Frankincense in Ayurveda and Aromatherapy

Since ancient times, frankincense has been highly valued as a sacred incense and herbal medicine. It is an aromatic resin from trees of the Boswellia species that has been burned as an incense to purify the atmosphere since time immemorial in temples, churches, and for sacred rituals. Its smoke is also believed to ward off bad spirits and sickness, and to carry prayers to the Divine. A secondary benefit to burning the resin is that it acts as a natural insect repellent.



Boswellia serrata, a species found in India’s states Rajastan and Madhya Pradesh, is known as salai guggulu. It is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis, promote circulation, and prevent the degeneration of cartilage in the joints. It is frequently combined with other herbs such as turmeric and ginger as a general anti inflammatory for muscles and joints. Modern research shows that it contains boswellic acid and in moderate doses has anti inflammatory, anti-cancer, and hepatoprotective properties, and therefore may be helpful in the treatment of rheumatism, colitis, asthma, and cancer.

It has a sattwic, or purifying effect on the mind and nervous system, and helps to burn impurities from the nadis (subtle nerve channels). It can be used in herbal formulas along with other herbs that have an affinity to the mind and nervous system like gotu kola and calamus root as an aid to meditation.

The essential oil has a woody, sweet, and slightly citrus or camphoric aroma, which can vary depending on the species or the micro climate from which the tree grows. In perfumery, it provides a long lasting base note. It contains sesquiterpenes, which are carbon based compounds that act directly on the limbic system of the brain, hypothalamus, and the pineal and pituitary glands.

Frankincense pacifies vata dosha, thus calming and replenishing the mind and nervous system, and easing anxiety and restlessness. Its revitalizing and uplifting action helps to clear excess kapha, thereby countering exhaustion, mental fatigue, and depression. It cleanses prana vaha srotas (the respiratory tract), one of the main sites of kapha, and is used to treat respiratory congestion, cough, bronchitis, and asthma.

It is highly antiseptic and antiviral as well as supportive to the immune system. For treating respiratory complaints, the essential oil is best infused into the atmosphere with an essential oil nebulizer or diluted into a base oil or blend that can be massaged on the chest. A steam inhalation can also be helpful by adding a few drops of the pure essential oil into hot water, covering the head with a towel and inhaling the medicated steam.

The oil can be used to regenerate skin cells as well, thus helping with the healing of wounds, and to decrease dryness, scar tissue, stretch marks, and wrinkles. It also has carminative, anti fungal, diuretic, sedative, emmenagogue, and tonic properties. The oil is non-irritating to the skin for most people and can be applied directly to certain points or diluted with a base oil such as jojoba, sesame, or coconut oil for application to larger areas of the body.

The fresh gum is traditionally used chewed to aid digestion, cleanse the mouth, prevent gum disease and oral infections, freshen the breath, and prevent cavities. Pressing the gum into cavities can help to slow tooth decay and relieve dental pain. For oral health, the essential oil can be added to water and used as a swish or gargle. Here it combines well with tea tree oil.