Frankincense Rivae

Women Frankincense collectors Ethiopia 2019

The Frankincense collectors. Somali Region-Ethiopia

Visiting the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh in the Somali Region of Ethiopia February 2019
Visiting the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh in the Somali Region of Ethiopia February 2019

February 2019 brought a visit with the Camel and Goat herders of the Somali region of Ethiopia. What was once called the “Ogaden”. They are the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh. While grazing their animals among the abundant Boswellia and Commiphora trees of the Savannah, they gently and sustainably collect the aromatic resins from the trees and ground.

Herders Somali Region Ethiopia
One of the Last water holes left in the dry season. The wildlife relies on it just as much as the herders. It is not unusual to see pissed off Warthogs trotting away, muttering about the lack of privacy and quiet.

Life as a pastoralist in Eastern Africa has become increasingly difficult as droughts regularly plague the land leaving animals and herders with little water or food in the dry season. There are no guarantees anyone will have enough to barter or buy basic nourishment for their families from season to season.

Collecting and selling these resins could add financial security to their lives. However, more often than not, they lack a market for their resins. Someone to sell them to, which is where we come in.

Our goal is to work with the collector families directly. To train them in best practices for collecting, sorting, grading and storing their resins and to establish cooperatives that will help support their communities and ensure a market with fair and stable prices for their resins. As much as they can collect.

Local and regional governments are with us on this project and with fingers crossed, we will see a container of ethically, sustainably and fairly traded resins in North America before the end of the year.


Fragrant and fresh Boswellia-Frankincense Rivae Resin

Sweet Frankincense Rivae

BoswelliaFrankincense Rivae.

Freshly harvested Incense Resin from Ethiopia

As those who keep an eye on my Facebook page know, I received a surprisingly fresh shipment of resins and oils from Ethiopia.  Surprising, because I have never seen such freshly harvested resins of Frankincense. Even when I was in Ethiopia last winter, looking at hundreds of samples, nothing I saw compared to the freshness of this stock. This may be due in part, to timing. I believe traditional Frankincense harvesting time starts in the early summer, which means I may have received one of the first shipments from the outlying extremities of Ethiopia. A shipment of Frankincense Rivae that was direct from the collector co-op in the Ogaden region of South Eastern Ethiopia. Frankincense Papyrifera, Neglecta and Myrrh oleo resins that are all fresh fragrant and pristine specimens. A harvest that had just arrived in the big city, not gone through any secondary processes such as sorting, warehousing and distribution.

Frankincense Rivae. My latest shipment from Addis Ababa. I still can't believe how he managed to source such fresh stock!!

My latest shipment from Addis Ababa. I still can’t believe how he managed to source such fresh stock!!

 Whatever the underlying reasons are, or whether it was just luck and goodwill on my supplier’s end, I have a beautiful and very fresh collection of Ethiopian oleo resins and essential oils to share with you
   I have started calling Boswellia Rivae the “Sweet Frankincense”. This little known Frankincense really is a gem. As a resin for burning or making cremes and salves, as an exquisite essential oil for perfumery and aromatherapy, I am simply in love. In the vast world of  fragrant tree saps, the sweet and subtle complexities of fresh Frankincense Rivae are an unforgettable experience..

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. Only in the last decade or so has it been possible to acquire the rarer types of Ethiopian Frankincense such as Frankincense Rivae, Papyrifera or Neglecta in North America.

Though Frankincense has been a valuable commodity and a very important part of our global cultures, religions and trade for thousands of years, we have only just begun to properly identify the chemical markers belonging to each Frankincense species and to study the medicinal effects of the chemicals we are discovering in them.

Frankincense leaf and flower. One of 7 commercial species including Boswellia Rivae

When one examines the research done on the phytochemicals and therapeutic activities of the 5 or 6 types of Frankincense that are commercially available, (Over 340 different phytochemicals discovered in the essential oils of Frankincense Spp.), one finds that beyond their defining and distinguishing chemical markers, ( How we can tell one from the other in the laboratory),  the different types of Frankincense share many of the same therapeutic  properties.

These common therapeutic effects include: Pain management, wound healing,  reduction of scarring and anti-inflammatory actions on the body’s various systems. Most, if not all types, help treat arthritis and rheumatism, help protect and heal the liver, reduce wrinkles, crow’s-feet and help tone aging skin. All species of Frankincense, through the smoke of the incense alone, are thought to elevate feelings of heightened spirituality and well-being, aid with meditation, study, concentration and calm, and help reduce feelings of anxiety. It is also safe to say that most available types of Frankincense resin contain, in varying degrees, the much studied and greatly valued Phytochemicals“Boswellic Acids”, which studies have shown aid the body in battling different types of cancer and cancerous tumours.

Boswellia Frankincense Rivae. common Frankincense molecules. model of 11-keto-β-Boswellic Acid

It is important to note, that Boswellic acid, to which many wonderful healing properties have been attributed, does not normally “come over” when distilling the essential oils from Frankincense oleo resin. This means it is not usually a part of the essential oil of Frankincense. It is present though, in its entirety, in the Frankincense resin, and can be isolated from the resin via solvent extraction.

Sometimes, when distilling the essential oils, a lengthier or “hotter distillation can force the Boswellic acid to vaporize and condense with the essential oils, though this is not normally the case. How much Boswellic acid can one force over in this way, and whether this reduces the overall quality of the essential oil, (or the Boswellic acid), is, as yet, an unanswered question.

Frankincense Anti-Aging, Antiwrinkle creme using whole oleo-resins

Frankincense Anti-Aging, Antiwrinkle creme using whole oleo-resins

There are many therapeutic compounds found in the resins from different sap producing plants. Compounds we overlook and discard in favour of the extractable volatile, or essential oils. Essential oils, are, of course,  wonderful, and profitable, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater and discount the value of the “Resin” part of our “Oleo Resins“. Whether we are talking about Pine, Spruce and Fir, or Myrrh, Mastic and Frankincense, after extracting the essential oils from them, we are left with hundreds of valuable “phyto-therapeutics”,  or healing plant compounds, that remain unused in the resins of these trees.

For this reason, I choose to make my salves, cremes and Balms with the oleo-resins, and do not simply add essential oils to a carrier oil or base. I believe there exists a natural synergy between the resins and the essential oils, (the oleo part of oleo-resin), in the whole product as exuded from the trees.

  Boswellia, or Frankincense Rivae, as all types of Frankincense, is under the rulership of the Sun, ruler of the heart from a spiritual point of view.  All the types of Frankincense are warming and protective in nature, calming and strengthening to the mind and the heart, excellent for meditation, focus, and study, for promoting a positive self-image and confidence, the type of self centeredness that takes care of others to benefit self.

Sumerian Winged Sun Disc. Symbol of regeneration and Healing

Sumerian Winged Sun Disc. Symbol of regeneration and Healing

    Frankincense Rivae, does all this with the extra special sweetness of a unique scent on top of it’s expected Frankincense notes. This is due in part, to a high content of Limonene, Alpha Pinene, Octanol and traces of other unique chemical constituents. The high Limonene content of Frankincense Rivae also makes it an excellent anti-fungal, proven effective when treating Candida Albicans in particular.

Boswellia Rivae Resin- SO fragrant, fresh and surprisingly still sticky. Even when in Ethiopia, I did not come across any Frankincense this fresh! Wow!!

Boswellia Rivae Resin- Fresh from the tree.

Boswellia Rivae Resin- Fresh from the tree.

Considered warming to cold joints and a sluggish metabolism, Frankincense has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and Arabian  medicine for healing wounds, reducing scarring, addressing congestions and colds and treating arthritis and rheumatism and many other age related symptoms and discomforts. Frankincense is spoken of in the old testament as part of the sacred Temple incense of the Jews, and is a traditional ingredient in Arabian Bakhour incense mixes. Frankincense has been purchased  in vast quantities, yearly, for hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years, by Churches around the world. Frankincense is often  incorporated in skin care products for its anti-aging and skin toning properties.

Boswellia, Frankincense Rivae Resin- Fresh off the tree!

Boswellia, Frankincense Rivae Resin- Fresh off the tree!




  I call Frankincense Rivae, the “Sweet Frankincense”. It is the only type I have met that has such a delightful sweet soft note to it.  It is a particularly aromatic Frankincense. On top of the expected scent of Frankincense, B. Rivae possesses a candy like note, a lovely spicy balsamic scent reminiscent of Cinnamon, Palo Santo and Vanilla.  Boswellia, Frankincense Rivae, is truly an unmistakable and unforgettable Frankincense.



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Frankincense, Opoponax & Myrrh, Gifts from the land of Punt

Frankincense and Myrrh. This is a fine relief of members of Hatshepsut's trading expedition to the mysterious 'Land of Punt' from this pharaoh's elegant mortuary temple at Deir El-Bahri. In this scene, Egyptian soldiers bear tree branches and axes.

This is a relief of members of Hatshepsut’s trading expedition to the mysterious ‘Land of Punt’ from this pharaoh’s elegant mortuary temple at Deir El-Bahri. In this scene, Egyptian soldiers bear tree branches and axes.

Today I received my much-anticipated package from Addis Ababa Ethiopia. What a treat for the senses!!! This first shipment of two, contains unique essential oils distilled from fresh harvested local oleo-resins. Boswellia and Commiphora. Rare Ethiopian Frankincense and Myrrh essential oils, Palmarosa, Lemongrass, and fresh pressed Black Cumin, and Neem oils to stock the store and use for perfume and herbal products. The second, forthcoming shipment will deliver the equivalent Ethiopian oleo-resins from which these oils were distilled, more of the unique bounty of the fertile and fragrant land of Ethiopia, the ancient land known as Punt.

These precious oils were created by a wonderful operation based in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Ariti Herbal is a small-scale manufacturer of herbal products, pressed and essential oils made from local medicinal plants. Run by a husband-wife team, Professor Ermias Dagne, is a well-known and respected teacher and researcher of African medicinal and aromatic plants, creator of the Natural Products Database for Africa (NAPDA) available on CDRO and on the internet at the following site ALNAP. Professor Dagne is a warm, intelligent and enthusiastic individual, passionately committed to his students and his country. He has a vision of building a strong local economy through education and the development of unique products from the bountiful Ethiopian resources. His passion and vision are contagious, making it easy to feel inspired to support them anyway one can.

Frankincense, Opoponax and Myrrh. Treasures from the land of Punt. Coveted and traded for thousands of years Frankincense, Opoponax and Myrrh. Priceless treasures from the land of Punt. Coveted and traded for thousands of years

Treasures from Ethiopia, the land of Punt, sought after and coveted for thousands of years. Essential oils of Opoponax, Frankincense Rivae, Frankincense Neglecta. Palmarosa, and Lemongrass.

A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia- Papyrifera, Neglecta, Frereana, Rivae, Carterii/Sacra

A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia

Opoponax and Myrrh. It makes sense that I would speak of them both first. The same family, Commiphora. Also called Sweet Myrrh, Commiphora Guidotti, Opoponax is probably one of my favourite essential oils. Both the Myrrh and the essential oil of Opoponax are the best I have smelled. The Opoponax could be described as fresh, uplifting, crisp, balsamic, airy and sweet, a classic in mens products where it lends a light citrus crispness to aftershaves, balms and colognes. The Myrrh, cool and soft with a bitter aromatic edge. Both ground a perfume while adding an exotic touch of mystery.

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

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

Finally, a true essential oil of Myrrh. So much more complex and refined in its fragrance “profile” than the usual solvent extraction.

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

Myrrh is a difficult and finicky oleo-resin to distill. Essential oil of Myrrh wants to stick to things, the sides of the still, the sides of the receiver the condenser It can never decide if it is lighter than water or heavier , so it poses challenges for the distiller. For large-scale industrial distillers there is often too much work and fuel involved to produce a true essential oil of Myrrh at a competitive price. Lucky for me there is someone who is willing to do the work, and people like me who appreciate it.

The fragrance is rich, deep, lightly bitter like its oleo-resin, but much more refined, with a well rounded, cool, (It suggests to me, sitting in the shade of the Myrrh tree on a hot Ethiopian afternoon), woody, with a spicy sweetness that is delicious. Its complexities suggest it is halfway to being a perfume. It lingers and persists for a long long time, the sign of a good Base Note..

 Commiphora Myrrha-Myrrh tree

Commiphora Myrrha-Myrrh tree. Maybe better to wait till it is in leaf before enjoying its aromatic shade and protection from the Ethiopian sun!

This Myrrh essential oil is reddish amber in colour and mobile, moving like a thin liquid not like Molasses, or tar, which is how the usual solvent extracts of Myrrh look and behave. It blends with pure alcohol like milk in water, literally on contact, what a joy! I used to get very frustrated trying to blend Myrrh in perfumes or cremes with little success, until I learned, that what I had, was actually a solvent extraction, a resinoid, and not an essential oil at all. This knowledge didn’t make my life any easier, but it at least allowed me to resign myself to its limitations instead of fighting them, while I searched for a true essential oil.

I only have a small amount of this oil to share through the shop, so if you consider purchasing some, check it out in the shop or contact me in the comments section here. I would be delighted if more people appreciated this gem, and the finesse it takes to create it. A gift from the Land of Punt.