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Focus on Ingredients: Frankincense

Focus on Ingredients: Frankincense

In the 5th century B.C.E., the Greek historian Herodotus instructed that great care needed to be taken when harvesting frankincense resin. He warned that multi-colored, venomous winged snakes guarded the groves by living in and among the trees. These snakes had to be driven away before approaching the trees to harvest their resin. The only way to deter the snakes was by burning styrax, a resin from another tree. Was this a myth created to deter people from going near the frankincense groves? Or were there really snakes that lived in the same area with the trees? We'll never know the origins of this story, but it illustrates that people have gone out of their way to find frankincense for thousands of years.

Botanical Illustration of Boswellia Carterii

Native to Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea in Eastern Africa, Boswellia (frankincense)  resin has long been prized for its scent and used as incense and for its healing properties. The trees often grow in areas that are difficult to reach in remote and isolated areas of the mountains. Some groves require days of travel. Because the trees often grow on steep embankments or cliffs, harvesting in the traditional groves can be dangerous. In ancient times, and through to today, the isolation and danger of the reaching the plants imbues the resin with a sense of rarity and value.  

Landscape image taken in Somaliland Africa. Large rocks in foreground with plants and vegetation extending as the land slopes upwardImage by NomadPS from Pixabay 

Using the traditional methods, the trees are tapped only twice a year. The sap is formed by scraping along the surface of the tree and then it is left on the tree to dry into the hard resin before it is gathered after a few weeks. Historically, the tree was allowed to rest for a year after it was tapped for two years. Because of the existing poverty, multiple wars, and economic exploitation, in order to survive, those who harvest the resin often overcut and overharvest the sap. This combined with fires and agricultural development have put several species of Boswellia trees at risk. 

A variety of Boswellia also grows on the Indian Peninsula. This is where the frankincense used to make our oil is ethically harvested. 

Throughout antiquity, the Southern Arabian Peninsula exported Frankincense to China. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Frankincense has been employed for its antibacterial properties as well as to encourage blood circulation. It has many other applications in this system of medicine.

Boswellia Sacra from Oman FrankincenseImage by xbqs42 from Pixabay 

Despite the number of years Frankincense has been used internationally, the health benefits are still in the early stages of being researched. This is especially true when it comes to its effectiveness in improving the health of the skin.

Preliminary research provide evidence Frankincense has anti-inflammatory properties, it improves the elasticity of the skin and works to regulate sebum. Most importantly, Frankincense has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to improve circulation throughout the body. Improving the flow of blood has a positive affect on skin health as toxins at the surface of the skin are more easily transported away to be eliminated.

Customize an Aromatherapy Roll-On Oil using the Centering Essential Oil Blend. (https://www.heliotropesf.com/products/essential-oil-blend-frankincense-moss-centering)  With its deep woodsy notes of Frankincense and Moss combined with the brighter notes of bergamot and grapefruit this blend is perfect for bringing you into your calm core. 

Our Olive Leaf & Neroli Moisturizer is gentle and soothing  for sensitive skin. In combination with botanicals such as rose, chamomile and lavender, Frankincense brings its anti-inflammatory and ability to regulate sebum. 

The Frankincense & Rose Geranium is an oil based serum that works to calm your skin and improve circulation.

Due to many of the factors previously mentioned, the current numbers of Frankincense trees is not known. Individuals funded by and working with companies that produce essential oils are beginning the effort of propagating new trees from existing older trees. They are being grown in greenhouses and cared for until they reach maturity. A tree can take eight to twenty-five years to reach the stage of producing sap and resin. A collaboration between companies, local and federal governments needs to occur to protect the trees and also provide a livelihood for the people who rely on harvesting sap. 

If only the winged serpents would appear again to protect the African old growth trees.

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