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Incense (Boswellia sacra)


Boswellia sacra

Incense is a resin that exudes from a tree of the Burseraceae family (genus Boswellia), which can reach three metres. It is native of the southern Arabic peninsula (sultanate of Oman and Yemen) and from the horn of Africa (Somalia).

Only the male tree is productive, and it takes ten years before it provides the best quality resin.


Main aromatic molecules: Monoterpenes (α-pinene), sesquiterpenes, terpene alcohols, oxides and esters.
Family: Burseraceae.
Producing organs: Gum or oleoresin.
Yield: 8 to 10kg of essential oil per 100kg of gum.
Equivalence: 1ml → 36 drops (dosage calculated for a calibrated dropper European Pharmacopoeia).

  • Bath Bath
  • Skin application Skin application
  • Oral route Oral route
  • Respiratory route Respiratory route

Main properties

Incense is antiseptic, expectorant, astringent and healing. Its essential oil fights respiratory apparatus infections. It reinforces immune defences and calms anxiety. It is also used in rheumatology and against migraines.

Find all the virtues and uses of essential oils in our tips section.


Weak immune defences
3 drops of essential oil of frankincense, 3 drops of essential oil of true lavender pure or diluted in 10 drops of sweet almond or calophyllum plant oil. Apply on the chest two to three times daily for three weeks.

Nervous depression
Take 1 drop of essential oil of frankincense on a neutral tablet, sugar lump or in a spoonful of honey, morning, noon and evening, fifteen minutes before the meal, for three months.

Place 1 drop of essential oil of frankincense around a small wound.

Prepare a fumigation by pouring 3 drops of essential oil of frankincense into boiling water. Breath to clear the respiratory tract.


The most sought after oliban grows in the valley of Hadramaut, in southern Yemen. The aromatic substances qualified as "incense", which are imported in great quantities in France, are rarely obtained from the Yemen oliban. India, which has an enormous incense consumption, harvests the resin of Boswellia serrata.


The exceptionally powerful scent of incense is beneficial and comforting. However, one should beware that incense is often used as sticks or cones to burned, which during combustion emit benzene and formaldehyde that should not be breathed in! Traditionally, incense sticks are burnt during religious ceremonies in big temples open to all winds, which is not the case of our closed apartments!


The bark is tapped, using a millennia-old process, by removing a thin strip about ten centimetres long. The resin secretions, harden in contact with the air and are harvested two to three weeks later. The best resin is harvested in the autumn, from incisions made at the end of the summer ("white incense"). "Red incense" is harvested in the spring after winter incisions. The essential oil is obtained by total distillation, with a high yield of the order of 8% to 10%, i.e. eight to ten kilograms of essential oil per hundred kilograms of plants, using steam distillation.


The active ingredients are mainly monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, alcohols as well as oxides and esters.

Precautions for use

Incense essential oil must always be diluted with carrier oil for external use.

Do not use in: pregnant or breast-feeding women, children under the age of six years, persons allergic to one of the components (geraniol, linalool, limonene), subjects with asthma without the advice of an allergologist before the first use, prolonged use in persons with kidney problems.


Incense (Boswellia frereana), Indian incense (Boswellia serrata).

"From the land of Arabia a marvellously suave scent arises. It is the only country in the world that produces incense" wrote Herodotus, who was wrong because the Pharaohs got it from African, in the land of Punt (now Sudan). Ever since camels were domesticated in the 13th century B.C., caravans have been travelling the "incense route". 

In the ancient world, it was the first aromatic resin offered to the gods. Thus, in 287 B.C., the king of Syria Seleucos donated three hundred sixty kilograms of incense, among other presents, to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. It is also used as a remedy in fumigation against respiratory diseases and to purify ambient air.


Extracts from the book 'Aromatherapia - All about essential oils', by Isabelle Pacchioni, watercolors by Patrick MORIN, Aroma Thera Editions . Extracts from the book '41 essential oils essential for treating yourself differently' and '48 essential oils which every home needs to be healthy' by Isabelle Delaleu and Isabelle Pacchioni, Publications of the Mandadori France group. Botanical illustrations by Agathe Haevermans.

The properties, benefits and method of use are given for information; they cannot in any case constitute or replace medical information that only health professionals can provide. For any use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes, please consult your GP or pharmacist.
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