In ancient times Frankincense was used primarily for medicinal purposes or in religious ceremonies; but today, the herb is reputed to have a host of benefits. With such benefits ranging from reduced inflammation to anti-aging and many others, frankincense could be an ancient herb with applications to today’s ailments.
Frankincense, scientifically known as Boswellia sacra, comes from the Boswellia Sacra tree, which can reach a height of eight feet and can be found in the coastal mountains of the Arabian Peninsula. According to Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, all parts of the tree, including the “papery, peeling bark,” branches and trunk all produce the “oily gum resin,” commonly known as frankincense.
The essential oil extracted from the frankincense gum/resin, known as Boswellia Carteri, is said to provide several important medical benefits, acting as a disinfectant, astringent, digestive aid, diuretic, antiseptic and anti-aging agent.
According to Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.C., B. carteri has long been recognized as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
“Thousands of years ago—long before there were prescription pharmaceuticals available—extracts from the B. serrata tree were used to treat a number of health conditions, including arthritis and digestive distress,” Axe said. “When used during massage, B. carteri can provide these benefits, along with others.
“It can reduce any pain felt throughout the body, while also helping to fight bacterial or viral infections,” he added. “In fact, it can even speed up recovery time from a cold or flu.”
Axe said that from a nonmedical perspective, B. carteri can reduce anxiety and promote relaxation, which are both beneficial during a massage.
Some therapists are already tuned into the anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense. Kimberly Petree, owner of Petree Health Center in Cumming, Georgia, has used frankincense throughout her 20-year career. She says the herb “supports a healthy immune and normal prostaglandin response,” which helps to regulate inflammation. She adds that frankincense also assists with normal cartilage and joint function and maintains the body’s natural response to injury.
Petree adds frankincense to her massage cream to address joint pain, help reduce inflammation and increase joint function.
“There has always been a positive response to it from my [clients], she said. “They love the smell and it really has an immediate effect on joint pain.” Petree said her clients have not reported any side effects from the use of frankincense.
Ancient Herb, Modern Benefits
San Diego, California-based massage therapist Kathleen Lisson specializes in manual lymphatic drainage and is also trained in aromatherapy.
“I use frankincense essential oil in heated essential oil wraps I apply to clients after giving them a dry brushing treatment,” she said. “Clients find that frankincense makes them feel relaxed.
“I mix the essential oils with water and soak towels in the mixture before applying them to the arms, legs and back,” Lisson added.
Supported by Research
While these therapists and their clients have experienced benefits from using frankincense, research supports their claims. For instance, a 2008 study conducted in South Korea examined the use of aromatherapy hand massage on pain, anxiety and depression in hospice patients with terminal cancer. The experimental group received aromatherapy hand massage with an oil blend of bergamot, lavender and frankincense with sweet almond oil as a carrier; the control group only had hand massage with the sweet almond oil. At the end of the trial, the experimental group showed significant improvement in pain and depression over the control group.
A 2013 study conducted in India showed promising results on knee osteoarthritis when treated with Ayurvedic formulations containing B. serrata. This study took place over 24 weeks and involved 440 patients. The Ayurvedic formula was compared with glucosamine and celecoxib (Celebrex, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). At the conclusion of the study, the Ayurvedic preparations with frankincense demonstrated “significantly reduced knee pain and improved knee function and were equivalent to glucosamine and celecoxib,” according to the investigators.
Additionally, researchers at Cardiff University in search of an effective solution to arthritis pain turned to frankincense, specifically Boswellia frereana — a rare frankincense species. Their study showed that this herb aids in treating arthritis by inhibiting “the production of key inflammatory molecules which helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage tissue … ”
Quality is Key
Before using any ingredient on the skin, the product should be evaluated carefully, cautions Petree. She emphasizes the importance of purchasing a high-quality product for the best results.
“The medicinal effect is always dependent on the quality of the product you are using,” she said. “Some products will say frankincense perfume and that is a low quality product and usually has all synthetic ingredients.”
Axed noted that frankincense should be mixed with a carrier oil, such as coconut or almond oil, before it is applied to the skin. As with any essential oil, training in safe use and dosage is needed.
About the Author
Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Create a Brand and Gain Clients with Private-Label Products” and “Peppermint Oil Puts the Holiday in Massage.”