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Frankincense – The Pure Censing Aromatic

Frankincense (Boswellia spp.) is part of the torchwood or incense-tree family, Burseraceae.1 The oleoresin comes from creating shallow scrapes on the tree’s trunk which is gathered a few weeks later. The white resin tears are gathered first, as they are seen as the best quality. The other exudates which are hardened streams that descended the trunk or fell to the ground are thought inferior and gathered later. The hardy, desert tree can be found in Oman, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The resin has been gathered by various desert tribes for millennia and transported along the trade and spice routes by Arabian traders who took it to Mesopotamia in the northeast and Egypt in the northwest. Sumeria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon considered frankincense extremely precious, and Greece and Rome carried on this viewpoint. The incense “typified both their cultural scentscape and their archetypal soul scent”1 connecting Heaven and Earth, primarily in relation to the solar deities of these various cultures.

Babylonians used vast amounts of resins in their religious rites, according to the Herodotus, the Greek historian (ca. 484-425 BCE). They also developed an extensive aromatic astrological cosmology. Holmes presumes that frankincense was a significant incense in the rite of heiros gamos (sacred marriage), where the ruler consummated with the goddess on top of the ziggurat (a rectangular stepped tower), a medial point between heaven and earth.1

In Egypt, Queen Hatshepsut, fifth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty (reign circa 1479-1458 BCE), not only imported large quantities of frankincense oleoresin and various other resins, but also established frankincense trees along the Nile River. Her tomb depicts large-scale murals of frankincense trees.1 During the sixth dynasty of Egypt (2345-2181 BCE), a substance known as senetjer appears in the texts in relation to trade from the “land of Wawat”, a region of the Sudan.2 From the details given about its import, this substance appears to be frankincense. When the tomb of Tutankhamun was excavated in the 1920s, a bowl of incense was found which was thought to be frankincense. When burnt, it was said to give off a “pleasant aromatic odor” even after 3500 years below ground.

In the Melissae bee priestess tradition, olibanum, another name for frankincense, correlates to the “nektar” (spiritual honey) of breath and relates to the pineal gland.3 As the original French name franc encens implies, the inhalation of the resin can induce both calming, centering, and uplifting effects allowing for focused intent in order to connect with the sacred while still being embodied.1 The complexity of the spicy, sweet, woody, green resin helps to create harmony.4 The spice scent allows energy to arise, tonify, and disperse, whereas the sweet, woody, green attributes can cause energy to calm, ground, and stabilize.

Lori Glenn
HerbClip™ Managing Editor


1Holmes P. Aromatica – A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Applications. Vol 2: Applications and Profiles. London: Singing Dragon; 2019.

2Maniche L. Sacred Luxuries – Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt. London: Opus Publishing Ltd.; 1999.

3Daly A. Beekeeping course (oral communication. August 14, 2021).

4Holmes P. Frankincense oil. Intl J Aromatherapy. 1998/1999;9(4):156-161.