Deeply revered for many thousands of years, the Frankincense tree has perhaps the greatest association with spiritual practice of any plant on earth. In many great ancient cultures, including the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman civilizations, it has played a role in religious and domestic life. Frankincense resin has been sought after by kings, valued as highly as gold, and offered as a gift at the birth of one of history’s most revered prophets. More recently, the essential oil is gaining popularity with spiritual seekers and natural healers alike – what’s so unique about the rich smelling resin and it’s essential oil, and how might we use it for our own benefit?
The name is derived from the medieval French ‘franc’, meaning ‘pure’ or ‘free’, and from the Latin ‘incensium’, meaning ‘to smoke’. The Frankincense tree itself bears the appearance of a rugged survivor, with many knurled branches topped with abundant slim leaves. It is native to the deserts of North Africa, growing in some of the world’s harshest environments. It is not the tree itself, however, but rather its sap that is so greatly sought after. Similar to many evergreen trees, when pierced, the tree ‘bleeds’ a milky sap. The resin forms droplets known as pearls, which are dried in the sun to form hardened incense gum known itself as Frankincense.
For many millennia years, the hardened resin has been burned in temples throughout Asia, and the Catholic church continues to use it ceremonially. The smoke of burning Frankincense resin, as with other ritual incense, is thought to carry prayers to heaven. It is also said to deepen the breath and still the mind, making it useful for meditation and yogic practice. Some components of Frankincense stimulate the pineal gland, or ‘third-eye’, so this concept makes sense under modern scientific investigation. The incense may have health benefits as well, producing a highly antiseptic smoke, keeping churches and churchgoers free from disease.
Frankincense resin has been considered throughout the ages to have a wealth of health supporting properties. In Ayurveda, it has been used to treat many ills, and is well-known for it’s use in treating arthritic conditions. Modern investigation has found the components called Boswellic Acids can have significant support both to relieve joint pain and to further prevent cartilage loss.
Today’s naturopathic practitioners continue to use Frankincense, though the essential oil is now commonly employed because of it’s simplicity of use. It may be applied topically or taken orally with proper instruction from a qualified practitioner. There are many indications for the use of Frankincense oil, including asthma, depression, stress-related conditions and a weakened immune system. Further, Frankincense oil is now under investigation in university studies for it’s anti-tumor effects, particularly for skin and breast malignancies.
It is important to note that the CO2 distillation (a cold-process method of pure essential oil extraction employing harmless carbon dioxide instead of steam) is more likely to contain the same healthful compounds as the resin, as the steam distilled variety may not be able to extract these ‘polar’ compounds. Kurt Schnaubelt, America’s leading medical aromatherapist notes, regarding the production of essential oil from the resin, “It could be that the (health-related) substances in question are too polar and too large a molecular size to appear in steam distillates – their presence would be more likely in CO2 extracts.”
The most immediate and pronounced effect of the oil for many people is it’s ability to calm and elevate the mind. It’s wonderful woody-citrus aroma is pleasantly grounding and elevating at the same time. Components within the oil cross the blood-brain barrier, affecting the emotional centers of the brain directly.
Direct application to the temples and third eye will quiet the mind, deepen the breath, and promote meditative states. It is often combined with one or more of these essential oils with similar woody aromas and calming properties: Sandalwood, Myrrh and Cedarwood. Because these oils combine so nicely, it is easy to find a ratio of each oil in a blend to suit your taste
For use as a simple incense, the resin itself is inexpensive and widely available. The small ‘pearls’ may bit lit, and will release their pleasant smoke as any other incense. The experience of pure Frankincense is unique, and is worth trying for yourself.
For aromatic use of the essential oil, a diffuser or warming lamp can be used to disperse the aroma throughout a space. The oil is also found in aromatherapy candles, where it is released from the heated oil beneath the burning wick. Frankincense oil can be applied directly to the forehead where you can both capture the aroma and absorb the oil directly.
Frankincense, the treat from the tough desert tree, is now available to us all. Treat yourself to a little of this natural wonder, and see what sort of magic it can bring to your life!