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Frankincense as Medicine-Truth, Myth, and Misinformation

This is an updated and revised version of my “Medicinal Frankincense FAQ” from 2 years ago. You can find the original here.  Since I have spent the past few years studying and working with Frankincense resin, essential oils, extracts, trees and harvesters, my knowledge on the subject is a little more than average. If I am considered an expert in this area it is a relative thing. I continue to learn and grow daily, as do you, as do the recognized “experts” in any field.

I mention this because as a group, we tend to be complacent, seeking and accepting authority and “expert” opinions online without question. This is one way we give away our power and effectiveness in the world.  I urge you to research and study all topics independently and reach your own conclusions. Take the time and do it right. Read the fine print. Don’t blindly trust anything you read online. Not even what I write here.

Frankincense and Cancer-What you need to know

Just in case you don’t have the patience to read all the way through, let me tell you now that the anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory Boswellic acids are not present in the essential oil of Frankincense.

In fact, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the resin of Frankincense is “cooked” to remove the essential oil before it is added to a formula or taken internally.

It looks like the popular belief that Frankincense essential oil cures Cancer is a myth started by one of the large essential oil companies. Whether intentionally or unwittingly,  this bit of misinformation is perpetuated by companies and individuals who sell Frankincense essential oil. If you don’t take the time to drill a little deeper into their claims, links and references you can easily purchase the wrong product for your needs which will only benefit the vendors.

There are 2 types of misleading studies that are referenced by those who sell Frankincense essential oil.

  1. One set describes how “Frankincense oil”  kills cancer cells and many people assume they mean Frankincense essential oil, which is not the case. The Frankincense oil in the studies they refer to in many online shops is either a solvent extraction of whole Frankincense oleoresin that includes the Boswellic acids, or an essential oil to which the resin and Boswellic acids have been added. The essential oil of Frankincense contains no anti-cancer Boswellic acids. The only way to benefit from the Boswellic acids is to utilize the resin of Frankincense, not the essential oil.
  2. The other set of contradictory studies that claim Frankincense essential oil kills cancer are authored by a core group of people at the head of a large essential oil company.  These “studies” directly contradict the hundreds of other research papers that indicate only the resin of Frankincense contains cancer killing Boswellic acids.  Not the essential oils.  I urge you to look more closely at these studies and their authors.

 Medicine for the masses and a lucrative market for Frankincense products

With a growing, ageing western population, a worldwide increase in chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer, the need for “natural”  anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer remedies has skyrocketed the past few decades.

Big Pharma, corporations and companies that market herbs, supplements and essential oils, online advisors and private health authorities are all on board making the most of this trend. It is important to keep in mind that their primary function is to sell us products, not educate us.

Frankincense essential oil is no more anti-cancer than many other essential oils. Frankincense resin however, contains Boswellic acids which show broad anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activity in the laboratory and have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.

To benefit from these healing compounds one must use the resin of Frankincense. Not the essential oils. There are no Boswellic acids in the essential oil of Frankincense. In fact, powdered whole Frankincense resin has many times more Boswellic acids by weight than any essential oil of Frankincense. 

Frankincense Papyrifera ground in a steel mortar in preparation for extraction.
Finely ground Frankincense Papyrifera from Ethiopia. Used as is or a base for tinctures, oils, salves and cremes.

 

 

What is Frankincense?

A short answer is- Frankincense and Myrrh are the oleo gum resins exuded by the Boswellia and Commiphora trees respectively, 2 members of the Burseraceae plant family which is sometimes dubbed “The incense tree family”. They all have a network of resin-bearing ducts that produce and distribute fragrant oleo gum resin. When these trees are damaged the oleo gum resin rises to the surface of the tree where it dries and is collected.

Frankincense and Myrrh have been used for medicine, perfume and incense for thousands of years.  Where they grow is what I like to call the Boswellia Belt which reaches from the West coast of Africa, through the horn of Africa and southern Arabia up through India to Pakistan. There are 17-18 types of Frankincense trees at last count but only 8 or 9 of them provide us with a marketable resin.

What are the traditional uses of Frankincense?

  • Off the top of my head, a short list of traditional therapeutic applications associated with Frankincense would include- treating arthritis, rheumatism, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, gastrointestinal disorders, tumours, cancers, infertility, moods, anxiety/depression and memory loss, improving brain function, addressing ageing skin and flagging libido.
  • Frankincense Serrata is used traditionally, whole, in powder, pill, poultice and oil,  for arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, bronchial issues, various cancers and as an ingredient in skincare and beauty products. It can be made into an oil, lotion or creme for external applications.
  •  In Arabia Frankincense has been chewed for millennia for oral care, ulcers and general physical/mental well-being.  It has been used as an aphrodisiac and to treat infertility in both men and women. It is taken sometimes as a tea steeped in boiling water overnight and sipped during the day for inflammations, coughs, congestion, and colds.
  •  In traditional Iranian medicine, Frankincense is still consumed by pregnant women to increase the intelligence, (and bravery), of their offspring, and is generally considered to contribute to one’s mental acuity, emotional stability and spiritual clarity. It is sometimes used as a general tonic and restorative.
  • Boswellia Sacra, B. Carterii and B. Frereana from Somalia have also been used to address issues of fertility in men and considered aphrodisiacs. Arabian lore indicates that large testicle shaped Frankincense tears, (sometimes called Dakkar, from the Arabic word for masculine), are sexual tonics and aphrodisiacs for men, while pieces more vulvic in shape are believed to have similar effects on women.
  •  Though Boswellia Frereana from Somalia does not contain Boswellic acids, it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory used traditionally to treat inflammations of joints, the GI tract and arthritis. Laboratory studies show it can reduce brain inflammation due to tumours, head injuries and stroke. It kills the H.pylorii bacteria which causes stomach ulcers. It is valued as a traditional high-end chewing gum for oral and gastrointestinal health and is one of the most expensive Frankincense types available.
  •  Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia/Eritrea/Kenya and Sudan, which is a source of Boswellic acids, also contains Incensole acetate which is considered a psychoactive compound that crosses the blood-brain barrier, reducing anxiety and eliciting feelings of heightened spirituality and well-being. The incensole and Incensole acetate are delivered to us when using the whole oleoresin internally, through pyrolysis, (burning as an incense as is done in many churches), and when using the diluted essential oil externally.
  •  Boswellia Thurifera from the shores of the Red Sea has been shown in the laboratory,  to increase the size of rat testicles and raise their sperm count.
  • Whole Frankincense, not the essential oil of Frankincense, has been used in the Traditional Medicine systems of Asia, Europe, Arabia and Africa for thousands of years.

What are Boswellic acids?

One group of compounds in Frankincense has shown powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity in laboratory studies. They are the Frankincense resin acids which are pentacyclic triterpenes and formally named Boswellic acids since they are found in the Boswellia, or Frankincense family. Though there are other therapeutic compounds and acid resins in Frankincense, the Boswellic acids have caught the eye of big Pharmaceutical companies who are investing in the research.

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Pure resin acids of Frankincense Papyrifera, (bottom), and Frankincense Carterii. Left behind after distilling their essential oils. This is where the good stuff is!!

 

  • All types of Frankincense are composed of varying proportions of water-soluble gum,  resin, and essential or volatile oils. These resins and volatile oils are lipophilic, (Fat soluble), and mostly dissolve in vegetable oils, alcohol and petroleum distillates.
  •  Resin acids make up most of the resin portion of these oleo gum resins and Boswellic acids are the main type of resin acids found in Frankincense. These resin acids make up the non-volatile portion of Frankincense, which means they cannot be distilled or found in the essential oil of Frankincense.
  •  Boswellic acids have been found to inhibit leukotriene synthesis and act as anti-inflammatories. They modulate/regulate the behaviour of Leucocytes which are one of the body’s responses to trauma which create inflammation and subsequent pain.(http://bme.virginia.edu/ley/). This makes them valuable in the management of pain.
  •  Boswellic acids have been shown in studies to be anti-prolific and may also cause apoptosis, (death), in a wide variety of cancer cells in the laboratory. There is, however, little “In vivo” research at this point. They need to be tested on people.
  •  Though one resin acid in particular, AKBA or acetyl-keto-beta boswellic acid has been the focus of anti-cancer studies, it is only one of many resin acid compounds in Frankincense that have their role to play and indeed likely play more effectively together than separately.
  • To be clear, if a little repetitive, Boswellic acids are only present in the resin portion of these oleo-gum-resins, not their essential oils. Though all essential oils have therapeutic properties, the essential oil of Frankincense contains only trace amounts of Boswellic acids.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boswellic_acid. You can literally knock yourself out with Frankincense essential oil without getting a meaningful amount of Boswellic acids.

Boswellia-Frankincense-Comparison-1024x7682

 

Which types of Frankincense contain Boswellic Acids?

So far, research has shown the resins of the following species of Frankincense contain Boswellic acids.

  • Boswellia Carterii-Somalia
  • Boswellia Sacra-Arabia
  • Boswellia Serrata-India
  • Boswellia Papyrifera-Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda.

It is more than likely that most other types of Frankincense contain Boswellic acids. Many have not yet been studied or analysed.

In my opinion, there is no one type of Frankincense listed above that is therapeutically “better” than the other. They mainly differ in their volatile oil composition which contributes to their different aromatic profiles and has nothing to do with their content of resin acids. 

How can we best use Frankincense and the Boswellic acids for their therapeutic properties?

To benefit from the therapeutic actions of the Boswellic acids, we must work with the oil/alcohol soluble resin portion of Frankincense. Here is a list of products that will deliver the Boswellic acids with instructions for preparing your own.

  • An oil infusion/extract of Frankincense, since the resin is lipophilic and dissolves in warm oils. a 1;3 infusion of Frankincense in warm oil is an excellent topical application and can be taken internally if it is prepared with good quality vegetable oils.  This makes an excellent base for a Frankincense rejuvenating “Serum” or creme and salves for arthritis and painful joints, See how to make your own here-
  • A resin extract of Frankincense. This is a Frankincense product created by washing away all the water-soluble gum and evaporating some of the essential oil. This is also the product that is left over after steam and hydrodistillation of Frankincense. This pure resin is often thrown away because everyone is so obsessed with the essential oil of Frankincense. It can be powdered and taken internally or dissolved in oil for topical use. It has a higher concentration of Boswellic acids but also delivers the rest of the therapeutic resin compounds which haven’t gotten into the spotlight yet. See instructions for preparing a resin extract here-
  • Powdered whole Frankincense, can be taken internally to deliver the Boswellic acids in their natural form. Studies show that the Boswellic acids are absorbed to a much greater degree in the blood when they are consumed with fatty or oily foods.  Remember, as mentioned above, the resin acids are lipophilic and dissolve in oils. The presence of oily food in the stomach facilitates the breakdown and absorption of these resins in the body. I personally take 1/2 to 1 level teaspoon of finely powdered Frankincense with food 3-5 times a day when needed. See instructions for making your own powder here-
  • A Boswellic acid extract.  There are a growing number of extract brands on the market. I can’t recommend one over the other.
  • An alcohol tincture of Frankincense. A tincture can be taken directly, or added to food or beverages. A tincture of Frankincense made with 96% alcohol will deliver the resin and essential oils of Frankincense while a tincture that has a lower alcohol content will contain a relative proportion of water-soluble gum. Each has its benefits. Be aware that Glycerin does not act as a solvent for the resin and only an alcohol tincture will contain the important bits.  Learn how to make different tinctures from Frankincense here.
  • A tea, or “Aqueous solution” of Frankincense is a traditional home remedy in some parts of Arabia. Though water does not dissolve the resin portion, the grounds left over after infusing Frankincense overnight are often consumed. You can find instructions for making a Frankincense tea/infusion here-

Ethics and sustainability of our medicinal and aromatic plants

  • I’m really glad you asked. We are quickly losing our aromatic and medicinal plants around the world through mismanagement. If we don’t start addressing this, future generations will have no Frankincense or Myrrh.  If we made educated and responsible choices as global consumers, we could have a huge impact on the world, improving the environment, the health of our flora and fauna and the quality of life of those who tend to this big Apothecary’s garden that supplies all our natural medicine. This can happen lightning fast if enough of us care to make a difference.

The demand for Frankincense essential oil is putting an increasing stress on the trees that produce them and on the harvester communities that collect them.

The increased market demand for these medicinal and aromatic oleoresins is already exceeding the amount trees can comfortably supply in some areas.  Over-harvesting, improper harvesting methods, agricultural encroachment, fires and grazing animals, have reduced the number of mature trees in the wild,  the viability of their seeds, and the ability of trees to reproduce. If I recall correctly, seed germination rate has fallen from 81% to 18% in over-tapped trees. This is alarming.

There are areas in Kenya, Somalia and Namibia where Frankincense and Myrrh trees are not tapped and the oleoresins are sustainably collected. These are traditions and practices that need to be encouraged especially through preferring these sources to those where trees are heavily tapped.

Another critical issue that we are ignorant of is the quality of life of the harvesters. These often remote and isolated communities are the true stewards of our medicinal and aromatic resources. In many communities, these trees are an integral component of socioeconomic structures and are treated with reverence and respect. These are the traditions and communities we need to encourage and support.

Frankincense and Myrrh trees are extremely easy to propagate. Large branches will spring into root with barely a word of encouragement. Planting and stewarding new trees in the wild would ensure a sustainable and lucrative future for the harvesters and guarantee the consumer an ethical, fair trade and sustainable product. How perfect is that!

The market for Frankincense and Myrrh resins and essential oils is only going to grow. We need to apply a little forethought and foresight now in establishing conservation and stewardship programs before it is too late.

There are many ways you can contribute to establishing healthier trade in these resins. Foremost by educating yourself, making informed choices and informed purchases.

Ask your supplier whether their Frankincense is sustainably harvested and fairly traded. If we all demand this from our herb and resin providers they will do their best to comply.

Dan

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An East African Aromatic Adventure

With only a day left in Africa, I feel I need to offer a brief overview of my latest aromatic trip just to keep everyone abreast. Once back in Canada I will write in detail about this last trip to Madagascar and Kenya. So much has happened during these past three weeks and so many things have come together, it has been difficult finding time to write.

Madagascar Vanilla, a rare Elemi, and an improv distillation

Madagascar was beautiful. I am coming home Monday with Vanilla absolute, Vanilla beans, Rare Madagascar Elemi resin, (Canarium madagascariensis), and likely 1 of only two liters of Madagascar Elemi essential oil in  the world.

In Madagascar I travelled with someone just as dedicated to fair trade and sustainable aromatics as myself. Two weeks travelling, smelling, distilling and talking, was a perfect introduction between my new partner in crime, Marco Billi and myself. Some things just can’t be conveyed via email.

We pooled distillation equipment from Canada and italy and put our distillation and improvisation skills to the test. We already have a handful of new  international projects in the works. Lacking a common language was not as great a barrier to communication as I thought it would be. A shared passion for nature lent us common ground. Bourbon Vanilla beans,  Vanilla Absolute, Madagascar Elemi resin and essential oil are some of the Madagascar treasures I’m bringing back home.

Madagascar-Ylang Ylang, Vanilla and Elemi

Kenya. the Samburu, Frankincense, and the “Squirting Perfume Tree”

Though my visit to Kenya was shortened by a cancelled flight in Madagascar and a scramble to buy a new ticket to Kenya, my stay with Andre and Maria of Indigenous Collective has been extremely productive with new developments in our work with the Samburu tribe and the fair trade platform we are setting up for them.

We have now identified some unusual Boswellia and Commiphora trees and discovered valuable fragrance and medicinal compounds in the “Squirting Perfume Tree”, (Commiphora Rostrata). Andre has developed an easy, sustainable method of extracting the volatile oils from under its bark, and with time, we hope to market it and generate an income stream for the remote Samburu tribe.

 Indigenous Collective’s back yard

Somalia-Fair trade, sustainable co-op harvested resins arrive in Hamilton. Patience pays off

On the subject of fragrant resins, my long-awaited shipment of fresh co-op harvested Somali resins finally arrived.. After 7 months of setbacks and roadblocks they are in the shop. As with many new ventures and projects, the beginning is always the hardest and presents the most challenges.

Since our first conversations 2 years ago and birth of the first harvester co-op, we have amalgamated  with another young Somali co-op wIth similar ideals and goals of implementing fair trade and sustainable practices. The Barako co-op signs yearly contracts with 11 village elders, guaranteeing full transparency, a percent of profits going back to the harvester’s communities and infrastructure in exchange for exclusive rights and a commitment to sell their resins.

Barako has also started a nursery, propagating the heavily tapped Boswellias with branch cuttings which will be planted in the wild with their kin and stewarded by the harvesters. This not only ensures a thriving species which is struggling and suffering decline in other harvesting countries, but also ensures a stable income for the harvesters.

Selling directly to the West via the co-op is a challenge from a logistic point of view, but it bypasses the chain of middlemen who buy the resins at the lowest possible price, leaving the harvesters struggling to make ends meet and often leaving them indebted to the middlemen and brokers by pre-selling the next season’s harvest at rock bottom prices out of desperation.

I have to give special credit to my helper Joanne who is not only running the business single-handedly while I’m in Africa, but took upon herself to get the Somali resins quickly released by Canada Customs, avoiding ongoing storage fees, and in the shop, packaged and ready to ship. If I haven’t said it recently, I am indeed a fortunate man. Thank you Joanne!

Somali resins, before and after their long journey

As it stands in the shop now, and while they last, we finally have –

All traded fairly and with an eye to sustainability.

That’s it for now. I will write in more detail when I’m back in Canada.

 

Dan

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A fragrant moon over Addis

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First night in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, reclining in a hammock, chewing on some Chaat and gazing at the moon at 2,355 meters above sea level. She feels closer somehow. Supporting a huge halo, I’m comforted by her unchanging presence no matter where in the world i might be.
The blend of fragrances in the air is nothing short of exotic.
Sewage in a small stream that runs through the city provides a complicated base-note that blends in and out with mysterious and foreign florals, the smell of burning cook fires, punctuated by rich hints of Frankincense Papyrifera wafting from homes and the massive, always-busy church up the street. An engaging and ever-changing composition.
All in all, a wonderful way to shake off the claustrophobia and travel fatigue from the day-long journey getting here.
image Vending incense and resins on the street. Boswellia Papyrifera on the upper left.

This morning the burnt, rich scent of fresh roasting coffee beans leads the parade up my nose. Most everyone buys them green and roasts their own over a charcoal burner. A signature smell of Addis.
My Airbnb host Henok, is an artist, radical and kindred spirit. His home feels like many of my own over the years. Life is good.
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The always busy Piazza.

The morning was perfected with a coffee with my good friend Ermias, AKA
professor emeritus Dagne, who relishes the campus coffee even more because it is the cheapest in town. A perfect place for us to meet and to catch up on projects, future and past.
Though officially retired from teaching, professor Dagne is still very active in the university of Addis Ababa and there is usually a flock of grad students not too far from him.
He is one of those warm, authentic, magnetic, energetic people that walks with a slight tilt forward as if constantly on his way somewhere. Always busy. Always inspired, he is as much an artist as a scientist, and as much an apothecary and medicine maker as a distiller of essential oils. I’m honored to call him my friend.

Professor Dagne has offered his support with the upcoming Samburu project in neighboring Kenya.
One of the critical issues in marketing the resins the Samburu women collect is properly identifying which species they are.
While the Myrrh they gather  is generally accepted as Molmol, Myrrh or Commiphorah Myrrha, and the other as Hagar, or Opoponax, AKA C. Holtzii, the Frankincense types they bring back from their nomadic travels, are simply called “Light” and Dark” incense.

The global academic community has decided that only Boswellia Neglecta is to be found in North Eastern Kenya and neither of these fragrant oleoresins matches the description of B. Neglecta oleoresin as we know it. One is a clear golden yellow, often in tear form, and the other arrives in dull grey/white lumps.
So, a mystery awaits. And some work.
Professor Dagne will receive both plant pressings and their paired resins, and perform Gas Chromatography tests on the resin samples to help us identify them.

Over the past 100 or so years, 7 distinct species of Boswellia were registered in this area of East Africa. Over the past few decades they were all relegated to the species B. Neglecta S. Moore. I don’t know if this was based on similarity of leaf and flower and reasonably safe guesswork, but if the resins of these trees differ from each other so radically, it is worth a close look. And smell. Likely a taste too. Having access to sophisticated equipment that has not been available till recently could be the determinating factor in answering these important questions.
I will try to keep everyone updated as these projects unfold.
Dan

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Wild Harvest-Creating a future through Stewardship

Young Frankincense harvester bringing his daily harvest down from dangerous rocky terrain where the Frankincense Frereana trees grow.
Fresh Labdanum oleoresin. Wild harvested with traditional tools in the hills of Crete
Fresh Labdanum oleoresin. Wild harvested by villagers with traditional tools in the hills of Crete.

Recently, while writing about the traditional Labdanum harvest in Crete for my Etsy shop, I was reminded why I love doing what I’m doing. I see us, a new wave of herbalists, natural perfumers, earth and people healers, plant whisperers, craftspeople and shamans, with a role in this world and an opportunity that was not offered us till recently. We now have the tools to change the world much more easily and quickly. If we understand what is required from us.

1700-1702 woodcut- A Ladanisterion. The tool still used today by villagers in rural Crete to hand-harvest wild Labdanum, Cistus Creticus, for perfume, incense and medicine.
1700-1702 woodcut A Ladanisterion. The tool still used today by villagers in rural Crete to hand-harvest wild Labdanum, Cistus Creticus, for perfume, incense and medicine.

We have become accustomed to a Colonial/Capitalist approach to natural resources. Our western corporations take the precious stuff from poorer countries at the lowest possible price, taking advantage of cheap local labour and poverty, then sell it to us at the highest possible price. This is one reason developing countries are still only developing and corporations are doing so well. They see very little of the money we consumers pay for their resources. I think it’s time for a change.

Dealing in the trade of fragrant materials and working directly with harvesters, I am exposed to this process from the harvester’s perspective. Gaining an understanding of the harvester’s lives, cultures and struggles is eye-opening and often disturbing

Frankincense is one example. Not only are wild growing trees sometimes raided by thieves, but when the harvest does get collected and taken to the local market, traders aim to pay the lowest possible price for the harvest and I have heard many horror stories about this. Trading a bag of rice or flour for a bag of the highest quality resin that can fetch up to $300.00 a kilo on the retail market, is not an unusual story. A hungry harvester who needs to provide for their family the year ahead is vulnerable to these offers.

I hear of traders telling the harvesters they will only pay them when they sell their resins. Of harvesters  indebted to traders since the prices they receive are not sufficient to sustain them for the year and they end up borrowing against future harvests. That scenario never bodes well for the harvester and is, sadly, quite common.  Harvesters are often pitted against each other by the buyers and told others are selling at a much lower price leading desperate gatherers to settle for low prices to ensure a sale.

Young Frankincense harvester bringing his daily harvest down from dangerous rocky terrain where the Frankincense Frereana trees grow.
Young Frankincense harvester bringing his daily haul down from dangerous mountainsides where the Frankincense trees grow. The whole clan pitches in with the harvest, their main income for the year. Injuries occur often from wild animals and falls, and medical services are not available to harvesters in many remote areas of the world.

Sadly, many of these “Traders” are westerners, representatives or middlemen for  familiar international companies, bullies sent out to ensure the corporations make the biggest possible profit by paying the lowest possible price for goods. Till now, profit for the corporations, at any cost,  has been the only motivator and goal in this trade. We have accomplished a lot with our capitalist model of commerce, but lately it has become obvious, some things need to change. I believe we now have the tools and group power to collectively build a new model for ourselves.

We are the rich kids on the block and it is our responsibility to share what we have and not close our eyes to the distress or struggles of our neighbors. Especially not when we are buying their goods. We certainly shouldn’t take advantage of their poverty and lack as we do. And we do.  Let’s be clear and honest about this. The high prices we pay for our wild harvested medicinal herbs and fragrant materials go mainly to the big corporations and others who make a profit along the way. Very little ever reaches the people who harvest it except the bare minimum to ensure they keep supplying us.

Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP s...
Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP standards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will address this fully in a soon to be published post, but, the certification of “Organic” for our wild-crafted herbs and fragrance materials, is too often misused for profit.

I assure you without hesitation that the cheaper version of that Frankincense essential oil, beside the one that is certified organic, is , without the slightest doubt, equally organic and could very well be of higher quality.

The qualification of “Organic” in our wild harvested crops is inappropriate and misused. It was designed for domestic and cultivated crops and has no business being applied to wild harvested plants. It is also important to point out that not a penny of the premium we pay for this spurious certification is seen by the harvesters.

What we do need is a legitimate certification of Sustainable/Ethical harvest and  “Fair Trade” practices. If we aren’t dealing directly with the harvesters ourselves, then we need a body we can trust to look out for them and see to their well-being, financially, socially, culturally and otherwise. Ideally we need a certification by an organization that will protect and support the harvesters while ensuring sustainable harvesting practices and propagation in the wild. Our market demand is growing, natural resources are stressed and in many cases declining. We need to address this now, not when it’s too late.

These harvesters and collecters are the only stewards we have for these precious and quickly disappearing resources.   We must see to their needs to ensure they have the means to sustain themselves and the wild crops we depend on. This is our obligation. We need to take care of those who are taking care of our precious resources and their little corner of the planet for us.

We complain about the big corporations we have created and the damage they are doing to our society, economy and the planet.  However it is we who sustain them with our purchases. If we stop feeding them and supporting them they will cease to exist.  We are solely responsible for giving corporations their power because we give them our money.

If, instead, we direct our support towards the small-scale local operators, at home and abroad, and take care of the “little people”, we could, in fact, replace our corporate Capitalist model with something that is more suited to ensuring peace, prosperity and liberty for all while sustaining an ongoing supply of the medicinal and fragrant plant materials we love and depend on.

Do our harvesters have enough food?  Adequate shelter? Clean water? Enough income to get by comfortably? Do they have basic healthcare and education? Are they receiving fair prices for their products? If not, then we are not paying them enough for their goods and services.  Or more to the point, our money is not reaching them and something needs to change.

In the case of our wild aromatics and medicinals, the harvesters are the best positioned and best qualified to steward these precious resources. In fact, they are the only ones that can do this critical job. Many of our medicinal and aromatic plants also have important roles in the cultures and societies that harvest them for us.

Cliff hugging, rock loving fragrant and healing Frankincense tree
Cliff-hugging, rock-loving fragrant and healing Frankincense tree living where it loves to grow.

Frankincense trees are often left untapped for decades just so they can be given as gifts or dowry to newlyweds. These trees are of great value to the harvesters from a social and cultural perspective. They are much more than just a source of income. This is likely the case with other wild harvested plants we in the west purchase.

Many of these wild crops will not grow, thrive or lend themselves to domestic cultivation in orderly rows and tended fields and must be tended to where they grow best, in the wild. We need to maintain the balance of nature in the wild so our harvesting does not leave holes in the local ecology where other species might take over.

Many plants we use are stressed and not reproducing as well as they should due to over-harvesting, yet our demand still grows. Now is the time to propagate and replenish them in the wild, before it is too late. Part of the money we pay for our wild aromatics and medicinals needs to be invested in programs that ensure these native crops are maintained and do not decline from our intervention. The harvesters are the ideal implementors of programs of propagation, seeding and stewardship in the wild.

To change the current scenario, we need to deal as directly as we can with the harvesters, cut out the ruthless traders, the profit-focused large corporations, the myriad middlemen and the impersonal companies that receive the lion’s share of the high prices we pay. We need a new model that will serve us all well, harvesters, purveyors and consumers alike, where profit is only one of many conditions that need to be met. We need a model that brings prosperity and benefit to all, including the plants and their environments, the harvesters and their communities.

I invite you to think differently about our exotic wild medicinals and fragrant plant materials and start thinking about our brothers and sisters who harvest and steward them for us, and how to best appreciate and support their efforts so our children and theirs can experience these same wonderful scents and medicinals before they disappear from the planet through our shortsightedness.

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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Preparing winter medicine with tree saps

Spruce sap ready for collection.

 

Frankincense tree
Frankincense tree

As we enter another winter here in the Northern hemisphere, questions about chest rubs, cough and cold syrups, salves and liniments for sore muscles and joints are increasing. Short days and long nights bring some of us a sense of dread with Seasonal Affective Disorder looming in the dark.

Literally dripping with an abundance of healing plant chemicals, our tree saps, across the globe, have traditionally addressed these discomforts and many more.
They are well established as antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antitussive, and agents of emotional grounding and spiritual clarity. The anti-cancer and anti-arthritic properties of the Frankincense family are getting a lot of attention lately with the isolation and research of Boswellic acids.  Mastic and other oleoresins are proven treatments for peptic ulcers. Myrrh essential oil and tincture are among the best healers for teeth and gums. Pine, Spruce and Fir saps share long histories of use around the world as decongestants, muscle relaxants and relievers of musculoskeletal pain. Most are used to heal and protect our skin, as they do for the trees that bear them. The list of therapeutic properties our trees bring us grows daily as more research is performed and ancient traditions are examined.

Friars Balsam. A tincture of "exotic" tree saps. Popular since the Victorian age and available still in most drug stores.
Friars Balsam. A tincture of “exotic” tree saps. Popular since the Victorian age and available still in most drug stores.

The past few decades, with the wonderful growth of Aromatherapy, we have focused on essential oils as representatives of the therapeutic powers of plants. However, in the case of oleoresins, the essential oils only bring us a small part of the healing compounds in the plant material.

Distillation of fresh Spruce sap with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.
Distillation of fresh Spruce sap with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.

In  oleo-resins, the essential oils are the volatile constituents that evaporate before, and up to the boiling point of water. When these flammable chemicals have evaporated, many of the tree’s valuable therapeutic compounds, the “heavier” constituents, are left behind in the resin. Hence oleo, or essential oil, and resin=oleo-resin.

Solvent extractions such as Friars Balsam, (an alcohol tincture of Balsam Peru, Balsam Tolu and Benzoin), , can bring us a more Holistic” and whole product since they collect both the volatile essential oils and the “heavier” resins that remain after the distillation process. Using solvents provides us with a simple method for extracting many more of the valuable healing constituents from oleoresins, including much researched and talked about compounds such as Boswellic acids, Incensole and Incensole Acetate from Frankincense which recent studies have shown to possess anti-cancer and anti-anxiety properties respectively. These powerful healing compounds and many other constituents of our oleo-resins will not be found naturally in the distilled essential oils. 

Alcohol extracts & tinctures from oleoresins

are pretty straight-forward. The alcohol readily dissolves most resins and volatile oils, bringing us the whole sap in the form of a tincture. We know much less about the therapeutic properties of the gum present in many oleoresins, however, if you wish to include them, a water/alcohol solvent mixture will add these water-soluble gums to your medicine as well.

For oral care, I have found nothing as effective as a mouthwash made from a tincture of Myrrh. This can be made easily at home with whole Myrrh oleoresin and pure alcohol or an alcohol-water mix such as Vodka.

Myrrh tree oleo-resin Ethiopia. Photo coutesy-Ermias Dagne
Myrrh tree oleo-resin Ethiopia. Photo coutesy-Ermias Dagne

A Recipe for a Tincture of Myrrh 

  • 1 part finely ground myrrh. (see my post-How to grind Frankincense, Myrrh and other Oleoresins, for tips on grinding.)
  • 3 parts 45% grain alcohol or unflavoured Vodka.
  • A mason jar with a tight fitting lid.
  • mix the powdered Myrrh and the alcohol in the mason jar. Make sure to break up any lumps.
  • Screw the lid on tight, (moisten your finger slightly with vegetable oil and run it around the thread on the outside of the glass before you screw the lid on tight. This will prevent the resins from “gluing” the lid closed if some of your tincture gets on the thread).
  •  Shake the mix thoroughly.
  •  Place the jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight. The top of a fridge, furnace or water heater work well.
  • Shake your jar vigorously at least once a day for 4 weeks. Longer is fine too, but a lunar month should be sufficient.
  • After your maceration is done, find a good spot to work.
  • Filter your tincture into a clean jar or bottle that has a tight-fitting lid or cork. You can do this by pouring it through a paper coffee filter in a funnel.
  • Scrape all the ground Myrrh into the filter. If you like you can try to press the rest of the liquid from the material, but be careful the paper doesn’t rip.
  • Seal the jar or bottle and let your tincture sediment for a few days.
  •  pour or siphon off the clear liquid and bottle it for use. It can keep for a few years.

For sore, spongy or inflamed gums, loose teeth, Canker sores, toothache, Gingivitis, Halitosis, sore throat, or Thrush, mix 1 teaspoon of your tincture in a cup of warm water in which you have dissolved 1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Swoosh some around in your mouth for as long as you can, (spit it out when done), and as often as you can till you find relief.  Use it a few more times, then continue using this tincture as a daily preventative.

The essential oil can be used in a pinch by dabbing a cotton swab soaked with essential oil on and around the bothersome area. It can also be left between gums and cheek till all the essential oil is dispersed in the mouth.

A rudimentary, but still effective tincture can also be made by adding 4-5 drops of essential oil of Myrrh to a teaspoon of an alcohol/water mix like such as vodka. This can be added, as above, to a warm mix of water and salt.

 Make a Tincture of Frankincense

The range of healing properties found in the many types of Frankincense is growing daily as we identify and examine each species more closely and study their effects in the laboratory.  Whether treating various types of cancer and tumors, rheumatoid arthritis, sore, inflamed joints and muscles, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, Asthma, respiratory complaints, head trauma, depression or anxiety, many active therapeutic compounds are found only in the resin portion of oleoresins not in their essential oils.

Along with the unique chemical compounds each Frankincense type claims as its own, they also share many of the same constituents. In my personal opinion, it is safe to say, all types of Frankincense are anti-inflammatory. There is still confusion, despite recent research, or in light of it, as to which constituents are exclusive to each species of Frankincense. This  points to the need for more studies around the world of our resin bearing trees.

A Visual comparison of Boswellia Species-Frankincense
A Visual comparison of Boswellia Species-Frankincense

Of the 6 types of Frankincense commercially available to us, only one, Frankincense Frereana, is an oleoresin with little to no water-soluble gum. This means it dissolves almost entirely in alcohol, and there is little benefit to using water in the tincturing solvent. In Boswellia Rivae, Neglecta, Serrata, Carterii/Sacra and Papyrifera, an alcohol/water tincture can capture the water-soluble gum and any phytochemicals it may contain. Though not much research has been done on the gum portion of Frankincense, it too is used in traditional medicine.  I would guess that Nature is consistent and produces nothing that has no value.

The instructions for making an alcohol tincture of Frankincense are identical to the above instructions for making a tincture of Myrrh. Though I suggest using a 1:5 ratio of oleoresin to solvent by weight instead of a 1;3 ratio as with the tincture of Myrrh.  Otherwise, simply substitute the oleoresin of a Frankincense type of your choice for the Myrrh in the recipe.

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If using alcohol is not an option for you, you will find the oleo extraction of Frankincense and other oleoresins offers a great alternative.

Oil based oleoresin infusions or extracts

are not as well known, and a there is less literature about making and using them. These too can bring us substantially more of the healing compounds found in oleoresins than their essential oils.

Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta.
The oleo extract of Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta. A potent anti-anxiety  chest rub with deep calming properties.

A vegetable oil such as olive oil will dissolve most, if not all of the healing compounds in many saps.  This type of oil infusion can be used as a base for a salve, crème or liniment, making it easy to use externally for respiratory issues, inflammations, muscle/joint pain, aging skin, and many other applications. Considering that many of the active compounds in oleoresins are absorbed through the skin and some are able to pass the blood-brain barrier, these types of products can be especially effective when used externally.

Often, creating a medicated product from tree sap is as simple as replacing a unmedicated oil in a salve or creme recipe with your oleo extract.

Some take these vegetable oil extracts of oleoresins internally in small quantities.  They are not as harsh or concentrated as the essential oils, and do not shock our system as essential oils can when ingested. They are assimilated more easily, and bring us a broader range of healing compounds than the essential oils in proportions that echo their source.    That being said,,,let me add a caution. Too much of anything is not good for us. Studies have shown that ingesting an excess of Myrrh oleoresin can cause heart irregularities, and severely tax or cause damage to the kidneys which have a tough time eliminating it. We all have different constitutions, medical histories and tolerance levels. We MUST practice caution when trying new things. Though I believe we need to take responsibility for our own health, I also believe there is likely a talented, qualified, Naturopath, alternative healthcare practitioner, Herbalist, traditional healer, shaman, or progressive doctor in your area, and I advise you to seek them out, and invite them to work with you. If your health is important enough for you to take matters into your own hands, then it is important enough to seek qualified support and expert advice.

Beautiful-Spruce-Spring-renewal-May-2013
Beautiful-Spruce-Spring-renewal-May-2013

Spruce, Pine and Fir saps stand at the top of my list as the very best oleoresins for respiratory complaints. I use them in my Great Northern Cough and Chest Balm, and in my St. John’s Wort-Spruce Muscle rub. I have barely changed these recipes in almost 20 years since they work so well.

For complete instructions for making an oleo extract of Pine, Spruce or Fir Sap and how to turn it into a fragrant medicated chest or muscle rub, please see the post-

Make a wonderful winter chest rub from Spruce sap

Great Northern Cough & Chest Rub. An all natural alternative to harsh commercial Chest Rubs and inhalers.
Great Northern Cough & Chest Rub. An all natural alternative to harsh commercial Chest Rubs and inhalers.

For complete instructions on making an extract of Frankincense, please see this post-

How to make an extract of Frankincense and other oleoresins

An oleo extract of Frankincense Neglecta from Ethiopia.
An oleo extract of Frankincense Neglecta from Ethiopia.

Animal fats as solvents

Animal fats can work as oleoresin solvents for external applications. Lard and tallow, rendered respectively from Pig and Cattle fat, are traditional carrier/solvents mentioned in many old  herbals. Lanolin keeps much better than rendered fats and causes no harm to the animals. Lanolin is much closer in composition to our own natural body oils than other fats, making it an ideal delivery material for nutrients and therapeutic compounds. Win, win, win. My kind of solution.

Some tips when working with vegetable oils and animal fats as solvents

  • To use animal fats as solvents and carriers for oleoresins, wait till the fats melt in the water bath and use them as indicated for an oil extract. They need to be mixed, filtered and poured while hot, since they will turn more viscous as they cool down to room temperature.
  • Benzoin is a traditional and often used preservative for these types of fat. Adding 1% of Benzoin essential oil is usually recommended.
  • Some saps lend themselves more readily to oleo extraction and others are more difficult. Vegetable and animal fats/oils are not a universal solvent, but offer us a useful and effective alternative in many cases.
  • In general, a fresh and yet pliable sap will part with more of its components, more readily, in vegetable oil or animal fat than a hard and aged sap.
  • An oleo-resin, with little or no water-soluble gum lends itself more easily to a warm dissolution in oil.
  • However, oleo-gum-resins, like most types of Frankincense and Myrrh, require extra attention due to the water-soluble gum component in their makeup. Myrrh, with a 65% water-soluble gum content is likely the most challenging.
  • Finely Grinding these oleo-gum-resins before oil extraction facilitates extraction of both volatile oils and resins, leaving behind mainly water-soluble material, the gum.

Water as a solvent for water-soluble gums in oleoresins

Recently L. A., a reader of this blog who makes her own oleo extracts of Frankincense to address arthritis in her lower back, described the behavior of water-soluble gums in relation to the oleo-resins most eloquently. Quoting her very loosely, “The polysaccharides are nature’s perfect material to encase and lock in the oleoresins. They create a matrix, a hard shell and barrier that surrounds, isolates and preserves the resins and volatile oils.” This suggests how Frankincense, that may be decades or even hundreds of years old will look the same as a fresh sample, and yield its fragrance to a hot coal. It also points out how difficult it is to know with any certainty, whether we are buying Frankincense that is fresh harvested or decades old. This hard protective sheath of gum is also the reason we encounter resistance proportionate to the amount of water-soluble gum present in a oleoresin when we attempt to make an oil extraction.

L.A. also pointed me in the direction of research done in Teheran where an extract made from water-soluble gum of Frankincense Serrata was used in a study and indicated an increase in the learning ability of  rats. Other studies based on local traditional medicine have shown an aqueous, (water),  extract of Frankincense Serrata taken during pregnancy and lactation strengthened short and long-term memory in infants. See-The Therapeutic Effect of the Aqueous Extract of Boswellia Serrata on the Learning Deficit in Kindled Rats.

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I want to thank Auntie Doodles, another reader of this blog for sharing the following water based recipe she discovered while visiting Qatar. I assume it is used with either Frankincense Sacra/Carterii, or  Frankincense Papyrifera, when one is suffering from the effects of coughs, colds and congestion.

A recipe for a Frankincense cough and cold  infusion

  • 1 heaping teaspoon of loose Frankincense Papyrifera or Carterii/Sacra tears. You can break them up if they are in large lumps, or crush them coarsely in your mortar.
  • Place Frankincense in a glass, mug or cup, (250 to 400Ml.)
  • Cover with room temperature water.
  • Close loosely with a saucer.
  • Let stand overnight at room temperature.
  • Take the infused water in tablespoon doses as needed for coughs, colds, the discomforts of fevers and flu.
  • It will keep for a couple of days.
  • To keep it longer, pour off the liquid and store it for up to a week, covered in the fridge.
  • To preserve this medicine for months, transfer the liquid to an ice cube tray. When frozen, move the cubes to a sealed container or plastic bag and store for future use.

I see numerous visitors from Arabian countries, India and African states coming through this web site. Whether family recipes, or regional traditions, I would be deeply grateful for any information anyone could share about their traditional uses of Frankincense, Myrrh and other oleoresins.  Too much of our ancient knowledge is getting lost in the wave of progress we are riding.

Ethnobotanical research does not have the economic value or financial incentive of other types of research, and is usually underfunded. It can’t keep up with its role of preserving our rich oral traditions before they are lost.  If you would like to share any cultural wisdom or traditional recipes you possess, and help preserve them for posterity, please leave a comment for me below, or email me directly at dnriegler@gmail.com. I offer my thanks and gratitude in advance. Thank you!!

Water-Bath, Baine Marie, Double Boiler
Water-Bath or Double Boiler-indispenable tool for working with oleoresins.

 Tree saps for our skin

Most of these tree saps have toning and tightening effects on the skin. Many of them help heal our skin from chaffing, chapping, burns and minor cuts, while some have a long history of use in the field of cosmetics and beauty. The most well-known skin “rejuvenatives” used in beauty cremes are Elemi and Frankincense oleoresins. I have found that Spruce, Pine and Fir oleoresins have similar effects on the skin, adding softness,  suppleness and a feeling of youthfulness. Note that these are whole oleoresins. The essential oils in my experience, do not have the same effect.

As an experiment, try rubbing a teaspoon of olive oil mixed with a drop or 2 of essential oil on your skin. Leave it on for a short while, wash it off with warm water and dish soap. How does your skin feel? Now do the same with a bit of fresh sap dissolved in olive oil. I find the difference striking and speaks for itself.

 How to make a rejuvenating skin creme from Frankincense.

To make a rejuvenative skin creme from any oleoresin, please see my recipe and instructions here-

How to make a Frankincense creme from an oleo extract

Frankincense rejuvenative creme using whole oleo-resins
Frankincense rejuvenative creme using whole oleo-resins

In my Etsy shop, you will find some of my own medicinal oleo-resin products.

Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta.
Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta. A potent anti anxiety and stress releiving chest rub.
Great Northern Cough & Chest Balm-Spruce-Pine & Fir sap salve
Great Northern Cough & Chest Balm-Spruce-Pine & Fir sap salve

Apothecary's Garden Muscle Rub 2012
Apothecary’s Garden St. John’s Wort-Spruce Muscle Rub

 

If you would like to create your own oleo extracts or tinctures from these oleoresins, but don’t have access to fresh material, you can find a growing selection of fresh Fairtrade exotic and local oleoresins here in my Etsy shop.

Apothecaries at work
APOTHECARY’S GARDEN SHOP

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me via email at dnriegler@gmail.com.

If you try any of these recipes, or develop your own oleoresin product,

remember to always,

always, take clear notes!

Your future self will thank you.

Well, back to packing for my big move. Wishing everyone a bright holiday season and a year of inspiration and abundance in 2015.

Dan

Posted on 21 Comments

Post #100- Leaving the country

Card Number 0,The Fool. Says it all.

Well. Looks like I’m moving, and leaving Canada.
I say “looks like” because at this point I can’t see exactly how I’m going to get there. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other, one packed box on top of the other,  filling one garbage bag at a time, and tackling logistics one issue at a time. I figure if I keep going I will find myself at the other end, and it will be good.

Card Number 0,The Fool.  Says it all.
Card Number 0, The Fool. Says it all.

Packing up 40 years of creative work as a sculptor, craftsman, herbalist/apothecary, perfumer and impaler. Tools materials and finished work, plus 20 years of parenting and a trail of photos, artwork, and report cards.
Of course, it’s mostly cool and useful stuff which makes it easier to give away or sell. But still, it’s stuff, and every piece has an invisible string of responsibility back to me, depends on me, and should be addressed by me.

Friends have been a boon in letting go of things while helping me keep the business rolling.
I have set them up with tools, stills and water baths, beakers and flasks, furniture, and materials that need an appreciative home. With any luck, I’ll be able to do one last distillation of Wild Ginger before I leave. An opportunity to demonstrate how to use the stills to their new owners. If you are close by and would like to lend a hand, I can use all the help I can get. You might find something you could use and help us both by giving it a home…

Apothecary's Garden-Teaching Gardens at Churchill Park, Hamilton
Apothecary‘s Garden-Teaching Gardens at Churchill Park, Hamilton It won’t weed itself…

Another feature of these exchanges, is that all  these friends are gardeners, herbalists or natural perfumers and have offered to step in to help manage the Teaching Gardens and Apothecary’s Garden in Churchill park in my stead. This responsibility, and what to do with my cat were 2 unresolved stresses from this move. Though I hope I’ll be back early summer to address continuity and future growth in the garden, it is a relief to know there are those who would carry it forward in the right spirit if I was wasn’t around.

 Bottles and test tubes with perfume trials,  experiments and explorations, won't come with me, back to the earth they go.
Hundreds of bottles and test tubes with perfume trials, explorations and experiments won’t come with me, back to the earth they go. Lucky I sometimes listen to my own advice and took clear notes of each formula…

This is my one-hundredth post.

 

Averaging about one a week for two years. There is a rhythm and prose to the timing with this move. Something old ends.  A new cycle begins. I only have a feeling for where this is leading, and that will do just fine for now.

I have learned so much in the 2 years I’ve written here. I have met many incredibly  talented, inspired and inspiring people through this blog and my Etsy shop. I have found kindred spirits all over the world and made new friends for life. People have written me profound and touching words of appreciation and support, the kind of words that make all the challenges feel worthwhile.

Witch Hazel Oil-2014-Etsy
Witch Hazel Oil-2014 in the Etsy Shop

To those who are placing orders over the next month, bear with me. I have no idea how I’m going to keep the business running while I shut down on one end and start from scratch on the other. Especially through Christmas sales. I’m aiming for “seamlessly”, counting mainly on momentum, agility, intuition and trust, (which keeps me from getting paralyzed by the vertigo of dread and the sheer scale of what I’m trying to do in the time I have to do it)..So, I’m not looking down at this point.  This move takes up all the time between opening my eyes in the morning and closing them at night. That and drinking coffee. I keep meaning to play a few minutes of Halo 4, but alas, no time!! If business continues to grow as it has, I’ll get an X-Box on the other end.

 

Why am I moving and where to?

Still in my 60th year, my second Saturn return has pushed and pulled me for two years now. It has tossed me back and forth, up and down. Spun me around then back the other way. If I was using a washing machine metaphor then I would say it hasn’t been on the delicate cycle. It has shaken the change out of my pockets. So change it is.  I get it.

I am moving to Israel. It positions me only 3 hours from Ethiopia and Somaliland where my Frankincense co-ops and suppliers are located. My friend and essential oil distiller, Professor Ermias Dagne is based in Addis Ababa, minutes from the airport.

Professor Ermias Dagne at his farm just outside Addis Ababa.
Professor Ermias Dagne with his beloved Aloe species and other medicinal and aromatic friends just outside Addis Ababa.

 

Recently the opportunity arose to work directly with an Ethiopian Civet farmer.  This is big news!! An Ethiopian supplier with good quality Civet paste and an ambition to modernize and develop the Civet business, has offered to partner with me to create ethical and cruelty-free Civet products. He has a Civet farmer who wants to work together on this. This is the first scenario that doesn’t require I do it all myself. (That really was a daunting thought, and the only visible option when I returned in the spring from Ethiopia!). Being so close to Ethiopia, I will have much more time and flexibility to work with the Civets and could be directly involved in the operation. Again, “Ethical Civet” may not be possible, but we won’t know till we try.-See my posts- Ebb and Flow and Ethical Civet a glimpse from the mountaintop.

My mother just turned 90, and my father is not far behind. Now is a good time to hang out with them. Before I accrue any regrets.

Shipping from Israel is very reasonable and puts Canada Post to shame. It costs over $8.00 to ship one 10 Ml. bottle of essential oil from Hamilton to Toronto. A distance of 60Km.

It costs $1.90 to ship the same bottle 6000 Km. from Israel to Toronto and only takes a couple of days longer to arrive. Such a drastic reduction in cost can only be a good thing.

Labdanum flower, Cistus_creticus
Labdanum flower, Cistus_creticusin Crete

I will be close to the sources of fragrances I adore. I could visit Nyktaris who harvests Labdanum using traditional methods in Crete, the Mastic farmer’s co-op in Chios, the collectors of Onycha by the Red sea, and will  have easier access to the amazing Burserae, Commiphorae and Dragons blood trees of the island of Socrata.

Cypress, Turkey, Persia and other countries were on my imaginary grassroots fragrance tour while raising Nathan and daydreaming about what I wanted to do when he had grown up and left home. That time, apparently, has come.

Nathan-All growed up
Nathan-All growed up

Well then,  here’s to the fool, the adventure, and the journey. Here’s to new beginnings and the next 100 posts.

Dan

 

Posted on 6 Comments

Maydi-The King of Frankincense

Boswellia Frereana, Maydi

Perhaps one of the least known Frankincense types in the western world, but one of the most prized  in Arabia and Africa, Boswellia Frereana is native to the Somali Puntland the Somaliland highlands, and is their pride and joy. In Somaliland and neighboring regions, Maydi is considered the King of Frankincenses.

With a sweet and warm amber fragrance highlighted by spice, and floral notes, Frankincense Frereana differs from most other types of Frankincense with its pure oleo-resin content and lack of water-soluble gum.

Fresh Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-" Maydi or Yemenite Chewing Gum
Fresh Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-” Maydi” or Yemenite Chewing Gum

Harvested from fewer trees over a much shorter period during the year, Maydi, or Boswellia Frereana, is not as abundantly available as the other more familiar types of Frankincense. It is bought up quickly by the Coptic church, Saudi, Omani and Yemenite dealers, and much of it is used domestically.

Maydi is burned in Somali homes to sweeten the air after cooking, to add fragrance to clothing and used on special occasions. The Somalis have a  traditional amber type incense they “cook” up, made from Frankincense Frereana and other local ingredients called “Uusni”. A recipe I hope to eventually discover. ( Any insights or advice would be greatly appreciated!).

The west sees very little of this precious Frankincense. Averaging around  99% oleoresin with barely any water-soluble gum content, (as compared to 20% -35% in Boswellia Carterii/Sacra and other types), this Frankincense is all fragrance.

Maydi is used in its unprocessed state as a natural chewing gum,  locally and in Arabian nations, for this reason it is also known as “Yemenite Chewing Gum”. Due to its lack of water-soluble gum, it does not deteriorate in the mouth with warm saliva, but holds its form indefinitely, releasing healing oils and resins for extended periods of time. Even after chewing  B. Frereana for hours, the used oleoresin still releases heavenly fragrances on the hot coals. Legend says Maydi trees were transplanted to Yemen many decades ago, but the demand for Boswellia Frereana in arabic countries far exceeds quantities grown outside Somaliland.

It is an easy to use ingredient in Bakhoor, powder and formed incense, and due to its near complete solubility in alcohol and its affinity with oils, it is perfect for making , cremes, salves, tinctures and many other natural cosmetic, fragrant  and healing products.  Akin to Elemi, B. Frereana is an excellent oleoresin for mature skin and signs of aging.

For the incense makers and connoisseurs out there, another little known fact about Frankincense Frereana, is that as an incense, it burns clean on the charcoal, pools with the heat and melts into it, leaving no charred water-soluble gum or unpleasant secondary fragrance as do other Frankincense types and Myrrh.

Boswellia Frereana essential oil has a light yellow colour and a unique set of defining chemical markers. It has an olfactory signature distinct from all other types of Frankincense. It is high in  α-pinene (38%), p-Cymene 11%, a-Thujene 8.1%, limonene (2.4%), sabinene (2.6%), trans-verbenol (4.2%) and bornyl acetate (2.8%), contains  dimers of α-phellandrene and close to another 30 odd compounds in varying amounts. These consituents are present in the, Oleo, or volatile, hydro distilled essential oil portion. The resin portion of this fragrant species holds many more therapeutic and fragrant constituents, similar to other well-known and esteemed healers such as the various Frankincense types, Mastic, Spruce Fir and Pine.

I have started purchasing from a cooperative of families and tribes that have tended their Maydi, Myrrh and Sweet Myrrh, (Opoponax) trees for generations in the highlands of Somaliland.  Collection of the resins is a yearly tradition the whole family and tribe participate in, and through which they earn their yearly wage.  Besides their value as a source of livlihood, these trees are an important part of the tribe’s culture. Often trees are reserved unharvested  for decades to be bestowed  as dowry or as an inheritance.

Due to past conflicts in the area there is no government legislation, control of pricing, or supervision of trees and harvest. No big brother to watch out for the harvesters. The harvesters have been susceptible to theft, vandalism of trees, and unscrupulous buyers.This has changed since establishment of the co-op, and money is regularly being reinvested in schools, medical facilities, communication and transport.  This is a social and economic endeavor worthy of our support.  I hope to visit the cooperative this winter if at all possible, while working in Ethiopia on the ethical Civet project.

Fresh 2013 harvest of Frankincense Frereana oleoresin from this co-op is now available for sale in the Etsy store. You can click on the photo below, or in the sidebar to check it out.

Fresh co-op harvested Maydi- Frankincense Frereana
Fresh co-op harvested Maydi- Frankincense Frereana

Showcasing the versatility of Frankincense Frereana, I have just made a batch of a new moustache wax, I named it “Abyssinian Twirling Wax” and posted it in the Etsy store if you would like to try it out. It is a unique summer Moustache Wax,  which easily creates and holds moustache embellishments and twirls, even through hot summer days and overnight romps.  The fresh Frankincense resins in this wax help train and “perm” facial hair. The fragrance of fresh beeswax, Cocoa butter, Maydi, Frankincense Rivae and Labdanum is heavenly.

Another new “Maydi” product posted in the shop, is my Frankincense Frereana Rejuvenative Creme” which utilizes the therapeutic in both the essential oils and the resin portion of Frankincense Frereana. We have come to think of a plant’s essential oils as representing the healing properties of the plant, but in the case of our oleoresins, we miss out on what is often 95% of the healing compounds available to us. For this reason, I consider this a “Holistic” product that maintains the natural synergy between the oils and resins and brings us a product much closer to its natural form.

Abyssinian Twirling Wax. A Frankincense based Moustache wax.
Abyssinian Twirling Wax. A Frankincense based Moustache wax.

And  for T.B. and all the rest of you that are waiting patiently for Part 2 of “How to distill essential oils from Pine, Fir and Sruce saps”, Hang in….. I’m almost there :-).

Dan

Posted on 6 Comments

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