As promised, here is the method I use for making a medicated oil from an extract of frankincense resin. Since writing the post on extracting Frankincense resin and Boswellic acids with water, a number of people have contacted me expressing difficulty dissolving the resin extract homogeneously in a vegetable oil. It is very important to follow the steps in the order they are laid out below.
This method also works well when making a medicated oil using our local northern Pine, Spruce and Fir oleoresins which offer us an equally broad range of largely untapped, :-), therapeutic compounds.
An extract of Frankincense in oil
Frankincense has a long and growing list of therapeutic applications. Coupled with ongoing research and investigation of new and promising compounds such as the Boswellic acids, Incensole and Incensole acetate, this list will likely continue growing into the foreseeable future.
A medicated oil, in this case, a solution of the extract of Frankincense oleoresin dissolved in a vegetable oil, makes an excellent vehicle for Frankincense’s most valuable therapeutic compounds. It has some advantages over a powdered extract and an alcoholic tincture because it can be applied topically directly to the skin and is easily incorporated into salves and cremes.
Though it can be taken internally and is readily digested and assimilated, taking powdered Frankincense is likely a better way to get all the therapeutic compounds into our bodies. I personally take 1/2 to 1 level teaspoon of powdered Frankincense 3-5 times a day, washed down with water when I feel the need. I use an oil extract/infusion of Frankincense forexternal applications only.
In Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medical system, Frankincense Serrata has been used in formulas for hundreds of years to address a wide range of diseases and health issues. Though not as well documented, Frankincense also has a long history of traditional use in Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Asia and is a staple of TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine where it is referred to as “Ru Xiang”.
A short list of the main known uses for Frankincense would include, but is not limited to the treatment of-
Arthritis, Osteo and Rheumatoid arthritis, Asthma, coughs, colds and congestion, inflammation of joints, inflammation of the bowels, ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcers and Crohn’s disease, inflammations, irritations and infections of the urinary tract, halitosis, and oral issues. Frankincense is a traditional ingredient in beauty products, skin, face and eye cremes, helps moisturize the skin, is believed to increase its elasticity and promote a more a youthful look.
Frankincense is also used traditionally to increase memory and brain function, raise the spirits, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, as an aphrodisiac, to restore sexual vitality, increase sperm count and address fertility issues. Lately, it has become popular in the west as a “Home remedy” for age spots, skin tags, moles and is thought to help in the treatment of various types of skin cancer.
Frankincense is anti-inflammatory, its Boswellic acids are considered NSAIDS or Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs, showing promise in the treatment of many chronic inflammatory conditions without the side effects associated with steroids.
Recent research has shown great promise in the laboratory for the use of Frankincense and Boswellic acids in selectively killing cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact and generating no substantial side effects. Some cancers that Frankincense shows effectiveness combating include ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, bladder, liver, colon cancer and leukemia, while other studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing the size of brain tumors, reducing swelling and inflammations of the brain due to trauma or stroke. It is important to keep in mind that many of these studies are still in-vitro preliminary studies in the laboratory and not clinical trials tested on humans. See the link at bottom of this post for some research and references to the therapeutic effects of Boswellic acids.
Using Frankincense essential oil VS the whole oleoresin
The essential oil of Frankincense, as with most other oleoresins, only contains a small portion of the healing compounds the tree offers us. Though essential oils are very concentrated, they contain only the volatile compounds that evaporate at up to 100 degrees centigrade, the boiling point of water. All the heavier compounds which make up the Frankincense resin do not distil over with the essential oils except in trace amounts. This includes all the Boswellic acids and the much-studied AKBA or Acetyl-Keto-Boswellic-Acid. The essential oils make up from 1%-10% of the raw Frankincense oleo gum resin, the rest is composed of approximately 30% water-soluble gum and 60%+ resin, comprised mainly of Boswellic acids. To be perfectly clear, the essential oil of any type of Frankincense contains only a small portion of its healing properties and does not contain Boswellic acids in any substantial quantity.
The only way to utilize the Boswellic acids in our medicine is
- By using the whole raw oleo-gum-resin.
- Extracting the resin portion with solvents.
- Extracting/isolating the resin and essential oil by removing the water-soluble gum.
Though the water-soluble portion of Frankincense is used in traditional Arabian and Iranian medicine, and likely has its own important healing compounds, they are not yet as well known, well researched, popular or understood.
Preparing a therapeutic oil from Frankincense resin extract
In the preceding post, I shared instructions on how to use water to extract or isolate the resin/Boswellic acids and essential oil from Frankincense oleo gum resins. To date, the Boswellic acids have been confirmed in 3 of the 6 main types of Frankincense on the market. Boswellia Serrata from India, B. Papyrifera from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, and B. Sacra/Carterii from Somalia and Arabia.
Here then are the best methods I have found, mainly through trial and error, to make a medicated oil from a Frankincense resin or oleo-resin extract.This solution of Frankincense oleoresin in oil can be used as it is or as a therapeutic component in a salve or creme.
- Set up a water-bath with two containers/jars/vessels. (See the post-A solid moustache wax recipe)
- In one jar place the extract of Frankincense resin, Note that the same process of dissolving oleoresins also works well dissolving Pine, Spruce and Fir oleoresins in oil since they have no water-soluble gum and can be dissolved in the warm oil straight from the tree. Frankincense Frereana from Somalia can also be dissolved as a raw oleoresin in the oil since it’s water soluble gum portion is usually minute and does not interfere in this process.
- Using the oil of your choice, measure 5 to 10 times the weight of the resin extract you are using and place it in the second jar. I use extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and it works well for me. I have not tested the process with other oils except Jojoba which also dissolves the resin readily. A 1:2 ratio of resin extract to oil will give you a very thick solution, more difficult to work with. I personally prefer a 1:5 ratio of oil to resin extract and find it works well. One can use a ratio of up to 1:10 and still expect an effective medicine.
- Bring the water in the bath to a boil.
- The resin will start to soften and slump at about 60-70 degrees centigrade.
- Wait till the resin gets as soft and as mobile as it’s going to get and let both jars reach and sit at their maximum temperature a few minutes. Occasional stirring helps disperse the warmer material and speed up the process. (Make sure the level of the hot bath water is a bit above the level of the oil and the resin in your jars to guarantee they are heated through evenly). You can use a digital thermometer to accurately measure their respective temperatures, or “eyeball it” and leave them in the hot water a little longer to assure they are evenly heated. Loosely covering the jars also seems to facilitate even heating of the materials.
- Pour or transfer a very small amount of the hot oil into the hot resin, (about a teaspoon to a tablespoon), and stir it into the resin till the resin is evenly diluted by the oil. When it looks like the resin is thinner and more liquid and not clumping or layering with the oil, add a bit more oil to the resin, and stir as before till the resin is completely dissolved. If you are pouring the oil directly, make sure no water drips into the resin from the sides of the oil jar while you are pouring.
- Repeat with increasing quantities of oil till you have added all your oil to the resin.
- When the oil and the Frankincense resin are homogeneously blended, pour the mix through a fine mesh filter into a clean jar or bottle. A fine metal mesh coffee filter above a funnel works well.
- If you like you can add a little Vitamin E to preserve the oil from rancidity, but in my experience a high ratio of resin in a vegetable oil preserves it for quite a long time. Remember these oleoresins have been used for thousands of years to embalm, mummify and preserve bodies, some of which are still intact today..
- You will be left with a fairly homogenous solution. It will sediment a bit as vegetable oil does not completely dissolve all the components of the resin. I find this sedimentation does not interfere with any of the products I make with the oil. When making a salve or creme I stir it well and find it blends well with both. To create a complete dissolution of resin, one must use harsher solvents which I like to avoid. A little sedimentation seems a small price to pay for a more natural product.
- Please note-You will encounter difficulties if you do any of the following-
- If you heat the oil and the resin in the same container,
- If you don’t wait till they are close to 100 degrees centigrade and the same temperature,
- If you pour all your oil in at the same time.
- If you pour the resin into the oil.
- Also-Never use a microwave for this process or heat the materials directly on the stovetop without a waterbath.
Your oil is now ready to use as-is or added to a compound product such as a salve or a creme, following any recipe you are used to or one of many from the internet.
Clarifying some terms.
In general, many of the terms used over the years to describe tree resins have been interchangeable and confusing. I am equallly guilty of perpetuating this. So- for the sake of clarity in this post I will add that-
- All Frankincense and Myrrh types are in fact oleo-gum-resins because they all contain oleo or volatile oils, also called essential oils, they all contain resin, made up mostly of terpenes and resin acids. And they all contain water soluble gum, made up mainly of polysacharrides containing a bitter principle.
When we wash away the water soluble gum, we are left with the pure oleoresin, or resin and essential oil. This is now a true oleoresin. If we evaporate or otherwise remove the essential oils we will be left with a resin. Both resin and volatile oils are soluble in oils, the gum is soluble in water and is not soluble in oil.
Pine, Spruce and Fir trees bear true oleoresins because they contain only resin and volatile oils and no water-soluble gum. For this reason they will dissolve readily into warm oils with no extra processing or extraction required.
Though they are sometimes called saps, these fragrant materials are produced by special ducts beneath the outer bark in response to injuries, and are not really the sap of the tree which collects and delivers nutrients throughout the tree and is accessed through tapping the tree deeply.
Here is a link with a good overview of Frankincense and Boswellic acids. Though this is only one study, it covers many of the therapeutic properties and applications of Boswellic acids and provides links to quite a few studies on the subject. It is written with regard to Boswellia Serrata, but it is equally applicable to both Boswellia Papyrifera and Boswellia Sacra/Carterii, since all three species have been proven to share similar chemistry and content of Boswellic acids and Incensole. Makes for an educational and informative read. Enjoy!
That’s about it.
Feel free to post any questions you have in the comment section below.
And remember to always take clear notes..
Your future self will thank you.