What is Frankincense?
Whether you are new to the world of essential oils or not, frankincense is one that almost everyone has at least heard of.
Most of us think of the story in the bible about Jesus as a newborn and the three wise men that brought him some frankincense and myrrh. The story still leaves the question as to what is frankincense. Where it comes from and what are its uses.
Here, we will dive into the ancient history of frankincense. Its incredible uses, our favorite brands, and the multiple ways you can incorporate it into your life.
Where Does Frankincense Come From?
Frankincense comes from the sap of the Boswellia tree found Oman, Yeman, the horn of Africa, including Somalia and Ethiopia. 
The most sought after frankincense is from the Boswellia Sacra tree mostly found in Oman.
The interesting thing about gathering the frankincense sap from the trees is that it takes two weeks to collect! First, a small “wound” or hole is punctured in the tree, but the first sap is not collected right away. The first bit of sap that comes through is not collected as it is thought to clear the impurities in the tree.
After the initial sap has passed through, the hole is enlarged. Then the sap slowly comes out of the tree until it is dried and ready to be collected in about two weeks.
Depending on the location, the collection process may take place several times a year. When the sap has dried into stone-like globs, the resin is collected and is ready to be processed.
According to Live Science, there are different qualities of frankincense that are collected. The frankincense that has a silver hue with a slight green tint in color is considered of higher quality. The most common and less expensive frankincense is yellow-brown.
Frankincense has been traded between Oman to India, China, and the Mediterranean for thousands of years. From 1,000 A.D. to 400 B.C., Frankincense was the most lucrative trade in the world. 
There has been quite a bit of online chatter about frankincense being endangered and at risk of being extinct. This panic was brought about in a science journal detailing the reduction of trees in one out of the 15 species of Boswellia trees.
According to the National Association for Holistic Healing (NAHA), the trees are considered to be at low risk/near threatened.  What this means is while it is not on the endangered species list, it is something that is being monitored.
The lack of frankincense in the essential oil world is mostly due to the tree’s locations and the political unrest.
NAHA has this to report about the interruptions of collection and production of frankincense:
“Industry insiders say that much of the Arabian Peninsula production of frankincense essential oil has slowed not because of any endangered trees, but because the Saudi government is denying border passage to Somali tribesmen who have wild-harvested resin traditionally for hundreds of years.”
In short, we are in no danger of a frankincense shortage as the situation is not dire. It does bare enough evidence as something to watch over the next few decades.
History of Frankincense
When people think of frankincense, they think of the book of Matthew in the New Testament as one of the gifts given to newborn Jesus.
However, frankincense has been traded for commerce and healing properties for thousands of years. History.com says frankincense has been traded in the Middle East and North Africa for over 5,000 years.  There are records of Babylonians, Assyrians, and Phoenicians, all having used the essence in a variety of ways. We’ll look into that next!
What is Frankincense used for?
Frankincense is most commonly used in Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and aromatherapy practices.  Its significant properties are immuno-stimulant, anticarcinogen, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and restorative. 
Frankincense is under the scientific microscope and on the radar of many patients suffering from various forms of cancer. The research is encouraging showing frankincense is stopping the growth of some cancer cells.
See below for a more detailed outline of frankincense and its uses for different ailments.
Frankincense as an Anti-Inflammatory
One of frankincense’s highlight properties is its anti-inflammatory property. This particular property is significant as so many conditions, diseases, and illnesses stem from inflammation, or inflammation is part of the symptoms a person is experiencing.
A study done by Planta Medica shows several ways the boswellic acid found in frankincense aids in reducing inflammation.  While there have not been any studies conducted on living patients with cancer, there are several studies done on cancer cells and the positive effects frankincense had on the cancerous cells.
Healthline detailed the subsequent studies using frankincense, and their findings had this to say:
“The findings of one 2015 study suggest that breast cancer cells may stop growing and die off when exposed to frankincense oil.” The researchers concluded that this approach is cost-effective and less time consuming than other methods. 
Researchers in a 2009 study looked exclusively at frankincense oil derived from the Boswellia carteri species and assessed its anti-tumor activity on bladder cancer. Researchers concluded that, when administered, the oil appears to differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells. The oil can also suppress cancer cell viability. 
Similar results were found in a 2011 study assessing the effects of the oil from B. sacra on breast cancer cells. 
There are many other examples of scientific research surrounding this king of essential oils. However, it’s worth mentioning that there have not been any studies done on live humans living with cancer and using frankincense as treatment.
After all of this research, what does frankincense do? It is a major player in the anti-inflammatory world and can be potentially be used as fantastic support to many ailments.
With all of the information and research supporting frankincense’s uses against inflammation, that opens the door to apply it to all thing’s inflammation.
Everywhere you look or google, you will find varying information on frankincense. Overall, there are a few things that are repeated, no matter where you look.
Please note that the suggestions in this article and the subsequent sited studies don’t recognize frankincense as a cure for any such diseases or as a preventative measure.
As always, be an advocate for yourself and your health. Consult with your doctor prior to taking on any essential oils as a support role in your health.
Benefits of Frankincense Oil
Frankincense has amazing aromatherapy properties. The Essential Life book denotes that frankincense is a top choice for use during meditation to increase focus as well as emotional balance. 
The book contains other suggested uses as a support role in Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, brain injury, depression, scars, stretch marks, immune system and cellular health, congestion, cough, and allergies.
With the high anti-inflammatory properties in frankincense, it would make sense for it to have a positive effect on these issues.
Being that every single person has a different chemical makeup, therefore, reacting differently to each oil, it will be up to you to pay attention to your health and monitor what you are treating and tracking its improvement or lack thereof.
How to Use Frankincense Oil
There are three typical ways to use frankincense. Topically, orally, and aromatically. How you decide to go about this depends on what you are treating and what works for you.
Ingesting frankincense is recommended when using frankincense as a support option when dealing with Alzheimer’s, cancer, seizures, depression, or for immune and cellular health.
When researching for this article, I could not find any findings that reported adverse side effects when taking frankincense.
However, it is vital to discuss any changes or additions you are wanting to make to your current course of treatment with your doctor first, mainly when we are talking about ingesting a natural supplement.
Fun Fact – Did you know that you can chew frankincense like gum to promote oral health, treat digestive issues, and boost your immune system? Move over Trident; you’ve got competition!
How to Apply Frankincense
Since frankincense has such a fantastic reputation for combating inflammation, using it topically is an option when healing wounds, addressing scars and stretch marks, or dealing with sciatica and back pain.
On a personal note, as an athlete, I am always sore. While I could not find any definitive, scientific research backing the use of frankincense for muscle soreness, I find using it as a post-workout rub made with a preferred carrier oil works wonders for sore muscles.
For treating your external afflictions, it is recommended that you combine frankincense with myrrh and preferred carrier oil. Then apply directly to the area you want to address. I’ll talk more about myrrh in a minute!
If you are wondering which carrier oil to use, it is more of personal preference. I find that olive oil can be too greasy and heavy to handle. I prefer to use fractionated coconut oil, although if you don’t have any, I have used coconut oil out of the kitchen, and it seems to work just fine. Another option is to use grapeseed oil or jojoba oil.
Aromatherapy is probably the most popular method people use when seeking the healing benefits of frankincense.
According to The Essential Life book, frankincense can be used not only orally but aromatically for Alzheimer’s, dementia, and brain injury. 
When addressing coughs, congestion, and allergies, you can inhale gently straight from the bottle. You can also combine frankincense with a few drops of peppermint and apply it to the chest for relief.
If you are looking to use frankincense for meditation and prayer purposes, you can apply one drop under the nose (if you have done a skin patch test prior). Additionally, you can diffuse frankincense in a diffuser and receive the benefits that way.
Recommended Frankincense Essential Oils
As noted above, the quality of the frankincense is identifiable by its color. To reiterate, the oil that is silver in color with a slightly green hue is going to be your most potent oil, as well as your most expensive. The more common and cost-effective frankincense is going to have a brown, yellowish hue.
Searching for the best brand of essential oils can be tricky. Essential oils are not regulated and do not have a set of industry standards. Also, when you see words like “pure” and “therapeutic,” it means your wading through marketing and advertising waters.
One crucial factor you must consider when searching for the best quality essential oil is the quality control testing of that specific oil. There is a test called the gas chromatography, and mass spectrometry is also known as GC/MC testing. Thermo Fischer Scientific defines GC/MC testing as, “GC/MS is the analysis method of choice for smaller and volatile molecules such as benzenes, alcohols and aromatics, and simple molecules such as steroids, fatty acids, and hormones. It can also be applied to the study of liquid, gaseous, and solid samples.” 
Basically, what this does is it identifies different properties within the substance it’s testing. Finding a brand that does third party testing is ideal. Companies who have invested in this type of testing are companies like Young Living and doTerra. They are known to provide higher quality oils and provide the consumer with a more top quality grade of oil for the money.
In looking for the best frankincense, you, of course, have your well-established Young Living and doTerra as a go-to for oils. Mountain Rose Herbs, Plant Therapy, and Eden’s Garden are all high-quality choices too. All of these companies have had the GC/MC testing done on their oils are publicly posted or available upon request.
What Does Frankincense Smell Like?
When I sat down to write this as someone who has smelled frankincense countless times, describing its scent was tough for me. It just smells like frankincense. Knowing that is useless information for you, I went looking for a more specific description of how frankincense smells.
It is important to note that your frankincense may vary in smell depending on what tree it came from. The two most popular trees are the Boswelli sacra and Boswelli carteri. They do smell pretty much the same, but for those with ultra-sensitive noses such as myself, you can tell the difference and may even develop a preference. I prefer the Boswelli Sacra from Oman for no particular reason other than I like it better than the other.
At GoodScents.com, they describe the odor as terpenic incense with pepper, spicy scent with a hint of lemon along with a pine/wood smell. It describes the flavor as peppery with a citrus rind taste. 
In short, it smells like citrus (more lemon to me) and the woods! It smells like mother nature after a good rain in the pine forest paired with a glass of fresh lemonade. Surely that is a better and more accurate description than saying that it smells like the name on the bottle, right?!
Frankincense and Myrrh? Like Peanut Butter and Jelly
Frankincense, myrrh, and gold were the three gifts given to Jesus as a newborn. This might be where some of us have had at least an introduction to hearing about these amazing essential oils.
At the time, these two gifts were worth more than their weight in gold and were seen as one of the most valuable gifts you could give a person. Many people still hold both of these oils in high esteem as they are considered symbolic of “Christ’s kingship, divinity, and sacrificial death.” 
It was also recorded that Jesus was offered wine and myrrh at the crucifixion for pain management.
Myrrh is harvested much like frankincense and is typically collected as a resin and burned as an incense.
It is also made into essential oil and is often paired with frankincense for its similar and complementary healing properties.
If you want a unique incense burning experience outside of premade incense sticks, you can purchase frankincense (and myrrh if you’re interested) in its resin form.
Methods of Burning
There are two primary ways to burn frankincense. The more traditional route, typically used in ceremonies, involves a charcoal puck, tongs, a stove (or another source of high heat), ash or sand, and an incense burner that can tolerate high heat. This particular method produces a great deal of smoke and is not recommended for daily use inside your home.
I found another way to burn frankincense resin that seems to be more agreeable if you want the smell without the smoke.
You will need an aromatherapy/essential oil warmer, a little vegetable oil, a few nuggets of frankincense resin, a tea light candle and a lighter.
All you need is to put around two teaspoons of vegetable oil (depending on the size of your warmer), two or three nuggets of resin dropped in the oil, and light the tea light candle underneath, and you are all set with frankincense without the smoke!
This same method works for myrrh, as well. If you feel so inclined, you can put a couple of nuggets of each to blend the smells and benefit from the healing properties of both at the same time.
Trying to Keep the Bugs Away?
If you are outside a lot and are looking for a way to keep the bugs away, burn it the traditional way! Take a high heat resistant bowl and make a cone of ash. Take a pair of tongs and a charcoal puck and light the charcoal. Allow it to burn for 3-5 minutes until the puck is covered in its ash and then set the charcoal on the ash, taking care NOT TO TOUCH THE CHARCOAL as it will be extremely hot. Sprinkle about ¼ – ½ tsp of frankincense on top of the charcoal puck and let it burn. This will create a decent amount of smoke, a beautiful scent, and keep the bugs away! Please take caution when experimenting with any of the above methods. 
Side Effects for Frankincense Oil
Currently, frankincense is considered safe for use in adults. It is recommended frankincense be diluted with a carrier oil as it may cause minor skin irritation. It should not be used in women who are pregnant or nursing.
The Wonderful World of Frankincense
Frankincense is called “king of the oils” for a reason. Outside of myrrh, it is one of the oldest essential oils that has been traded, used, and sought after. It holds a fascinating history of being grown in some of the toughest terrains that require people to risk their lives to tap the trees.
I hope this article has brought a little history, a few new facts, and maybe even a little relief into whatever may be ailing you today.
Be well and oil on friends!
 The Essential Life Book