Other Names: Luban
Medicinal Uses: Acne, Wounds and scars, Bacterial and fungal infections, Arthritis, Natural insecticide
Frankincense, also called olibanum. It is used in incense and perfumes.
There are four main species of Boswellia which produce true frankincense and each type of resin is available in various grades. The grades depend on the time of harvesting, and the resin is hand-sorted for quality.
Frankincense is tapped from the very scraggly but hardy Boswellia tree by slashing the bark and allowing the exuded resins to bleed out and harden. These hardened resins are called tears. There are numerous species and varieties of frankincense trees, each producing a slightly different type of resin. Differences in soil and climate create even more diversity of the resin, even within the same species.
Frankincense trees are also considered unusual for their ability to grow in environments so unforgiving that they sometimes grow directly out of solid rock. The means of initial attachment to the stone is not known but is accomplished by a bulbous disklike swelling of the trunk. This disklike growth at the base of the tree prevents it from being torn away from the rock during the violent storms that frequent the region they grow in. This feature is slight or absent in trees grown in rocky soil or gravel. The tears from these hardy survivors are considered superior for their more fragrant aroma.
The trees start producing resin when they are about 8 to 10 years old. Tapping is done 2 to 3 times a year with the final taps producing the best tears due to their higher aromatic terpene, sesquiterpene and diterpene content. Generally speaking, the more opaque resins are the best quality. Dhofari frankincense (from Boswellia sacra) is said to be the best in the world, although fine resin is also produced more extensively in Yemen and along the northern coast of Somalia, from which the Roman Catholic Church draws its supplies.
Recent studies have indicated that frankincense tree populations are declining due to over-exploitation. Heavily tapped trees have been found to produce seeds that germinate at only 16% while seeds of trees that had not been tapped germinate at more than 80%.
Frankincense is used in perfumery and aromatherapy. Frankincense essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of the dry resin. Some of the smell of the frankincense smoke is due to the products of pyrolysis.
Frankincense was lavishly used in religious rites.
The Egyptians ground the charred resin into a powder called kohl. Kohl was used to make the distinctive black eyeliner seen on so many figures in Egyptian art. The aroma of frankincense is said to represent life and the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic faiths have often used frankincense mixed with oils to anoint newborn infants and individuals considered to be moving into a new phase in their spiritual lives.