Frankincense essential oil is a combination of several individual components that work together to give the oil its individual properties. Alone, these components will not have the same effect as when they are combined in the oil. Frankincense essential oil is mainly composed of ketonic alcohol, a-pinene, camphene, dipentene, phellandrene, actanol, bornyl acetate, linalool, octyl acetate, incensole and incensyl acetate.
It should be noted that there are many subspecies of Boswellia tree. The Boswellia sarca is the main species from which frankincense oil is derived and will be the focus of the listed compounds. If you purchase frankincense oil that was made from a difference species, the components will vary slightly. Boswellia sarca is the recommended tree to source frankincense oil from so always check with your oil producer.
No matter the type of tree that the resin is sourced from, the main compounds found in frankincense oil are aromatic compounds, better known as monoterpenes. All of the varieties in frankincense oil play a roll in its unique therapeutic properties. There are also many boswellic acids present in the oil, which have been shown in studies to have a strong effect on the oil’s power. Here is an explanation of the more common components and how they give frankincense oil its healing and aromatherapy characteristics.
An organic compound of the terpene class, a-Pinene is found in many evergreen trees. It acts as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, meaning that it can improve memory. Frankincense oil aids in oxygenation of blood to the brain, helping it to process and retain information. It can also eliminate brain fog and make it easier to concentrate. It is also a bronchodilator, making frankincense oil a possible treatment for many respiratory issues, such as asthma, bronchitis and the common cold. It helps to break up excessive phlegm and can help to clear an infection that may be adding pressure to the lungs. The best way to use frankincense for this purpose is to add it do a pot of boiling water and inhale the steam for several minutes. While it may be able to help with asthma symptoms, it should not be relied on as a treatment to stop an asthma attack and in rare instances, it can make an attack worse.
Camphene is a bicyclic monoterpene. It has a pungent smell and is a minor constituent of many essential oils, including frankincense. It is often used in the preparation of fragrances and as a food additive for flavoring. While frankincense may not be a common ingredient in a household kitchen, it is often used as a flavoring agent by large scale food manufacturers. Adding just one drop of frankincense oil can have a dramatic effect on your dish. Try frankincense with a variety of baked goods, including cookies, cake or even the frosting for a cake to give it a unique and rich flavor profile.
Dipentene is a colorless liquid and a member of the terpene family. It has a lemon-like odor and is found in many products around the home, including cleaning products, air freshener, perfumes, hair color and even diapers. Frankincense is a great natural cleaner and while its antibacterial and antiviral properties make it effective, it’s pleasant aroma is one of the reasons that it is commonly used throughout the home as a disinfectant.
Though research is limited, incensole is the suspected component that helps frankincense oil to have such a positive effect on anxiety and stress. The amount of incensole depends on the subspecies that produced the resin to make the frankincense oil and some scientists argue that some oils do not contain any incensole. If you are hoping to use frankincense oil as a natural treatment for anxiety, look for frankincense oil made from the resin of the Boswellia papyrifera species. To administer the oil as an anxiety treatment, a diffuser is recommended but topical application is also an option, especially if the chest feels heavy or tight from chronic stress.
Linalool is a naturally occurring terpene alcohol that is found in many plants throughout the world. It is a common ingredient in scented hygiene products and cleaning agents but it is also found in frankincense oil. A study that focused on the effects of linalool in lab rats found that it was able to bring down their stress levels. This is another component that is helping make frankincense oil one of the first essential oils that people try to alleviate their stress and anxiety.
When linalool is exposed to oxygen, a reaction takes place that can lead to allergic reactions in some. Most testing shows that up to 7% of people can be allergic to the topical application of products containing large amounts of linalool. This is rare with frankincense oil but it should be noted that a test patch is always recommended before applying a solution containing any essential oil over a large area of the body.
When isolated, bornyl acetate is a colorless and clear liquid with a woody and spicy odor. It is found in a large number of essential oils, including frankincense, and is often used as a scent in perfume. It is also a certified food grade product and can be found in many artificial flavorings.
Octyle acetate is an organic compound, classified as an ester. It is most commonly found in oranges, grapefruits and other citrus products but is also found in small traces in most types of frankincense oil. The oil’s aroma does have a slightly citrusy finish and this can be attributed to the octyle acetate. When isolated, this compound is often used as a basis for artificial flavors and is also a common additive to perfumes and body products.
Phellandrene is the name for two organic compounds that have similar molecular structures and chemical properties. A-phellandrene and b-phellandrene are monoterpenes and double-bond isomers. They are both commonly used in fragrances, thanks to their slightly citrusy and pleasing aromas. They are also an approved food and flavor ingredient.