Frankincense tree in the wild

Tapping into Frankincense and its Boswellic acids- an easy extraction method

How to isolate the resin and Boswellic acids from select Frankincense oleoresins with water

Boswellia Papyrifera-Pure Resin-Medicine, Perfume & Incense.

Boswellia Papyrifera-Isolated Resin-Boswellic acids-

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds found in the frankincense family. The most publicized recently are the Boswellic acids and AKBA, or acetyl-keto-beta-boswellic acid,  pentacyclic triterpenes found in some species of Frankincense which make up a significant part of the resin in these oleo-gum-resins. The motivation for the increase in research, and much of the funding, from what I can see, is largely due the projected profit perceived by pharmaceutical companies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it provides the impetus for discovery, progress and knowledge, but good to keep in mind nonetheless.

With a rapidly growing aging population in the west, an increase in chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, rheumatism, inflammatory bowel disease, and various cancers, the market is receptive. There are theories that most if not all age-related degenerative conditions are directly associated with inflammation. Frankincense’s history of use in traditional eastern medical systems as an anti-inflammatory makes it an excellent candidate for modern applications..

Frankincense tree in the wild

Frankincense Sacra/Carterii tree in the wild

Besides hearing about Boswellic acids in groundbreaking studies, some essential oil companies advertise that their distilled essential oils of Frankincense contain a high percent of Boswellic acids. This is misleading. Some essential oils of Frankincense may have a higher percent of Boswellic acids than other essential oils of Frankincense, but the Boswellic acids are not found in the essential oils except in trace amounts. They are found in the heavy resin portion and cannot be distilled into the essential oils except in minute quantities. Like politics, statistics in advertising can be misleading.

The Boswellic acids are heavy molecules called triterpenes, and while many beneficial compounds are light enough to separate themselves from the frankincense oleo-gum-resin when heated during the distillation process, the Boswellic acids are not. They make up the heavier resin portion. This is not to say that the essential oil of Frankincense is not a wonderful therapeutic oil with many valuable compounds and health benefits, but that when it comes to Boswellic acid content, it can only have trace amounts unless Boswellic acids were added to it manually and then it would no longer be an essential oil, but an oleoresin..

Boswellia Sacra/Carterii resin extract beneath B. Papyrifera resin extrac

Made up mainly of Boswellic acids, and solid at room temperature, the  pure resins of Boswellia Sacra/Carterii beneath B. Papyrifera do not distill over with the essential oils.

The only products that can claim with verity to contain significant amounts of Boswellic acids are either the whole raw oleo-gum-resin of certain Frankincense types, or extracts that have been processed with solvents to isolate the resins that contain the Boswellic acids.  Boswellic acids are not found in the water-soluble gum portion of Frankincense or the distilled essential oils except as mentioned, in trace amounts.

Claims that the essential oil of Frankincense from any company, contains a high percent of Boswellic acids, that you should ingest their essential oils, or that their oils are “Therapeutic quality”, were developed to market their products and are not put forth in the interest of your edification or wellbeing.

Simply put-

  • There is no significant amount of Boswellic acids in any Frankincense essential oil when compared to the quantities naturally present in the unprocessed oleo-gum-resin, the pure resin or the extract.
  • You should never ingest essential oils without consulting with a qualified healthcare professional.

We have come to associate the essential oil of any given plant as the quintessence of its healing properties. While this may be true for some plants, it is far from the truth for oleoresins which hold many healing compounds in their undistillable resin portion.

If you would like to extract or isolate the Boswellic acids and the resin portion of Frankincense yourself, there is a simple way you can do this with the right type of Frankincense. Once you have the pure resin it is relatively easy to make a variety of products that utilize and deliver the Boswellic acids. The whole oleo gum resin of Frankincense will not dissolve easily in oil based products due to its water soluble gum content. It will also not dissolve well in water based products due to its oleo and resin components. The solution is to separate the water soluble part from the oil soluble part which is the point of this post and the following method.

Boswellia separated into 3 components

Frankincense Papyrifera gum dissolved in water on the right, resin in alcohol on the left ,and distilled essential oils center. Not in their naturally occurring proportions

Recent research has identified Boswellic acids in the resin of 3 types of Frankincense. The number may increase as more research is done on other species. ( See pages 125-127) http://scidok.sulb.uni-saarland.de/volltexte/2012/4999/pdf/Dissertation_Fertig_211112.pdf

They are-

  • Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Sudan.
  • Boswellia Seratta from India.
  • Boswellia Sacra/Carterii, (one and the same tree), from Somalia, Kenya, Oman and Yemen.
A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia- Papyrifera, Neglecta, Frereana, Rivae, Carterii/Sacra Apothecarysgarden.com

A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia

 A simple and safe method to isolate the resin and Boswellic acids in Frankincense

While different solvents can be used to isolate the resin and Boswellic acid portion of Frankincense, The simplest and safest method is to do so is with water.

 30/November/2015-Since writing this post, I have developed an easier/better method for separating the resin portion and the Boswellic acids from the whole oleo gum resin. If you are revisiting this page, I hope you find the following process simpler and more satisfying.

  • Take 100-500 grams of fresh Frankincense.
  •  In a stainless steel, Teflon coated or glass pot, bring at least 10 liters of water to a boil. More than this is just fine.
  • Place a stainless steel sieve or colander with a fine mesh about 1/2 submerged in the water. Ideally, use a sieve that will rest on the edge of the pot securely, otherwise you will have to hold it at the right height through the process and you will need an extra hand.
  • When it is at a full boil, gently add 100 to 500 grams of one of the 3 aforementioned types of Frankincense into the suspended sieve, careful to not splash boiling water on yourself. It is fine if the resin sits partially above the water, it will soon settle.
  •  With a wooden spoon or some other utensil, gently run the submerged resin granules back and forth through the boiling water allowing the water to wash over them all and dissolve them.
  • The water soluble gum will dissolve and disperse in the water while the pure oleoresin, the resin with the essential oils, will exit and float around the outside of the sieve. The bark and other foreign matter will collect in the sieve and not pass to the water.
  • Once most of the resin is floating on the surface of the water, it will also push its way back into the sieve. To address this, lift the sieve higher and allow the rest of the resin to exit the sieve. At this point you may need help running the utensil back and forth gently forcing the resin through into the water.
  •  When the sieve is empty of gum and water, set it aside.
  • Skim/scoop out all the resin that is floating in the pot into a separate preferably stainless steel bowl. I use a small colander/sieve that captures more resin than water for this purpose. It’s ok if you transfer water into the bowl with the resin since you can easily pour it off after the resin sets.
  •  Set the pot of hot water aside to cool. As most of these oleoresins do, they will mostly settle to the bottom of the pot as the temperature drops.
  •  When the pot has cooled, pour the contents through yet another fine mesh sieve and add the bits of resin you collect in the sieve to your main bowl of collected resin. Pry off as much of the hard resin droplets from your pot.
  • Your resin extract still needs to go through the bath once more to remove traces of water soluble gum. When present, they will interfere with the process of making oil based products such as cremes and salves.
  • So, repeat the above process of boiling your resin with fresh clean water in the pot.
  • Break up the resin into smaller pieces that will melt evenly, and add it to the boiling water.
  • Stir it around and you will likely see the water getting a bit cloudy. This is the residual water-soluble gum we want to get rid of.
  •  It should only take a few minutes of gentle stirring to wash the rest of the gum out of the resin, so after 3-5 minutes of your completely melted resin floating around, you can skim it off as above, and place it in a clean bowl to cool and set.
  •  Again, let the pot cool and collect any resin you missed.
  • Though you could use the resin extract as it is, I put it through one final process to dry it of any residual trapped water. It usually collects water in little pockets and bubbles as it floats around the boiling water.
  •  To do this, I crush the resin coarsely, exposing as much of it to the air as I can. I stop when the largest chunks are about the size of a pea.
  • Place it on a clean Teflon or silicone cookie sheet.
  •  Preheat the oven to about 120 degrees Centigrade and place the pan in the oven.
  •  The resin will melt and flow releasing all the water in the form of vapour to the air. I tilt it this way and that to expose any pockets of water while it is hot and mobile.
  •  It only takes about 2-5 minutes of the resin uniformly melted to dry it and it can be removed from the oven and left to cool.
  •   When solid and cool, lift from the cookie sheet, break it in pieces if you like and store in ziplock bags or  a glass jar. Keep it cool or it may flow a bit and adhere to a glass container.
  • I have also used a heat gun, the kind used for stripping paint to melt the resin and remove any trapped water from it. This is an option if you feel like experimenting. If it sizzles a bit it is OK.

You now have a product with a substantial, therapeutically active proportion of Boswellic acids in a concentration much, much higher than you could ever get from a comparable quantity or weight of essential oil without the risk that concentrated essential oils can represent. At the same time you likely have a healthy percent of Frankincense essential oils in their naturally occurring concentration and matrix.

It is a substance that dissolves readily in warm vegetable oils, waxes and alcohol, and lends itself with ease to cremes, oils, salves and more. You know exactly what went into your product from start to finish. You know it wasn’t adulterated along the way, that no solvents, desiccants or fillers were added, and you know you have a 100% natural product.

Though I state it is an easy process, it is rather messy. Here is a visual walkthrough of the above process including some tips on  cleanup. – https://apothecarysgarden.com/2016/11/20/extracting-the-resin-and-boswellic-acids-from-frankincense-a-visual-walkthrough/

 And remember, always take clear notes.                                                                                                                                            Your future self will thank you.

Dan

47 comments

    1. I was about to make an oil extraction method you described earlier in the months with powdered frankincense (I already put it in oil), then saw your recent water extraction method. Can I filter out the oil and do the water method, then add it back to the oil? Is the oil method not as effective as the water method?

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      1. Hi Kirk. Unfortunately, once you have soaked the powdered resin in oil, it becomes less soluble in water and the oil may or may not interfere in the process of the resin coalescing in the boiling water. In short, I really don’t know….You will have to share your results with me if you try this.

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  1. Excellent information and method of extraction. I was particularly interested in the study you provided. Very informative

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  2. Is there any reason to save the white water soluble gum liquid that you are pouring off? Is there any beneficial use for it or is the resin the only useful component?

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    1. That’s an excellent question Penny and one I too have been asking. From what I can tell, a water infusion or aqueous solution of Frankincense has been used in traditional Iranian medicine to improve memory and increase the intelligence of children while in the womb.
      An infusion of whole tears is also considered a remedy for colds coughs and congestion in traditional Arabian medicine. There is a recipe in the navigation menu at the top of the blog for such a tea.
      I think we have been focusing mainly on essential oils, and recently on the Boswellic acids in the resin and may indeed be missing the therapeutic properties of the water-soluble gums and the benefits of a “whole” medicine from Frankincense. There is little information online regarding this portion of the Frankincense except that it is made up of sugars or polysaccharides and a bitter priciple.
      I have found it difficult to work with since once separated with water, it spoils quickly and when recombined with the resin and essential oils of Frankincense in an emulsion it requires a preservative for long term use. A powder of raw Frankincense or a water/alcohol tincture may be the only viable methods to utilize the whole oleo-gum-resin medicinally.

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      1. I have used grapefruit seed extract as a preservative in essential oil mixture with good results. Some studies say it’s due to the antimicrobial activity of grapefruit seed
        Question
        What do u recommend for cleaning the resin from the
        Utensils used to reduce the Frankinsence resin please??
        Lots of hot soapy water & elbow grease still leaves me in a sticky mess😁!
        Thankyou for sharing your knowledge with such kind generosity !

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      2. Hi Asa. Thank you.
        I use olive oil and a scrub pad to dissolve the resin and then warm water and dish soap for a final cleaning.
        As one reader pointed out, best to set aside dedicated tools, pots and sieves for working with the resins since it can be time consuming bringing them back to their original state each time one makes an extract.

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  3. Hi Dan~ So appreciating all of the info you’ve shared here. I just tried this process, but with finely ground Boswellia serrata, as my local apothecary was just cleaned out of tears by someone who’d come in the day before. I did the multiple washes, but figured it wouldn’t be possible to get the water perfectly milky-free due to the fine particulate. So, it’s possible I didn’t wash it enough. Would that be the reason why the oleo-resins did not bind together in the last step? I boiled for close to an hour, let the water cool down, poured it off–and it was still a silty, muddy mass at the bottom of the pot. I’ve washed it a few more times. Should I try the boiling again? Or, is powder just not the right form for this process? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Thanks 🙂

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    1. Hi Kellie.
      I’m not sure what happened there…..
      Boiling should have at least created beads of resin mixed in the gum at the bottom of your pot.
      My best guesses are that either
      1-What you received was not Boswellia Serrata, but the residue of a different material that had occupied your apothecary’s B. Serrata jar at an earlier date. It sounds like the behaviour of Styrax Benzoin and not a Boswellia.
      2- That the powder you received was mostly powdered water soluble gum that had settled to the bottom of their jar over time and had little to no resin in it. Though if it was gum it would have dissolved and not formed a sludge at the bottom of your pot.
      3-That within the sludge of water soluble gum at the bottom of your pot there is a collection of tiny micro beads of resin that for some reason did not join together in a larger mass.
      My suggestion Kellie, is that you stir the water and after 30 to 60 seconds, when the heavier particles have settled to the bottom of the pot, pour off the white liquid and the dissolved gum. Add more room temperature water, stir and pour off only the white liquid. What is left at the bottom of your pot should be the resin and it should absolutely join into a mass when more water is added and it is brought to a boil.
      I should also point out that most of these oleo gum resins will float as a sticky scum on top of the water when it is boiling, and then sink to the bottom of the pot when the water cools. Try bringing it to a boil again. If anything floats on top, it is your resin portion of the Frankincense. Collect it with a sieve or spoon and there you have your resin extract of Boswellia Serrata.
      It very well be you are working with the wrong material. If so, please send me your address and I will send you some authenticated Boswellia Serrata. Once you have worked with it you will be able to identify it in the future with ease and there will be no doubts as to the type or quality of your material if there are issues.
      Please let me know how this unfolds for you. I need to know the recipes can work for everyone.
      Regards
      Dan

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      1. Hi Dan! Thanks for the sample of tears and oleo resin that you sent me. I used the tears, as well as the additional 8oz. of tears I purchased from you, to follow the newly updated directions here. It was a total success, and now I have 135g of oleo resin extract that I’m looking forward to putting in some salves. I’d say that it’s worth mentioning in your directions to use a sieve that will be dedicated for this extraction process as it is impossible to clean! I know it probably is something that I should have thought of, but I didn’t, and consequently turned a sieve that I love for cooking into a dedicated oleo-resin sieve. Oh well! Thanks for your generosity in both knowledge and products.

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    2. Kellie, I thought my sieve was ruined but thought why not try and coat it with some oil on both sides. Put/place it upside down (flat side down, mesh side dome-ed up) on an aluminum covered baking sheet then coat it with oil. Set the oven to 230 degrees Fahrenheit and let it sit in the oven for about 10 minutes and chedk on it. If it hasn’t changed, let it go another 10 minutes. After that I pulled mine out and let it cool down. I wiped the edges with some paper towel and it’s good as new.did the same thing to a pot I had used and it worked. Hope this helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi.. I am trying the “simple and safe method for isolating the boswellic acid from the resin of Frankincense” as per the instructions here on the website. In the third bullet it states to place a sieve/colander 1/2 submerged in the water. It’s not clear: Do I place it 1/2 of the way from the top to the bottom of the pot itself or do I place it 1/2 of an inch from the top surface of the water?
    Can anyone let me know? Thanks.

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    1. Hi John.
      Place the sieve so it sits supported on the rim of your pot. Make sure there is enough water in the pot to submerge the bottom of the sieve in water up to about half the height of the sieve. You need to leave some space between your water level and the rim of the pot and sieve so the water does not splash over when you add the frankincense.
      So if the top of your sieve is the same height as the lip of the pot, make sure there is enough water in the pot to flow into the bottom portion of your sieve and wash through the Frankincense.
      I hope this was of some help. If not please let me know.
      Dan

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  5. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for sharing your recipe on Boswellia oleo-resin separation via hot water. I see on http://apothecarysgarden.com, that you’re planning a visit to the Horn of Africa during Feb.’16.
    IF any of your regional flights pass through Nairobi, consider taking a few days detour & come and visit us 4 hours from NAI in Northern Kenya. We’re working (amongst water & nutrition) to establish an Ethical Trade platform for local Samburu women harvesting an assortment of Boswellia & Commiphora species throughout the year. Travel is safe & the region has had incredible rains, resulting in an eruption of new growth …. Regards, Andre.

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    1. Hi Andre. Thank you so much for your invitation. I had a look at the work you are doing with water and nutrition and well, wow :-). I have only fantasized about what might be possible in those areas, you are doing it.
      My itinerary is still coming together and fairly flexible, and honestly, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to drop in for a few days and see if there is any way I can help, participate, or contribute in some small way to your project. A stop-over in Nairobi actually opens up more and better flight options for my trip.
      So, that’s a big glowing and very excited Yes! Let’s continue the conversation via email.
      Dan

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  6. Hi Dan!

    Is it safe to chew on the “tears” and is it beneficial just to make tea from it? I found one of the types of boswellia you put here in a local coop and want to know the best way to ingest it. I’m looking into alternatives to buying the extract.

    Also I have read that lecithin can increase bioavailablity. Or even a fatty meal. Would you know anything about this? I like doing chemistry here but am looking for a shortcut.

    -George

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    1. Hi George.
      I can only speak from my own experience. I personally take about 1/2 teaspoon powdered frankincense up to 4 time a day mixed or chased with water. My assumption is that it is more easily assimilated in the body and clumps less than capsules. I have heard some theories about taking it with lipids but I haven’t made up my mind about them yet.
      Dan

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  7. Hi Dan, I saw your comment to Marie that said she could use cheesecloth for the same result. This sounds like an easier (extraction for dummies) method for me. Also love that whats left over can be used in various ways as I make salves, perfume, oils etc. I am assuming whats left in the cheesecloth is the resin? Any other tips or steps for this method? Thanks so much for sharing your gifts and knowledge.

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    1. Thank you Mary. If you are using the hot water method, with a colander or cheesecloth, then you really won’t have much left over except white water and a bit of bark. The resin will pool and you will collect it to dissolve in oil based products.
      However, if you are making an infusion/extraction of the resin in oil, ( as in this process-https://apothecarysgarden.com/2014/07/30/how-to-make-a-whole-extract-of-frankincense-and-other-oleoresins/), you will definitely have a lot of nice abrasive grit left over which is mainly the powdered water soluble gum that didn’t dissolve in your warm oil. Now that makes a great exfoliant!!

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    1. Hi Jean.
      No, I place the whole resin tears or chunks directly in the sieve. The hot water does a fine job of dissolving them. I will post photos of the process shortly and apologise for not doing so earlier.

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      1. Thank you! I took a change and did it right. The oil is wonderful. I have a second batch ready to be melted in a water bath with oil which will be a gift to a veteran friend who suffers with RA. I’m hoping he gets great results from it and I thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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  8. Hi ,do You have any video how to do it ,cause I don’t understand how You do it ,sorry ,the extraction . You have sieve in another pot over the water ,I don’t get it

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    1. Hi Kasia. I know, it is difficult to follow with only words describing the process. I hope to make some videos soon, but in the meantime I will post photos of the process and hope they will be of help.

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  9. I’ve been reading your blogs with glee, and think I’ve developed a bit of an intellectual/philosophical crush :). Anyoldwho…

    I tried the above extraction method (thank you) using some Boswellia carterii powder I have in the cupboard. It didn’t turn out as expected, so I’m wondering what this means about the material:

    The powder is beige. Boiling it up, the water went very cloudy. Some semi-solid material sank. At no time did a frothy or resinous scum form. Eventually I drained the cooled water through a fine sieve, which allowed me to collect a large amount of wet beige sludge.

    I tried drying this in the heat of the Australian Summer sun, on a ceramic surface. The result is soft and pudding-like, rather than resinous.

    What does this tell me about the ‘Frankincense powder’ I have? It was apparently sourced from Oman.

    Thank you 🙂

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    1. Hi Stephanie. Since the water went very cloudy, it indicates there was a good amount of water soluble material in your Frankincense powder. I get the feeling it may have been more than one should find in Frankincense.
      When we buy pre-powdered resins it is difficult to discern the quality of the material. Is it fresh? Is it pure? Has a cheaper filler been added to “bulk it up” and increase someone’s profit margin? The art of adulteration has been practiced for thousands of years and powdered materials are a traditional place to get creative with cheaper substitutes. Even if you purchased it from a reliable supplier, they may have assumed it was 100% pure.
      That being said, it sounds like you did get some resinous and non water soluble material out of the experiment. It shouldn’t be a mush or sludge though, so my advice to you is to boil another pot of water and run that sludge through again. Let it boil for a good half hour, then allow it to cool to room temperature. The extra “cooking” won’t diminish the quality of your resin and with any luck the resin particles will adhere solidly to each other and anything non resinous will be excluded.
      Your product should be a homogeneous and solid lump with no mushiness.
      My guess is there may have been some Gum Arabic in the powder which can take longer to dissolve than the Frankincense gum and can lend a bit of a pudding or jelly like texture to things when wet..
      I hope this was of some help. If you decide to run it through the boiling water again let me know how it turns out.
      Dan

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    1. Hi, Pat. When I make a lotion from the resin extract, I dissolve it in 3 times its weight of carrier oil and with the aid of an emulsifying wax blend it with distilled water. The % of resin extract in the finished lotion is between 10% to 20%. If you want a product with a higher % of resin extract and Boswellic acids, a 1 to 3 infusion in a carrier oil gives you about 33% Resin extract content in an oil, not a lotion. You can raise the quantity of resin extract and Boswellic acid in these products if you make a more concentrated infusion of resin extract in oil. A 1:2 or possibly 1:1 ratio which will be quite thick. I hope that answered your question.
      The oil infusion that these products are based on can also be made with a hot infusion of fresh Frankincense in a carrier oil.

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