10 Surprising Facts About Frankincense and Frankincense Essential Oil
We use frankincense essential oil in a few of our essential oil blends, so we wanted to highlight a few unusual things about it.
1. Some Believed it Was Protected by Dragons
Perhaps to keep others from encroaching on their livelihood, those who grew the Boswellia trees were happy to spread the rumor that their land was protected by dragons. Ancient Greek writer Herodotus (5th century B.C.) wrote: “Arabia is the only country which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia, and cinnamon…the trees bearing the frankincense are guarded by winged serpents of small size and various colors.”
Because it was more valuable than gold at one time, legend had it that the trees from which frankincense came were guarded by dragon-like creatures that were happy to fend off any intruders. According to Appleton’s Popular Science Monthly, published in 1896, so precious was frankincense that “the old Sabaean merchants invented marvelous stories of genii and dragons guarding the trees and of the woods exhaling deadly odors, in order to protect them from too curious and enterprising trespassers.”
We can relate. There are days that we don’t want to share our chocolate and feel tempted to warn people that there are cockroaches in our desk. But that’s beside the point…
2. The Resin is Edible
Whether in its hardened state or as oil, frankincense is edible. Ancient cultures chewed it like gum, and used it to treat digestive ailments and to boost the immune system. Edible versions are supposed to be “pure,” meaning of translucent color, with no dark-colored impurities.
3. It Contains a Compound That Kills Cancer Cells
In 2009, for instance, researchers found that frankincense oil activated genes that suppress cancer cell growth and kill cancer cells. Yet it didn’t harm normal cells. “Frankincense oil might represent an alternative intravesical agent for bladder cancer treatment” the researchers wrote.
A more recent study found that a chemical compound in frankincense (acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid or AKBA) had the potential to destroy ovarian cancer cells—and that even cells resistant to chemotherapy were more sensitive to this compound. Other studies have shown it to have similar characteristics against colon, prostate, skin, and breast cancer cells.
4. It’s a Natural Bug Repellent
Frankincense has long been used to drive away mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects. Mosquitos don’t like it.
Burning it keeps these bugs away, which is especially helpful in areas afflicted by malaria. The Egyptians fumigated wheat silos and repelled wheat moths with it. In addition to burning it, you can also apply it directly to skin.
5. It May Help Ease Your Anxiety
A 2008 animal study found that burning frankincense activated areas in the brain that helped alleviate anxiety and depression. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, after administering a constituent of the resin to mice, found that it significantly affected areas in the brain known to be affected by current anxiety and depression drugs. We still need human studies to see if the affects are the same, but it’s an intriguing area of research.
Try adding a few drops to your warm bath to relieve stress, or burn a bit of incense in your office.
6. Women Used it to Make Eyeliner
Think makeup is only a modern-day invention? Think again. Ancient Egyptian women used frankincense to create their famous heavy black “kohl” eyeliner. They charred it first, and then ground it into a powder that they applied to their eyelids.
They believed it not only helped them look beautiful, but also protected their eyes from the sun, and improved vision.
7. It’s Great in Toothpaste.
Frankincense was used historically to treat halitosis (bad breath), and chewed to protect the teeth. You can still find frankincense in toothpaste today.
Studies have found that it is an effective anti-inflammatory, and is great for keeping your gums healthy.
A 2011 study, for instance, found that the extract lead to a “remarkable” decrease in inflammation in those with gingivitis. “Frankincense,” the researchers wrote, “a safe and low-cost herbal medicine, may be feasibly applied to improve inflammation-based disease of gingival as an adjust to the conventional mechanical therapy.”
So if you’re making your own DIY toothpaste, consider using some frankincense essential oil in it!
8. It May Stimulate Your Memory
Feel like your memory is slowing down? This oil may help. So far, we have only a few studies, but researchers believe the anti-inflammatory action may be what’s creating the results.
A 2015 animal study, for example, found that rats with impaired memory, after receiving frankincense extract, had improved memory retrieval compared to those who received a placebo.
An earlier human study on patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) found that those taking frankincense as a capsule (300 mg twice a day) experienced improvements in visual-spatial memory.
9. It’s Super for Skin
Herbalists prize Frankincense for its healing abilities. Combine it with lavender to treat cuts, scrapes, and burns, and use it on its own to help fade scars. It may also help relieve the itching of some insect bites.
Because it’s a natural antiseptic, it’s also a good option for those with acne—simply dab some on stubborn spots at night before bed to wake up with clearer skin. Combine it with a carrier oil to help moisturize and make fine lines less visible. Some also say it helps to get rid of skin tags and warts—apply several times a day directly on the affected area until they’re gone.
10. It May Ease Your Pain
Chronic, low-level pain is something many Americans suffer from on a daily basis. It may come from joint problems, back pain, fibromyalgia, and more.
Many essential oils contain anti-inflammatory properties that can help, and frankincense is a standout in this respect. It’s been used for centuries to treat a wide range of painful conditions, and new studies have been so positive that in Europe, the extracts have been labeled as drugs for reducing swelling in specific clinical settings. Some studies have found them to be just as effective as our modern-day non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin and ibuprofen), without the side effects on the stomach.