There is a reason why the Bible mentions frankincense essential oil. It has so many incredible benefits. It may help with anxiety, depression and pain. And it is antimicrobial and repellent.
Frankincense Essential Oil Properties
Frankincense oil is made from the resin of rare trees belonging to the Boswellia genus.
There is some contention about the botanical names of frankincense. The most sought after oil is made from the Boswellia sacra tree. It is native to the Middle East (Oman, Yemen) and northern Africa (Somalia).
According to this Plant List from the Royal Botanic Gardens (and others), Boswellia sacra and Boswellia carterii refer to the same tree.
But there is one study from Young Living (company) that suggested the two are different. The researchers tested oil samples of B. carterii from Somalia and B. sacra from Oman/ Yemen. They found similar compounds in both oils, but the amounts of each compound varied. So they proposed the oils were from separate species.
Now, I am not a botanist. But the amounts of a compound in an oil depend on lots of factors like location and climate. So until the Plant List changes, I’ll take Boswellia sacra and Boswellia carterii as synonyms.
You may also see the botanical name Boswellia serrata. This tree is native to India. And Boswellia frereanais is native to Somalia. Frankincense oil made from these trees are cheaper and less sought after.
Color and smell
Frankincense oil is clear to pale yellow and smells warm, woody, earthy and so pleasant.
What’s in the oil?
What is in frankincense oil depends on which tree resin the oil comes from.
For Boswellia sacra (or Boswellia carterii), the main compound is alpha-pinene. It can make up 30% to 80% of the oil. Other important compounds include alpha-thujene, beta-pinene, beta-phellandrene, camphene, limonene, myrcene, and sabinene.
For Boswellia serrata, the main compound is alpha-thujene. Terpinen-4-ol and terpinyl acetate have also been reported in high amounts. The high alpha-thujene content in this oil changes its smell somewhat. That’s why aromatherapists consider this oil to be inferior.
Frankincense Essential Oil Benefits
It may be anticancer
Lots of sales reps promote frankincense essential oil as the best oil for cancer. Some reports from Aromatherapy United even mention cancer patients using the oil instead of proven anticancer drugs. But there’s a major problem with that.
The studies exploring the anticancer benefits of frankincense oil are in vitro studies. They’ve all been done in a lab with cell lines. There are no human clinical trials. Not one! So don’t listen to reps that say to use the oil to cure someone’s cancer. The research isn’t there yet to support that claim.
The studies that have been done show it is effective against several types of human cancer cells. This 2018 study found frankincense, pine needle and geranium oils suppressed tumor growth in human breast cancer cells.
Similar findings against breast cancer cells were also given in this 2011 study. And this 2012 one demonstrated activity against human pancreatic cancer cells. Full disclosure, you should be aware both studies list a top executive of Young Living (company) as a co-author.
Another interesting study from 2013 compared the anticancer activity of frankincense and myrrh oil. Both oils were found to be effective, but would you believe myrrh was stronger?
Possible anti-anxiety and antidepressant benefits
A 2008 study looked at how an aromatherapy massage could influence the pain and depression of 58 cancer patients. The massage blend used had bergamot, lavender and frankincense essential oils. And the carrier oil was sweet almond oil.
The cancer patients were given a five-minute hand massage every day for one week. And the results showed aromatherapy massage helped the patients. They felt less pain and were less depressed.
The researchers did not specify if the oils or the massage (or both) were responsible for these effects. Regardless, you can try this massage blend to ease your pain, anxiety, and depression.
It is antibacterial
According to this 2010 study, frankincense oils from several Boswellia trees were tested against five common pathogens. And the study showed all the oils had antibacterial benefits.
Another study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology had similar results. It tested 52 oils on nine multi-drug resistant bacteria. While it was not the most powerful oil, frankincense did show very strong antibacterial activity, even at low concentrations.
It is antifungal too
The study I just mentioned also tested frankincense on the fungi, Candida albicans. And the results showed the oil was very effective against the fungi too.
It kills bugs
Frankincense essential oil can also kill insects and their larvae.
Check out this 2016 study. It looked at the repellent nature of 23 oils on the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Frankincense showed good repellent activity. But geranium, lemongrass, camphor, citronella and galbanum oils were all better than frankincense.
Another study (from 2006) explored the larvicidal nature of 41 oils on the larvae of several mosquitoes. And, of the 41, only thirteen killed all the larvae within a day. These thirteen included camphor, thyme, lemon, frankincense, black pepper and sandalwood.
So you can see frankincense essential oil has insecticidal benefits.
Isn’t the oil amazing?
Frankincense Essential Oil Uses
Frankincense has such an amazing pleasant, earthy smell. Just inhaling the oil will brighten up your day.
You can add it to your diffuser too. And it blends really well with citrusy, earthy, and floral oils. So use it with bergamot, lemon and orange or with cinnamon, patchouli and sandalwood. Or even with geranium, lavender, and ylang ylang. Frankincense blends so well with these oils.
You can also use the oil in a massage blend. But make sure to patch test the blend to make sure you are not sensitive or allergic to the oil. If you are not, then try a 3% to 5% blend with any of your favorite carrier oils.
You can even try the blend mentioned in the frankincense essential oil benefits section. Add two drops each of bergamot, frankincense and lavender to a tablespoon of a carrier oil and massage away.
Remember this blend helped cancer patients feel less anxious and depressed. So say no to stress with this oil. You can also try any of these ways to relieve stress too!
I should also mention aromatherapists believe frankincense is a blood thinner. But I haven’t found any clinical evidence to support this. So to be safe, use the oil in moderation. And talk to your doctor before it. You know this is especially important if you are pregnant, nursing or using any special medication.
And, if you have cancer, please do not use frankincense oil as your primary cancer treatment drug. Talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend using the oil along with your conventional cancer treatment. It may complement your treatment and help you feel less stressed and anxious.
Where to get frankincense essential oil