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The many benefits of Frankincense tea

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop

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.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
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.

Frankincense tea, Frankincense infusion, resin extract, spent resin www.apothecarysgarden.com
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

Frankincense tea, Frankincense Carterii. www.apothecarysgarden.shop
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.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, frankincense as medicine, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
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”.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
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.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, royal green hojari frankincense, boswellia sacra, oman www.apothecarysgarden.shop
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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A Distillation Workshop in the Apothecary’s garden

Frankincense Frereana essential oil distillation in separatory funnel.

For those who will be in South Central Ontario this weekend

As promised, I will teach a distillation workshop this Saturday in the Apothecary’s Garden at the Teaching gardens in Churchill Park Hamilton. It will be part of the Hamilton Herbal Weekend. Short notice, but it will keep you limber.

You will learn

  • How to distill essential oils and make hydrosols at home.
  • What equipment you need, where to get it and how to create high quality products from harvest to bottle.
  •  I will cover the basics of safely  distilling and using essential oils.
  • The difference between the therapeutic properties of essential oils and other plant products. When and how to use essential oils and what not to expect from them.
  • How to make your own products for beauty and health.

I will be happy to answer questions related to distillation and the Apothecary arts. Which include but are not limited to growing, harvesting and processing herbs, sustainability, ethics and etiquette in wildcrafting, stewardship of the wild, fair trade, sustainable and regenerative commerce, plant energetics and intelligence, Medicinal Astrology and Plant Alchemy.

The subject of the distillation will be fresh Frankincense Serrata from India. The cost of the workshop is only $20.00. Some of my products will be available for purchase, and at the end of the distillation the freshly distilled essential oil and hydrosol will be offered for sale. Profit from sales will go towards my upcoming trip to Madagascar. https://apothecarysgarden.com/2016/09/12/chocolate-dreams-vanilla-beans-cinnamon-cloves-and-lemurs-madagascar-2016/

Drop by if you are in the neighborhood..

Dan

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How to make a Tincture of Frankincense or Myrrh- 4 Variations and a Tea

Frankincense tree
Frankincense tree

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

  1. 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.
  2. Making a fixed oil, oleo extract/infusion with vegetable oil, which will dissolve most of the volatile oils and resin. This is useful as a medicated oil for topical use and can be quite bitter if taken orally.. (See “How to make an extract of Frankincense and other oleoresins”).
  3. Using a solvent such as alcohol to produce a tincture or extract, which will capture all the resin-based compounds and essential oils. (See below).
  4. Washing out all the water soluble gum using heat and water to isolate a pure oleoresin. (Tapping into Frankincense and its Boswellic acids).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Making a Tincture of Frankincense or Myrrh

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 visual comparison of three types of Frankincense
A visual comparison of 5  types of Frankincense

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 finely powdered, 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.

Boswellia Papyrifera-Pure Resin-Medicine, Perfume & Incense.
Boswellia Papyrifera-  A pure resin extract-Boswellic acids. can be produced using water or alcohol.

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.

76% alcohol Spiritus at the LCBO
76% alcohol Spiritus at the LCBO

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.

Lastly, to close a rather lengthy post, let’s share an Aqueous solution, tea.
A traditional remedy for congestion, coughs and colds in the Arabian peninsula, at least in Qatar, and taken across the Islamic world as a pre-natal tea to increase intelligence and bravery of children as decreed by the Prophet Muhammad.

A Frankincense Tea

  • 1 teaspoon of Frankincense tears in a cup
  • Add 1 cup of cold water
  • Cover loosely
  • Let sit overnight
  • 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.

Boswellia Serrata resin  Extract
Boswellia Serrata resin Extract

You are invited to visit my online shop by clicking on any of the product photos in the sidebar. You might find exactly what you are looking for. Or perhaps you might find what you need.

 And of course.

 Remember to ALWAYS take clear notes!

 Your future self will thank you!!

Dan

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Frankincense-Boswellia Papyrifera

 

Until recently, in our North American market, there was little choice as far as the type of Frankincense resin or essential oil one could buy. Religious, occult, and “new age” stores, aromatherapy and natural perfume shops offered only Frankincense Sacra or Carterii. (These 2 types are often synonymous with each other and whether they are the same or different species is still a popular topic for researchers and other experts in the field). As recent as the last decade or so there has there been an increase in the types of Frankincense one could easily acquire here. I assume this is in part to the increase in interest in aromatherapy and natural perfumes, the “Global Village” phenomenon and the integration and growth of African, Asian and Mediterranean communities in North America.

Frankincense
Frankincense (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Likely Boswellia Sacra/Carterii.

Though the Boswellia family contains over 20 different species of Frankincense, there are only 6 or 7 types that are readily available commercially.

 

A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia- Papyrifera, Neglecta, Frereana, Rivae, Carterii/Sacra Apothecarysgarden.com
A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia

Frankincense has been a valuable commodity and a very important part of our global cultures, religions and trade for thousands of years, highly valued for its medicinal ceremonial and esthetic uses, it is only recently that the different types of Frankincense have been examined closely and their unique chemical compositions studied. Until a short time ago there had been much confusion as to which chemical compounds were attributed to the individual species of Frankincense. Samples purchased from merchants for study were not directly taken from identified trees, and some research results were associated with the wrong species. This has been corrected and now one can look back on earlier valuable research and with an understanding of the proper chemical markers associated with each species, identify the correct oleo-resin on which the studies were based.

 

” Although the gum resin of B. Papyrifera coming from Ethiopia, Sudan and E. Africa is believed to be the main source of frankincense of antiquity (Tucker, 1986), there was until recently a great deal of confusion in the literature regarding the chemical analysis of its resin as well as of the essential oil derived from it by steam or hydro distillation. This was mainly due to the fact that analyses were done on commercial samples without establishing the proper botanical identity of the true source of the resin.”, on Boswellia Papyrifera, Aritiherbal.com.

 

Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Ethiopia 2013

Some sound and exiting research studies conducted over the past few decades had reached the right conclusions, but for the wrong trees and oleo-resins, which compounded the confusion. Now that correct chemical markers are assigned to the different species of Frankincense, we find among other critical identifying markers, that Boswellia Papyrifera has the unique chemical markers Incensole and Incensole Acetate that distinguish it from the other types of Frankincense.

Frankincense Boswellia Serrata is well known in India for its healing medicinal properties in Ayurvedic medicine. Boswellia Serrata resin extract shows great promise in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and asthma. Among other characteristic chemicals it contains Boswellic acid which has been linked to anti-tumour and anti-cancer activity. I hope to elaborate on the chemical composition and medicinal applications of Boswellia Serrata in a future post.

 

 Indian frankincense  Boswellia Serrata

 

Boswellia Frereana is another unique type of Frankincense now more readily available commercially in North American markets. It grows mostly in Somalia, Yemen and Kenya and is widely used locally for ritual and medicine. In Somalia it is called “Meydi” and is burned daily in the home after meals and used to odorize ones clothing. It is sometimes called “Yemenite Chewing Gum”. Boswellia Frereana is composed mostly of resins and essential oils and contains very little water-soluble gum, this makes it especially suited to the purpose of chewing gum, because the resin and oils are not water soluble it does not dissolve or break down in the mouth, it softens when chewed, and can be masticated for long periods of time, cleaning teeth, massaging gums and freshening the breath with its essential oils. Its unusually low gum content, relative to other types of Frankincense can be seen in this chart of solubility courtesy of Ariti Herbal in Addis Ababa. Another way this high ratio of oleo-resins to gums can be verified is noting the way Frankincense Frereana melts and is absorbed into a hot incense charcoal, leaving nearly no carbon residue and emitting very little of the traditional burnt odor other types of Frankincense do. This charred remnant is a result of the water soluble gums burning and some historic references cite this charred portion of Frankincense as an ingredient in traditional middle eastern Kohl, eye liner, along with Antimony and other ingredients.

 

Boswellia, Frankincense Frereana. Called Yeminite chewing gum.
Containing almost no water-soluble gum, Frankincense Frereana does not dissolve when masticated, for this reason is used as an all natural chewing gum. It is composed mainly of resin and essential oils.

Ethiopia is home to three commercially important types of Frankincense, none of which had been easily available in North America till recently. Boswellia Papyrifera, or Tigray type from the north, Boswellia Rivae also called the Ogaden type from the south east Ogaden area and Boswellia Neglecta from the Borena area of Ethiopia. All are used locally and are commercially important resources. Their wood is used for fuel, construction and furniture, the bark for incense and medicine and the oleo-resins are used among other things, to produce bases for varnishes and adhesives, essential oils, absolutes for perfume, and as incense and medicine. Boswellia Papyrifera is by far the most extensively used oleo-resin locally and abroad. It is used in Ethiopian households daily as incense and in their traditional coffee ceremonies, it is the choice incense of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is also used locally as an insect repellent and for medicine. It has been the Frankincense of choice by Churches and religious institutions all over the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. Both Boswellia Rivae and Boswellia Neglecta deserve their own segment here, so I will leave their detailed descriptions for another day and focus on Boswellia Papyrifera .

 

Boswellia Papyrifera is distinguished from other types of Frankincense by the presence of large amounts of Octyl Acetate and Octanol and two other unusual and unique chemical markers, Incensole and Incensole Acetate. Studies have shown that Incensole Acetate affects our central nervous system and posesses psychoactive properties. According to studies, Incensole Acetate can generate heightened feelings of well being and spirituality, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and improve memory function. Other research has indicated that Incensole Acetate shows neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties and indicates it may be of use in cases of stroke and head trauma. It is presumed that Incensole and Incensole Acetate are absorbed by the body through the smoke released during the burning of Frankincense as an incense. One can see how this might be an ideal incense for spiritual/religious purposes in churches and temples.

 

The discovery of Incensole and Incensole Acetate as identifying chemical markers of Boswellia Papyrifera goes a long way to bolster the theory that Frankincense Papyrifera is indeed the true Olibanum and “Frank”(True) Incense of ancient times and scripture. Employing an incense that has psychoactive properties and elicits altered states of mind during ritual and ceremony, would make this incense a very valuable commodity to churches and other religious establishments, and would require a special knowledge to discern between regular non psychoactive incense and the true, or Frank-incense. This would be a valuable skill when one purchased such an exotic and expensive imported item for church use. Oleo resins such as Frankincense and Myrrh were at times worth their weight in gold, they were hard to come by, growing only in Ethiopia they would travel by caravan, ship, boat, donkey, horse or camel, or all the above often for many months. They would exchange hands many times before they reached their final destination which could often be thousands of miles away. One can safely assume, because of their value and scarcity in most parts of the world, they would run a real risk of being adulterated or replaced along the way with other less expensive materials for the profit of those that traded in such items. This would lend even more weight to the need to be able to identify the “true” incense from other types. The Frank-incense.

 

Boswellia Rivae, has a distinct haunting, rich and deep fragrance. The resin stands out in its aroma, fresh, as well as when burned as incense. The essential oil is a sweet, compelling, mysterious and complex mix that brings to mind mystery, magic and ancient sacred places. It has a surprising sweet note reminiscent of Palo Santo, unexpected in a Frankincense essential oil.
Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae
Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae
Boswellia Neglecta; Is another unusual Frankincense from Ethiopia. It is a delight burned as an incense, grounding and elevating. It has a pine like component which nicely rounds out an incense or Bakhoor mix. The essential oil of Frankincense Neglecta is also grounding, earthy & sweet. More stimulating than relaxing. The essential oil and oleo-resin have a boldness that makes them quite a different experience than the Boswellia Sacra/Carterii we have gotten used too.
Dan