Boswellia serrata, Boswellia carteri, Boswellia frereana, Boswellia sacra


Frankincense is not a flower. It’s not a plant or tree either. So where does Frankincense come from? Frankincense is an aromatic resin obtained from a small, hardy, unimpressive-looking tree of the genus Boswellia that is native to North Africa. Yet from that scraggly tree, the precious “pearl of the desert” is extracted.

It takes 25 years for a Boswellia tree to produce its first Frankincense harvest. Once it is mature, harvesters tap, or make incisions into the trunks starting at the dry season. The bark is shaved off to form a circular wound about 1 or 2 cm wide, and up to 1 cm deep; more than 3 tapping spots can be made depending on the size of the tree. 

Now, this tapping is a cyclical operation that is repeated every 15-20 days after the first tap.The tapped trees exude a white sap which is allowed to harden into tears.  The wound is refreshed and slightly widened every few days allowing for the tree to give off more of its sap. This continues until the onset of the rainy season.  The tears are then seasoned, or dried, to be used in incense or distilled to produce the essential oil. Or as I read somewhere while researching this, chewed like gum–Because why not? It’s good for digestion!

From Rome to India and beyond, Frankincense has been used and loved for more than 5000 years. It was deemed essential for a host of uses ranging from religious to cosmetic to medicinal. Due to its demand, a complex trade network evolved to transport the priceless resin from the remote regions where it was produced to the markets where the wealthiest vied for the precious pearl of the desert.

Today, With the increasing importance for herbal and natural treatments fuelling demand for essential oils, thousands of tons of Frankincense are traded every year for a wide variety of purposes. These are sourced from Boswellia trees in North Africa, India, Oman, Yemen, and western Africa. Unfortunately, some scientists fear that the demand may be causing the Boswellia tree population to crash, though because the trees grow in such remote regions, it is hard to ascertain the extent of the damage.

The main problem is over-tapping.  The trees should be tapped in no more than 12 places in a single year (this number is for a medium tree. Smaller trees can be tapped only in 6 spots, and larger trees, 16 spots). Sadly, in several places where locals need the frankincense trade for their livelihood, a single tree may be tapped up to 120 times over the course of only a few years, resulting in lower-quality resin that is too fine or dusty. Additionally, overtapping affects the tree’s vitality and interferes with its reproductive biology. This kind of sourcing is not sustainable and is now putting the Boswellia trees at risk. 

Therefore, while I encourage you to use Frankincense essential oil, do be sure to get it from companies who have responsible sourcing practices.

The Pearl of the Desert

Worth its weight in gold, this ancient commodity is as prized now as it was ages ago.

USE: Skin Care | Massage Oil | Diffusion

There are many kinds of Boswellia trees, however as far as I know only 5 are used to extract the precious resin. These include Boswellia serrata mostly grown in India, Boswellia carteri grown in East Africa and China, Boswellia frereana in Somalia, and Boswellia sacra in the Arab peninsula. Each of these produce an essential oil with different properties than the others. Additionally, differences in soil and climate create more diversity in the resins, even within the same species. [1]

Here are some notes on the differences and benefits of each. Take this list with a grain of sand, as different sources contradict each other. Bottome line, Frankincese has many varieties. They vary slightly, but all are beneficial and to some extent have the same healing properties.

B. Serrata: Frankincense Serrata’s warm aroma has an earthy note, and when diffused helps to uplift the spirit. This variety of Frankincense is said to have excellent anti-inflammatory properties and therefore the best choice to aid in pain relief for aching muscles and joints. When diffused and combined with other essential oils it helps the respiratory system.

B. Carteri aka B. Sacra:  This variety is known to help bruising treat bruising, swelling, sores, and discomfort. Additionally, Carteri appears to have anti-cancer properties[1]. Diffuse to uplift mood. 

B. Frereana:  This variety is prized for skin-healing properties. Used to treat wrinkles, scars, dry and damaged skin, and good for healing wounds or cuts. Diffuse when stressed.

B. Sacra: Sacra is regarded as the most therapeutic and most sought-after Frankincense (see B. Carteri for more info)


Blends Well With

  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Black Pepper
  • Chamomile
  • Citruses
  • Cypress
  • Grapefruit
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Myrrh
  • Neroli
  • Nutmeg
  • Orange
  • Patchouli
  • Pine
  • Rose
  • Sandalwood
  • Vetiver

Key Benefits

  • Anti-inflammatory: Helps reduce pain associated with arthritis, as well as muscle and joint overuse.
  • Anti-bacterial: a great cleanser for boils, wounds, and ulcers
  • Anti-septic: helps with pulmonary and urinary tract infections and to heal cuts and skin ulcers
  • Toner: balances oily skin, reduces appearance of pores, fine lines, and sun spots
  • Aids respiratory system: loosens and remove mucus. Helpful for asthma, coughs, chronic bronchitis, laryngitis, and shortness of breath
  • Tones and strengthens uterus
  • Aids digestive system: helps expel gas and aids digestion
  • Helps with depression and anxiety


Frankincense may cause skin sensitization if it is old or oxiedized. Keep in a cool, dark place so prevent it from going bad.

NEVER EVER use undiluted. It has a very low dermal limit, so if you use it topically it should never exceed 1% of the total mix. It is recommended you don’t go above 0.5%. You may go above so long as it is not for every-day use.

Topical Application

Love Your Face Serum

<1% dilution for face & neck:

  • 2 drops Frankincense
  • 1 drop Rose Otto
  •  tsp (15 mL) carrier oil

Uplifting Massage Blend

2% dilution for massage:

  • 3 drops Frankincense
  • 3 drops Orange
  • 2 tsp carrier oil OR lotion

Out You Damned Spot

<1% dilution to treat sun spots:

  • 2 drops Frankincense
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) carrier oil

Pain blend

3% dilution:

  • 3 Frankincense Serrata
  • 3 Peppermint
  • 3 Turmeric
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) carrier oil

Diffusing Blends

Breathe Your Name

(Good to aid respiratory system)

  • 3 drops Frankincense
  • 2 drops Eucalyptus
  • 1 drop Cedarwood
  • 1 drop Rosemary

Waiting On The Sun

(Smells better if they meld for a day or two before using)

  • 3 drops Frankincense
  • 1 drop Clary Sage
  • 1 drop Bergamot
  • 1 drop Grapefruit
  • 1 drop Orange

Melody of You

  • 3 drops Bergamot
  • 3 drops Frankincense
  • 2 drops Helichrysum


  • 2 drops Frankincense
  • 2 drops Sandalwood Australian
  • 1 drops Rose


Evening Allure

3% dilution rate:

In a 10 mL roll-on bottle add:

  • 3 drops Vanilla
  • 2 drops Patchouli
  • 2 drops Frankincense
  • 2 drops Cedarwood
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) carrier oil

Fill the rest of the bottle with your carrier of choice. (I prefer sweet almond or rosehip). Set the bottle aside for a few weeks for scent to meld. Pour into roll-on bottles and apply to wrists and neck

Notes of interest:

  • Frankincense acts as both fixative and base note in this recipe. Play around with the ratios (essential oil drops should not exceed 9 for every 10 mL of carrier) to achieve the perfect perfume for you. Refer to the list of oils that Frankincense blends well with to customize your perfume

Skin Care

Antiseptic and Antibacterial – helps deal with wounds, cuts, skin ulcers, and boils

Balancing – gentle balancer for oily skin

Tones – contracts and tones tissue, will shrink pores and tone skin. Helps prevent and reduce signs of aging such as fine lines and blemishes from sun exposure

If you, like me are interested in the history of Frankincense, check out this series on the Frankincense Trail. Watch the rest of the series HERE!

Featured in Episode 12