The frankincense burned as church incense today is the same as that used by ancient peoples who inhabited the Middle East and North Africa. Eventually the use of frankincense spread throughout Europe and eastward into India, and it was burned as an offering to the gods of many cultures. It was one of the four sweet scents; used by Jews in their ceremonial incense, and it was presented each Sabbath day with the shewbread. For Christians it was one of the three precious gifts brought by the Magi to the infant Jesus.

Exceeding the value of precious metals and gems, frankincense was only produced by 3,000 families called Sabians from the land of Punt. The men chosen to prune and gather frankincense gum had to undergo ritual purification. Frankincense was so greatly valued because its fragrance was believed to heighten spirituality, sending one into a deep, meditative relaxation that enhanced worship.

Aromatherapists and massage practitioners have observed that frankincense’s fragrance does deepen breathing, aid relaxation, and cause the lungs to expand. Modern science backs up these observations by showing that, when burned, frankincense releases molecules of trahydrocannabinole, a psychoactive compound that may be responsible for uplifting the spirit.

Charred and powdered, frankincense was the major ingredient in the traditional black kohl that Egyptian women still wear as eyeliner. It was believed to help women see a more spiritual aspect of the world, to avoid ill-fate, and to prevent eye infection. Of course, it has been, and still is, used in expensive perfume.

This small tree has been planted on rocky hillsides in Yemen and Oman, but the highest quality frankincense still comes from North Africa, with some produced in Somalia, China, and India. The clear to pale yellow oil is steam distilled from hard tears of oleo gum resin.

Principal constituents of frankincense: Olibanol, resinous matter, and terpenes

Scent of frankincense: The fragrance is soft, balsamic, and sometimes lemony or camphorous.

Therapeutic properties of frankincense: Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, astringent, sedative; clears lung congestion, decreases gas and indigestion, brings on menstruation

Uses for frankincense: Historically, it has been utilized for treating syphilis, infections, and all kinds of skin disorders. Ayurvedic medicine from India has long suggested its use on inflamed skin conditions. Its antiseptic and skin-healing properties fight bacterial and fungal skin infections and boils.

Since it’s quite expensive, however, it is usually reserved for the most difficult cases, such as unsightly scars that remain after an infection has healed, and hard-to-heal wounds. For problem skin areas, use a couple drops of frankincense in an equal amount of vegetable oil.

Frankincense is excellent on mature skin and acne. It is especially good when middle-aged women experience those conditions and also want to prevent wrinkles. Make a compress or massage oil with frankincense for breast cysts or for infection of the lungs, reproductive organs, or urinary tract. It also increases menstrual flow.

To learn more about Aromatherapy and other alternative medicines, see:
  • Aromatherapy: Learn about aromatherapy, how it works, what part essential oils play, and how to use aromatherapy.
  • Essential Oils Profiles: We have collected profiles of dozens of plants that are used to produce essential oils. On these pages, you will learn the properties and preparations for the most popular essential oils.
  • How to Treat Common Conditions With Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used to treat a number of conditions, from asthma to depression to skin problems. Here you will learn how to treat some common medical problems with aromatherapy.
  • Home Remedies: We have gathered over a hundred safe, time-tested home remedies for treating a wide variety of medical complaints yourself.
  • Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies and aromatherapy can be very similar, and they stem from similar historic roots. On this page, you will find all of our herb profiles and instructions for treating medical problems with herbal remedies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and editor of the American Herb Association Quarterly newsletter. A writer, photographer, consultant, and teacher specializing in aromatherapy and herbs for over 25 years, she has written several books, including Aromatherapy: The Complete Guide to the Healing Art and Pocket Guide to Aromatherapy, and has written over 150 articles for such magazines as New Age Journal, The Herb Companion, and New Herbal Remedies. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.