Frankincense is perhaps most notable for its important cameo in the New Testament—it was one of the fabulous gifts bestowed upon the baby Jesus Christ, along with such valuables as gold and myyrh (another plant product)—but its presence has been consistent throughout human history. Frankincense has been used and traded for upwards of five thousand years throughout parts of Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Early on, Israelites, Greeks, Romans and other cultures generally reserved frankincense for religious rituals, but those living in Ancient Egypt utilized this sweet-smelling sap for a wide variety of things: in perfumes, in the dark, dramatic makeup worn by men and women, in insect repellent, and in healing balms for sores or open wounds. Frankincense also played a vital role in the mechanics of and rituals involved in the process of embalming their dead.
The multipurpose nature of the sap led to a steady but substantial rise in medicinal uses: Greeks and Romans used frankincense to treat a wide variety of illnesses and injuries. Those studying medicine at the time praised frankincense in their writings for its anti-inflammatory, disinfectant and pain-relieving benefits; it was used to treat everything from stomach upsets and colds to hemorrhoids and headaches to hypertension, stomach ulcers, fevers, and childbirth
A Roman botanist by the name of Pliny the Elder, who claimed that frankincense was an excellent antidote for those suffering from hemlock poisoning, even went so far as to say that the valuable plant product was responsible for making southern Arabia the wealthiest place in the world.
But though this fragrant sap was once considered valuable enough to give to the newborn Messiah, its popularity plummeted as Christianity rose. This was partly due to the collapse of the Roman Empire, which took with it most of the trade routes where the value of frankincense had been well-recognized. During the infancy of Christianity, many religious leaders prohibited the once-popular product because of its strong link to pagan ritual. The Catholic Church would later reclaim it for religious purposes.
What is Frankincense?
Before we continue, it is important to understand what frankincense is and where it comes from. Frankincense is a congealed, hardened sap product that drips out of cuts made in the flesh of the Boswellia sacra tree. Harvesting it is about as simple and low-tech as it was when the ancients used it: cuts in the bark cause the sap to ‘bleed out’, where it hardens after being exposed to the air. Once the sap has hardened up, it is ready to be harvested and used. Given that natural products made from plants and animals made up the entirety of medicine in the days before modern science, it’s easy to understand why frankincense and other aromatic resins would hold such a strong place in healing injury and illness.
Though its popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years, frankincense has not regained the strong foothold it once held in mainstream medicine. This is not to say that it has fallen out of favor completely—though modern mainstream medicine largely rejects natural remedies, traditional and alternative healing practices continue to prize them. In recent years, these fields have experienced a steady growth in popularity. Aromatherapy, traditional healing methods, and other practices continue to use frankincense today.
Frankincense oil Uses
Its popularity may continue to grow, too— partly in response to the growing number of clinical studies concerning its use in treating common illnesses. A study in the nineties found that the resin had a strong painkilling effect in laboratory mice, and another study performed in 2009 found that it may have the ability to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol.
But of course, plenty of people have harnessed the powers of frankincense without waiting to see the reports of clinical studies. Today, most people use it the way that they use other essential oils. It is usually mixed with some sort of carrier oil, then either inhaled (as in aromatherapy) or massaged into the skin. It is touted along with lavender oil mostly for its stress-relief benefits, but people also see success in using it to treat digestive problems, inflammatory illnesses, and even as a household cleaning chemical.
This oil can be toxic in large quantities, so you should take care if you decide to take it orally for any reason. As with any essential oil, make sure you purchase products labeled as “100% essential oil,” because any other product may be synthetic copies. High quality oils are translucent or silvery in color, with a feint green tint. Yellow or brown oils are lower in quality, and may be mixed with other substances, which can make them less effective. If it isn’t the real oil, you won’t be able to get the health benefits!
Speaking of health benefits, here is a list of six:
Health Benefits of Frankincense Oil
1. Frankincense relieves stress.
Modern man may have figured out electricity and mastered the mysteries of ‘modern medicine,’ but we are more stressed than ever. In addition to being vastly unpleasant, chronic stress can wear down our bodies just as quickly as a nutritional deficiency. Stress inhibits our ability to fight off infections and increases our risk of developing chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and all forms of cancer. Stress is so pervasive that many people find themselves relying on anxiety medications to get a moment’s rest.
While frankincense oil can’t take the place of pharmaceutical drugs for people with severe anxiety disorders, it can have an immediate, powerful calming effect on the vast majority of us. Put a few drops in a bubble bath for a relaxing soak, or drop it onto your washcloth before you wash your face in the evening. To turn your home into a stress-free environment, use this oil in your oil diffuser and let the sweet, fruity smell permeate your whole house. Need a portable form of relief? Rub a small amount of this oil into the skin on your neck or chest.
2. It treats the symptoms of cold, allergies and flu.
When it comes to making the week of your seasonal cold less miserable, frankincense oil may be just as good as over-the-counter drugs. When inhaled, this oil can open up your nasal passages and your airways, which will encourage sinus drainage and help to reduce the buildup of phlegm in your throat and lungs. The anti-inflammatory effect can also reduce headaches, sore throats and coughing, which can make it easier for you to get through the day—or more importantly, to get the sleep your body needs to recover!
The same properties that open up the airways in sick or allergy-ridden individuals can work wonders for those struggling with asthma. Of course, frankincense oil will not replace your rescue inhaler, but it may help ease your symptoms.
3. It can alleviate all forms of digestive distress.
If it’s a digestive issue, it can probably be alleviated (if not eliminated) with frankincense oil. Whether you’re struggling with gas, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, or even the infamous “runner’s trots,” a little bit of frankincense can go a long way in calming a stressed gastrointestinal system. Mix a drop or two of pure frankincense oil into a glass of water or almond milk and sip slowly.
Reminder: If you take frankincense oil orally, MAKE SURE IT IS 100% PURE FRANKINCENSE OIL. Do not drink synthetic oils or blends intended for perfumes. Consuming fragrance oils, like drinking perfume, will only make your digestive problems a lot worse. Unless you’re trying to vomit, I suppose.
(I’m kidding. Do not use fragrance oils to induce vomiting.)
4. It speeds up wound healing and reduces the appearance of scars.
Frankincense oil can speed up wound healing, but it also works as a great natural treatment for scars, dark spots and stretch marks. Mix a couple drops of pure oil into your favorite lotion or skin cream and apply it directly to the skin, rubbing it in gently. Obviously, don’t use any lotion on an open wound unless it is marketed specifically for that purpose. Using a heavily-scented moisturizing cream on an open wound can increase your risk of infection, which is the exact opposite of what you want to do.
5. It can relieve pain due to injury, DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), or arthritis.
If inflammation is the cause, frankincense oil is the cure. Frankincense oil has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation in animal studies, and many healthcare professionals report that rheumatoid arthritis patients experience pain relief.
You don’t have to reserve it for something so severe as arthritis, though! Pass on the ibuprofen and rub a couple drops into sore muscles the day after your workout. You’ll get a similar effect without all the possible negative side effects of NSAIDs.
6. Frankincense has powerful antibacterial properties.
Frankincense is a great antiseptic oil, which is why so many people use it as a natural remedy for a whole host of oral health problems. Many people use frankincense oil to make a natural mouthwash that prevents cavities, gingivitis, bad breath, and canker or cold sores. Similar to Coconut Oil.
If you think you already have a cavity or an oral infection of some sort, however, it’s important to make a visit to the dentist. Frankincense oil is great, but it doesn’t cure cavities!