Frankincense is the exudate (secreted substance) from Boswellia tree bark and is a complex mix consisting of a gum, essential oil, bitters, and other compounds (3). There are many different species of Boswellia tree, each producing resins with slightly different chemical compositions (2, 3).
You can obtain frankincense from any Boswellia tree, but these trees vary greatly in the type of resins they produce. Weather, age, and processing can affect frankincense composition. Good quality frankincense oil has to be sourced, processed properly, and characterized chemically. Cheaper ingredients come from lesser-known Boswellia species of dubious origin that may have adulterated chemical compositions.
Health Benefits of Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense essential oil can be used topically as a fixative or added as a fragrance to soaps, detergents, creams, lotions, and perfumes. The oil has a maximum use level of 0.8 percent for the gum and absolute in perfumes (1, 3). Internally, frankincense oil provides joint and memory support and acts as a soothing agent or stimulant.
There are many other medical uses reported for Boswellia resins in the literature of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine as well as nutritional claims for supplements in the U.S. (3). However, these are related to the oleo-gum resin of a related species, Boswellia serrata (1, 2).
The European Pharmacopoeia established specific requirements for this ingredient, including a minimum of 1 percent of 11-keto-beta-boswellic acid and a minimum of 1 percent of acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (EUP) (8). These compounds are not present in Boswellia carteri frankincense essential oil.
Confusing Quality Issues With Frankincense
Some reports have pointed out the misidentification of frankincense or the adulteration of frankincense with other sources (2, 6). For example, octyl acetate and incensole acetate were once major constituents of Boswellia sacra (aka Boswellia carteri) products. However, appreciable amounts of these compounds were not found in authentic Boswellia sacra samples (2, 6).
There is some evidence that another species of Boswellia, Boswellia papyrifera, is actually substituting Boswellia carteri in the marketplace. Frankincense samples from Israel and Turkey, which were thought to be coming from Boswellia carteri, turned out to be exudates from Boswellia frereana (2, 6)
Quality Control of Frankincense Essential Oil
Isagenix Frankincense Essential Oil is made with the highest quality oil obtained from the Boswellia carteri tree and is processed and analyzed to guarantee its purity and consistency.
- Engels G, Frankincense. Boswellia sacra (syn. carteri), B. serrate Family: Burseraceae, Herbalgram 2010, 88; 1-4.
- McCutcheon A, Boswellia serrata adulteration, Botanical Adulteration Prevention Program, 2018, American Botanical Council, Austin, TX.
- Khan IA, Abourashed EA. Leung’s Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. Third edition, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 2010.
- JSTOR Global Plants Database Accessed 01/17/19 at https://plants.jstor.org/compilation/Boswellia.carteri
- The Plant List. A working List of Plant Species. Accessed 01/17/19 at http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/record/kew-2680549
- Niebler, J., Buettner, A. (2016) Frankincense revisited, part I: Comparative analysis of volatiles in commercially relevant Boswellia species, Biodiversity, 13, 613-629, doi: 10.1002/cbdv.201500329.
- USP Food Ingredients Expert Committee. Olibanum Oil. In: Food Chemicals Codex, 7th Edition (FCC 7). Rockville, MD: United States Pharmacopeial Convention. 2010;746-747.
- European Pharmacopoeia Commission. Indian Frankincense. In: European Pharmacopoeia, 7th edition (PhEur 7.0). Strasbourg, France: European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines (EDQM); 2010:1152-1153.