Boswellia Papyrifera

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

Frankincense-Boswellia Papyrifera

 

Until recently, in our North American market, there was little choice as far as the type of Frankincense resin or essential oil one could buy. Religious, occult, and “new age” stores, aromatherapy and natural perfume shops offered only Frankincense Sacra or Carterii. (These 2 types are often synonymous with each other and whether they are the same or different species is still a popular topic for researchers and other experts in the field). As recent as the last decade or so there has there been an increase in the types of Frankincense one could easily acquire here. I assume this is in part to the increase in interest in aromatherapy and natural perfumes, the “Global Village” phenomenon and the integration and growth of African, Asian and Mediterranean communities in North America.

Frankincense

Frankincense (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Likely Boswellia Sacra/Carterii.

Though the Boswellia family contains over 20 different species of Frankincense, there are only 6 or 7 types that are readily available commercially.

 

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

Frankincense has been a valuable commodity and a very important part of our global cultures, religions and trade for thousands of years, highly valued for its medicinal ceremonial and esthetic uses, it is only recently that the different types of Frankincense have been examined closely and their unique chemical compositions studied. Until a short time ago there had been much confusion as to which chemical compounds were attributed to the individual species of Frankincense. Samples purchased from merchants for study were not directly taken from identified trees, and some research results were associated with the wrong species. This has been corrected and now one can look back on earlier valuable research and with an understanding of the proper chemical markers associated with each species, identify the correct oleo-resin on which the studies were based.

 

” Although the gum resin of B. Papyrifera coming from Ethiopia, Sudan and E. Africa is believed to be the main source of frankincense of antiquity (Tucker, 1986), there was until recently a great deal of confusion in the literature regarding the chemical analysis of its resin as well as of the essential oil derived from it by steam or hydro distillation. This was mainly due to the fact that analyses were done on commercial samples without establishing the proper botanical identity of the true source of the resin.”, on Boswellia Papyrifera, Aritiherbal.com.

 

Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type

Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Ethiopia 2013

Some sound and exiting research studies conducted over the past few decades had reached the right conclusions, but for the wrong trees and oleo-resins, which compounded the confusion. Now that correct chemical markers are assigned to the different species of Frankincense, we find among other critical identifying markers, that Boswellia Papyrifera has the unique chemical markers Incensole and Incensole Acetate that distinguish it from the other types of Frankincense.

Frankincense Boswellia Serrata is well known in India for its healing medicinal properties in Ayurvedic medicine. Boswellia Serrata resin extract shows great promise in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and asthma. Among other characteristic chemicals it contains Boswellic acid which has been linked to anti-tumour and anti-cancer activity. I hope to elaborate on the chemical composition and medicinal applications of Boswellia Serrata in a future post.

 

 Indian frankincense  Boswellia Serrata

 

Boswellia Frereana is another unique type of Frankincense now more readily available commercially in North American markets. It grows mostly in Somalia, Yemen and Kenya and is widely used locally for ritual and medicine. In Somalia it is called “Meydi” and is burned daily in the home after meals and used to odorize ones clothing. It is sometimes called “Yemenite Chewing Gum”. Boswellia Frereana is composed mostly of resins and essential oils and contains very little water-soluble gum, this makes it especially suited to the purpose of chewing gum, because the resin and oils are not water soluble it does not dissolve or break down in the mouth, it softens when chewed, and can be masticated for long periods of time, cleaning teeth, massaging gums and freshening the breath with its essential oils. Its unusually low gum content, relative to other types of Frankincense can be seen in this chart of solubility courtesy of Ariti Herbal in Addis Ababa. Another way this high ratio of oleo-resins to gums can be verified is noting the way Frankincense Frereana melts and is absorbed into a hot incense charcoal, leaving nearly no carbon residue and emitting very little of the traditional burnt odor other types of Frankincense do. This charred remnant is a result of the water soluble gums burning and some historic references cite this charred portion of Frankincense as an ingredient in traditional middle eastern Kohl, eye liner, along with Antimony and other ingredients.

 

Boswellia, Frankincense Frereana. Called Yeminite chewing gum.

Containing almost no water-soluble gum, Frankincense Frereana does not dissolve when masticated, for this reason is used as an all natural chewing gum. It is composed mainly of resin and essential oils.

Ethiopia is home to three commercially important types of Frankincense, none of which had been easily available in North America till recently. Boswellia Papyrifera, or Tigray type from the north, Boswellia Rivae also called the Ogaden type from the south east Ogaden area and Boswellia Neglecta from the Borena area of Ethiopia. All are used locally and are commercially important resources. Their wood is used for fuel, construction and furniture, the bark for incense and medicine and the oleo-resins are used among other things, to produce bases for varnishes and adhesives, essential oils, absolutes for perfume, and as incense and medicine. Boswellia Papyrifera is by far the most extensively used oleo-resin locally and abroad. It is used in Ethiopian households daily as incense and in their traditional coffee ceremonies, it is the choice incense of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is also used locally as an insect repellent and for medicine. It has been the Frankincense of choice by Churches and religious institutions all over the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. Both Boswellia Rivae and Boswellia Neglecta deserve their own segment here, so I will leave their detailed descriptions for another day and focus on Boswellia Papyrifera .

 

Boswellia Papyrifera is distinguished from other types of Frankincense by the presence of large amounts of Octyl Acetate and Octanol and two other unusual and unique chemical markers, Incensole and Incensole Acetate. Studies have shown that Incensole Acetate affects our central nervous system and posesses psychoactive properties. According to studies, Incensole Acetate can generate heightened feelings of well being and spirituality, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and improve memory function. Other research has indicated that Incensole Acetate shows neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties and indicates it may be of use in cases of stroke and head trauma. It is presumed that Incensole and Incensole Acetate are absorbed by the body through the smoke released during the burning of Frankincense as an incense. One can see how this might be an ideal incense for spiritual/religious purposes in churches and temples.

 

The discovery of Incensole and Incensole Acetate as identifying chemical markers of Boswellia Papyrifera goes a long way to bolster the theory that Frankincense Papyrifera is indeed the true Olibanum and “Frank”(True) Incense of ancient times and scripture. Employing an incense that has psychoactive properties and elicits altered states of mind during ritual and ceremony, would make this incense a very valuable commodity to churches and other religious establishments, and would require a special knowledge to discern between regular non psychoactive incense and the true, or Frank-incense. This would be a valuable skill when one purchased such an exotic and expensive imported item for church use. Oleo resins such as Frankincense and Myrrh were at times worth their weight in gold, they were hard to come by, growing only in Ethiopia they would travel by caravan, ship, boat, donkey, horse or camel, or all the above often for many months. They would exchange hands many times before they reached their final destination which could often be thousands of miles away. One can safely assume, because of their value and scarcity in most parts of the world, they would run a real risk of being adulterated or replaced along the way with other less expensive materials for the profit of those that traded in such items. This would lend even more weight to the need to be able to identify the “true” incense from other types. The Frank-incense.

 

Boswellia Rivae, has a distinct haunting, rich and deep fragrance. The resin stands out in its aroma, fresh, as well as when burned as incense. The essential oil is a sweet, compelling, mysterious and complex mix that brings to mind mystery, magic and ancient sacred places. It has a surprising sweet note reminiscent of Palo Santo, unexpected in a Frankincense essential oil.
Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae
Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae
Boswellia Neglecta; Is another unusual Frankincense from Ethiopia. It is a delight burned as an incense, grounding and elevating. It has a pine like component which nicely rounds out an incense or Bakhoor mix. The essential oil of Frankincense Neglecta is also grounding, earthy & sweet. More stimulating than relaxing. The essential oil and oleo-resin have a boldness that makes them quite a different experience than the Boswellia Sacra/Carterii we have gotten used too.
Dan

 

 

 

Frankincense & Myrrh, a Theory on Holistic Tinctures

A Thought on the holistic tincturing of oleo-resins.

Each type of Oleo-Gum-Resin such as Myrrh, Opoponax, Mastic, the many types of Frankincense etc., contain different proportions of water-soluble gum and alcohol soluble oleo-resins, (resins and volatile oils).

I propose that when one of these Oleo-gum-resins is tinctured to extract its medicinal constituents and properties, that the 2 solvents used for tincturing, be in the same ratio to each other, as the ratio of gum to oleo-resins in the material being tinctured.

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera 60 grams. An oleo-gum-resin

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera 60 grams. An oleo-gum-resin. Has a different percentage of gum to resin than Boswellia Rivae.

In a traditional medicinal, water/alcohol tincture, the gums are dissolved by the water, the oleo resins by the ethanol,(alcohol). What is left over after this extraction is mainly bark and other insoluble extraneous organic material. (Spagyric tinctures often put this to good use). The point of tincturing is to extract as much of the soluble active medicinal components as possible. Ideally exhausting the material by transferring all its chemical constituents to the medicine, while preserving any preexisting synergistic effects between them.

Considering that all parts of these natural Oleo-Gum-Resin exudates, (saps), contain valuable chemical constituents and compounds, and if there is no reason to isolate or change the natural composition of the material, it would  be a more efficacious  medicine if preserved as close to its natural state as possible

Myrrh tree, Myrrh Oleo-Resin, Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Ermias Dagne

Myrrh tree, Myrrh Oleo-Resin, Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Ermias Dagne

I propose that the best way to create a water/alcohol tincture that is true to its source material, is by using the same ratio of water to ethanol as the plant material exhibits in its ratio of gum to oleo-resin. That this is the only way to accurately migrate  the whole material authentically, with its inherent medicinal potency, and any “synergy” that is naturally present in the original material.

Boswellia, Frankincense Papyrifera. Gum, Resin and volatile oils.

“Solve'” applied to Boswellia Papyrifera. The triad is separated into its 3 components. Gum(on right), Resin, (on left), in solution, and essential oil. (Not in  their naturally occurring proportions ).

Thus, if a sample of Myrrh oleo-gum-resin contains 60% gum and 40% oleo-resins, and a Tincture was made using 100% ethanol, it would only extract the resins and volatile oils. It would have a negligible amount of water-soluble gum. Certainly nothing close to the gum to oleo-resin proportions found in the original material. One would assume this extraction would not offer the same medicinal effects as the whole oleo-gum-resin. 1- Because the water-soluble gum contains   chemical constituents that have medicinal value on their own. And 2- because whatever effects the synergy of the whole material had in its natural form, would be lost.

Myrrh is a common resin in the Horn of Africa.

Myrrh is a common resin in the Horn of Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this method, a solvent mix composed of 20% alcohol and 80% water would not extract a tincture that was representative of the original material either. Rather it would contain more gum than oleo-resins than the original Myrrh. The same could be said of any other combination of these two solvents other than a combination of water to alcohol that reflected as closely as possible the actual proportions of gum to oleo-resin found in the material tinctured.

Some types of Frankincense contain very little gum, such as Boswellia Frereana.  As low as 0. 5%-0.1%, see AritiHerbal table of Extractability of Boswellia Resin. Other types of Frankincense have greater proportions of gum to oleo-resin. According to this theory of holistic tincturing,  the unique qualities inherent in each oleo-gum-resin, can only be  reproduced in a tincture if the natural ratio of gum to oleo resin in the source material is reflected accurately in the ratio of water to alcohol in the tincturing solvent. One could assume it would keep the same natural synergy in the original material intact by keeping all the chemical constituents in the same relative proportion to each other in the finished product or tincture.

Boswellia, Frankincense Frereana. Called Yeminite chewing gum.

Containing almost no water-soluble gum, Frankincense Frereana does not dissolve when masticated, for this reason it is used as a chewing gum and can be purchased under the name “Yemenite chewing gum”. It is composed mainly of resin and essential oils.

I am not a trained scientist, nor do I have access to the instruments that would put this theory of holistic tincturing to the test.  I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone besides myself, or if there is any corroborating research out there to support this theory, but I would Love to hear any opinions, conflicting or supporting.

Dan

As an addendum ,( written a month or two after this post), I need to add that after thought, contemplation, examination and the occasional dream, I realize there may be one other way to extract all of the essential oils, resin and gum from these oleo-gum resins. The one way they could be extracted in their entirety and with their naturally occurring proportions intact, without a knowledge of their inherent gum-resin-oil ratios is, If  a “disproportionately large” amount of alcohol/water is used for the extraction. So instead of making a 1:5 or 1:6 tincture with 1 being the oleo-gum-resin, something like a 1:10 tincture could be prepared. using much more water than the quantity of gum required, and much more alcohol than the oleo-resin required. In this way all the components could be extracted. However…the obvious drawback, is that there would be a much higher quantity of liquid and a lower proportion of oleo-gum-resin. So it can be done, but with a price. In a way, cheating a bit. This 1:10 ratio tincture, though containing all the soluble and desired parts of the material, would be very weak, which is not ideal and I see no finesse, or advantage to it. It would be very very difficult, if even possible, to remove the excess solvents without losing some of the volatile oils.

Since I am on the topic I will take this opportunity to raise a point that I will address in greater detail  in a future post. Lately there has been a lot of talk about the healing properties of Boswellic acid found in Boswellia Sacra. Though much important research has been done on the different types of Frankincense, and Boswellic acid does show great promise as an anti-inflammatory and antitumor, among other important applications,  it is not a volatile  or essential oil . Which means little, if any Boswellic acid is found in the essential oil of Boswellia Sacra/Carterii.  Whatever Boswellic acid is present in the oleo-gum-resins of some of the members of the Boswellia family, resides  in the resin part, not in the “Oil”, and is not normally extracted with the essential oils. If a  company claims that its essential oil of Frankincense Sacra has a “high percentage  of Boswellic acid, then one should ask, how did it get there??

Food for thought.

Dan

Distilling Frankincense essential oil

Continuing to work on a Frankincense anti aging/wrinkle crème and a Frankincense rejuvenating mask from the (post distillation) gum and resin residue of different types of Frankincense. Here I am distilling the essential oils from Frankincense, Boswellia species.

Successful formulation of a Frankincense Anti-Aging creme, utilizing the healing properties of the Frankincense gum and resin.

Successful formulation of a Frankincense Anti-Aging creme, utilizing the healing properties of the Frankincense gum and resin. Much more than just an essential oil.

By “post distillation” I mean that after distilling off the essential oils, what I am left with are the water-soluble gum and alcohol-soluble resin.
Since essential oils can irritate the skin, especially of the face, post distillation allows me to add a controlled amount of essential oils of my choice, isolate the water-soluble gums from the alcohol-soluble resins and remove all extraneous materials from them.

The method for distillation is steam/hydro distillation using a simple home-made pot still.

Home made pot still charged with fresh Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia.

Home made pot still charged with fresh Frankincense from Ethiopia.

  The oleo-gum-resin for this distillation is Frankincense from Ethiopia. Because this is an experiment I only used 2 kg. of resin. Much less than this still can process.
The ratio of essential oils in each type of Frankincense varies greatly. One can collect  anywhere from 10 ml. up to 60 ml. or more from 2 kg. of raw oleo-gum-resin.

The sieve keeps the resin from sitting on the bottom of the pot where it could burn. If the resin did get burned, even slightly, the fragrance of all the components would be affected, making resin, gum, oil and residue in the still, unusable for any purpose whatsoever and no way to reclaim them or separate the burnt odor from them. In fact, on top of the loss of the material, the whole still, including over 8 feet of air-cooled copper condenser would have to be scrubbed and practically sterilized to make sure there was not the slightest remnant of burnt residue or odor in the whole distillation train. I shudder at the thought!!! I had already done this twice prior to distilling the Frankincense just the day before. First removing traces of the last essential I had distilled, then had to do it all over again because I could smell hints of cleaning products in the condenser when I turned up the heat and started the distillation process.

       The lesson here, I believe, is that there are benefits to using standard glass water cooled condensers. I love the fact that this one utilizes air and consumes no resources to function. But it has its drawbacks.

This is a photo of the resin after distilling. Note the change in colour and texture. A pool of gum has settled at the bottom of the sieve, trying to drip into the pot through resin clogged sieve holes. Also note the milky white colour of the water after it has dissolved some of the the water soluble gums.

Home made pot Still. Frankincense resin suspended in sieve to avoid burning.

Home made pot Still. Frankincense resin suspended in sieve to avoid burning.

Frankincense water soluble gum mixed with distillation water in the still

Frankincense water soluble gum mixed with distillation water in the still has coloured the water a milky white.

Now that the essential oil is distilled from the oleo-gum-resin, most of the resin is in the basket. Except for some that dripped through the sieve and formed the tastiest looking layer of caramel coloured resin on the bottom of the pot.The water in the pot is white from dissolved gum. What remains is to separate the rest of the gum from the resin, (using water as the solvent), then remove all extraneous materials, pieces of bark, stone, sand etc., and purify the components.

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera resin from bottom of still

Frankincense, Boswellia resin from bottom of still. Looks good enough to eat!!

 

When gum and resin are separated and purified they will be recombined in an emulsion with the addition of  emollient and skin nourishing oils, antioxidants, and a small amount of broad spectrum preservative.

Even though the prototypes and first formulas seem to have kept well for months without obvious spoilage or mold.  And even though i have a deep respect for the preserving qualities of tree oleo resins. I can’t take the chance of bacteria or other organisms growing after making an oil/water emulsion.

Frankincense, Boswellia Rivae, post distillation of essential oils. Only gum and resins remain to be separated and cleaned. Then recombined and reformulated for skin care and healing products.

A different type of Frankincense, post distillation of essential oils. Only gum and resins remain to be separated and cleaned. Then recombined and reformulated for skin care and healing products.

Home made pot Still. Used to distill essential oils, wines and much more. Note it is made of everything including parts of the kitchen sink.

Home made pot Still. Used to distill essential oils, wines and much more. Note it is made of everything including parts of the kitchen sink, with a salvaged copper/Aluminum heat exchange as an air cooled condenser..

Distilled Frankincense essential oil. Boswellia Rivea. 2013, Home made still.

Distilled Frankincense essential oil. Boswellia Rivea. 2013.

Grinding Frankincense, Myrrh and other oleoresins

How to Grind Frankincense & Myrrh

First of all a happy and productive Spring to all!

I think I lost a week somewhere, but I am back now, and that’s really all that matters.

A few people have inquired lately on the best way to grind Frankincense and other resins.

This is a great question with a great answer!

As anyone who has tried to grind a resin in preparation for a making a tincture, incense blend, Bakhoor, or for filling capsules knows, grinding them by hand in a mortar & Pestle, is a traditional, though time-consuming process. Messy too, as it usually involves pieces of resin flying out like shrapnel from a grenade for quite a distance. Pieces, that if left unattended on a carpet will get ground in and attach themselves permanently and will be a pain to remove any way you look at it.

Grinding with Mortar & Pestle

Grinding with Mortar & Pestle

When one gets smart, and decides to use an electric coffee or herb grinder, a different issue and technical difficulty arises. A bit of the resin will break down in the grinder, just a bit, before the resin starts heating up from friction, gets soft and gummy, sticks to the blades, creates a mess of un ground semi-soft gum around the inside of the grinder chamber, and before you realize what’s happened, the blades are spinning freely as if there is nothing in the grinder.. And that’s about as far as you are going to get with it! You can try scraping the mess out and grinding it again before it cools and solidifies again.But you will just get more of the same. Mind you, there are herb grinders on the market now that run at a slower speed to keep heat to a minimum and keep the volatile oils/Medicinal constituents in herbs. However, they still do not grind resins without melting them.

How to Grind Frankincense & Oleo-Resins

How to Grind Frankincense & Oleo-Resins

So what is the solution?….

Ahh I’m glad you asked. The solution is, Freezing the resin before grinding it. Depending on the quantity you are freezing, how evenly exposed it is to the cold temperatures, and how cold your freezer is, it could take anywhere from a half hour to a whole day to get it all cold enough to grind. With this method you can grind a whole load of Frankincense to a fine light powder in an electric grinder . Preferably in short spurts that raise the heat of the resin slowly. If you want to take it a step further, detach the chamber, blades, cap, and all, and put them in the freezer as well. This will give you plenty of grinding time at optimal temperatures, which is especially handy when a larger quantity of resin needs grinding. So you could freeze let’s say 1/2 Kg. resin, with chamber and cap, and grind a few consecutive batches without overheating or sticking.

It works perfectly!

Frankincense. Boswellia Papyrifera, Ethiopia

Frankincense. Boswellia Papyrifera, Ethiopia

Keep in mind that all Frankincense types, ( and Myrrh), are composed of Gum, Resin and volatile oils in different ratios. One thing this means , is that due to the water-soluble gum content, your fluffy beautifully powdered Frankincense is hydrophilic, and loves water. So if not kept in a very dry environment, or if left open to any level of humidity in the air, it will quickly, and secretly coalesce into a solid mass that still looks like fluffy powder, but will need some chipping, hammering, swearing and possibly re-grinding before it regains that perfect texture you worked so hard to achieve. So either use your freshly ground oleo-gum-resin A.S.A.P., or make sure to keep it in a very dry, airtight container till you are ready to work with it further.

Frankincense Powder,Solidified

Frankincense Powder,Solidified

Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae Ethiopia

Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae Ethiopia

Another trick when working with Oleo-Resins, is that the clean up of sticky resin residue, (on hands, tools and surfaces), can usually be accomplished with oil, (I prefer olive oil), that dissolves the Oleo-resin part. That solution is then dissolved with dish soap & warm water and and finally rinsed with warm water and dried. This is a perfect solution ,(ha ha), for cleaning up most Oleo-Resins. (And leaves hands feeling beautifully moisturized!). Alcohol can also be used for cleanup, and does work well, but is a more expensive option, needs to be worked with quickly, before it evaporates. It is harsh on the hands and it’s a shame to use good, rectified, or perfumers alcohol for a simple clean up when oil could do the job just as well.

So, that’s it! Happy grinding

A bit of a glossary and some extra information

Most resins commonly used for incense, tinctures and medicine are composite materials made up of gum, which is water-soluble, resin which is soluble in alcohol, and volatile oils, also called “Essential Oils”.

This is why we call Frankincense, Myrrh and other resins “Oleo-Resins”, because they are more than just resins, they contain important volatile oils.(Oleo=Oil). When we distill Oleo-Resins with water or steam, to collect the volatile, or Essential oils, we are left with resins or Gum-Resins. There are a few “Resins” that have no, or no perceptible quantities of water-soluble gums, (such as Pine, Spruce and Fir species), these are considered Oleo-resins, but for the most part, all have some measurable percentage of water-soluble gum.

When we burn these oleo-gum-resin on a charcoal as incense, note that the first release of fragrance is clear, “bright” and closer in fragrance to the fresh material you are burning. These are the essential oils which evaporate at the lower temperatures. After this first note from the essential oils ,and probably overlapping it, the resins and their slightly less volatile compounds will melt into the charcoal & burn. Then, if there is a prominent percentage of gum in the material as in most representatives of Myrrh and Frankincense, the water-soluble gum will yield itself to the heat. It may bubble a bit, but will not dissolve into the charcoal, it will char and burn giving off a crude smell of burnt material and form a black lump on the coal, which will eventually turn into white or grey ash..

This burnt gum is regarded as the basis for the ancient Egyptian’s “Kohl” eye liner w hith the addition of Sulfide of Antimony or Lead and other ingredients.

  • Of the Frankincense family, only Boswellia Frereana, locally called “Maydi”, and found mainly in Somalia, has almost no gum content, it completely liquefies from the heat and melts into the charcoal without releasing this “burnt” smell and without leaving a residue on the charcoal.

    Frankincense. Boswellia Frereana. Yemen

    Frankincense. Boswellia Frereana. Yemen

There are many types of Frankincense trees, though only a few are available on the global market and of commercial value. Often they are mistaken one with the other, though each has its unique chemical composition, fragrance, and medicinal applications. There has been much confusion over the years around proper identification of the different Boswellia species, and their individual chemical compositions, especially since different growing conditions, climates, times and methods of harvest, and division into different “grades”, all create even more variation within the same species. Only recently have the different Frankincense species been accurately studied, researched, compared, defined and their chemical compositions examined with modern instruments. The main Types of Frankincense that are commercially available are:

Boswellia Sacra/Carterii

Frankincense tree

Frankincense tree (Photo credit: Brangdon J)

Boswellia Papyrifera

Boswellia Rivae

Boswellia Serrata

Boswellia Frereana

An excellent chart for determining the type of Frankincense you might have, through noting its solubility in different liquids can be viewed here, Courtesy of Aritiherbal.com

Have a Productive and inspired Spring

Dan