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What is Frankincense Essential Oil?

By Matt Brady
Updated May 21, 2024
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Frankincense essential oil comes from the sap of the Boswellia tree family. Using steam distillation, the sap, which is also called oleo gum resin, is converted into oil. The oil is mostly used for aromatherapy, but is also used in massage therapy, lotion, and even as a perfume additive. Frankincense essential oil has a light green to yellow color, and the fragrance has been described as spicy, earthy and woody. Frankincense oil is reputed to have many therapeutic powers — in its vapor form as a calming agent and respiratory aid, and in its liquid form as a healing agent for scar tissue, sores and dry skin.

When used by the ancient Egyptians and surrounding cultures, frankincense was generally called Olibanum, an Arabic word which roughly translates to milk, a reference to the milky appearance of the sap of Boswellia trees. Frankincense essential oil was at one time, along with all other forms of frankincense, an expensive and highly valued commodity, comparable to the value of gold. One of the best examples of its historical value is found in the Bible, when the three wise men bring the baby Jesus gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. When the Frankish crusaders introduced the substance to Western Europe, people began calling it frankincense.

Used as aromatherapy, frankincense essential oil is said to have restorative and therapeutic effects. Some use it to alleviate respiratory ailments, such as pain and restriction in the lungs caused by bronchitis, asthma and the common cold. It is also said to be a stress-reducing agent, able to help one relax when dispersed throughout the air.

In lotions, frankincense essential oil is said to help moisturize and maintain healthy skin. It's also reputed to be a healing agent for sores, minor cuts and scar tissue. Some even recommend bathing in a blend of water and frankincense oil to help heal wounds and damaged skin. The oil can also be applied directly to sores and damaged skin with a washcloth. Some who use frankincense essential oil also claim that the substance, rubbed into the skin, can help alleviate joint ailments such as arthritis.

Due to its pleasing fragrance and non-toxic properties, frankincense essential oil is often used in the cosmetic and fragrance industry. Many perfumes, soaps and even insect repellents contain frankincense. It is also commonly blended with myrrh, lemon, lavender and many other essential oils. Frankincense and other essential oils can be found at many vitamin and health food stores, and can also be ordered from many online vendors.

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