohol Vodka branded “Spirytus”, I have found it most convenient to use it as the menstruum for holistic tinctures of the above Boswellia types.
These tinctures are made as the others above.
Take by the teaspoonful during the course of the next day.
Used for coughs, colds, congestion and other cold and flu-like symptoms.
OK, back to work now where I’m preparing a batch of pure oleoresin extracted from fresh Boswellia Serrata from India. Lovely, fragrant, flowing, shiny, caramel stuff perfect for making salves and cremes that deliver Boswellic acids.
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Herbal Apothecary, Wildcrafter, Sculptor, Craftsman.
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