Frankincense: The Incense Known Around the World

Frankincense, the name echoes throughout the fragrant histories of the world as a champion of aromatics. As one of the most popular incense materials of the ages, it has long nourished many spiritual and religious traditions from ancient Egypt to Japan. In addition to its holy uses, Frankincense is also traditionally used as a medicine to treat a wide variety of imbalances and ailments in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Greek Medicine, Tibetan Medicine, and many other alternative medical practices.

Frankincense is the fragrant resinous sap of various species of Boswellia trees. The trees range in height between 6 to 28 feet tall and are native to the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. Traditionally, incisions are made on the tree’s trunk or branches which exude the precious gum which is left to harden before it is collected for trade. Frankincense "tears" get their name from the droplets secreted from the trunk which resemble tear drops.

Histories and Virtues of Frankincense

For 5,000 years Frankincense has reigned supreme as the most widely used incense in the world. From ancient Roman emperors and humble Catholic monks, to Arabian kings and fine incense and spice merchants of the ancient Orient, Frankincense has influenced the divine connection between Gods and humans for millennia. 

In one of the oldest writings in history, the Bible, Frankincense is mentioned many times in holy context as sacred incense; a sacrament to the heavens, to God. It was one of the ingredients in the holy Ketoret incense, burned daily by specially trained authorized priests at Solomon’s Temple, and was among the three gifts from the three Wise Men, or Magi, who visited infant Jesus in the famous Biblical tale.

It was even said to have been one of the handful of holy plants that Adam took from the Garden of Eden and brought back as a fragrant treasure for all mankind. From these early days, and throughout many different beliefs and religions, Frankincense has been known to hold a special power to help one connect and commune with the Divine.

Many small kingdoms and major trading villages of old were supported by the trade of Frankincense, among other aromatic incense plants and tree resins. Arabian traders were made wealthy beyond belief from these precious botanical substances; Egyptian pharaohs were happy to pay enormously for unbelievable amounts of exotic incenses from afar. Through the sacred smoke of Frankincense, these wealthy rulers, spiritual leaders, and royals of the Old World shared in the aromatic riches of the divine sense of smell. Never-ending plumes of smoke emanated the halls of ancient temples, castles, and courts, bathing royalty in constant fragrant blessings.

The ancient Egyptians were quite fond of Frankincense resin and used it as temple incense (an ingredient in the famous Kyphi incense), as medicine, in the use of cosmetics and perfumery, and even for burial ceremonies and embalming. The enormous appetite for heavenly Frankincense smoke among royalty, religious institutions, and wealthy citizens of Europe, Egypt, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia made this prized resin one of the most heavily exported resins in the world. For thousands of years caravans carrying metric tons of Frankincense traveled the ancient Incense Road reaching tropical paradises, gloomy fortresses, and far-off exotic kingdoms near and far.

In Catholicism, Frankincense and Myrrh have been used in rites since its formation and are still present in the church today. Burning Frankincense in the church may also be viewed in the context of a “burnt offering” given to God. Like many other religious and spiritual traditions, the act of smoke rising upward is thought by Catholics and Christians alike to carry prayers to heaven, or to the Creator.

Frankincense has been an important substance in Alchemical and European mystical traditions for its symbolism and its practical and spiritual medicine. Countless wise men and women have meditated on Frankincense’s many layers of meaning and hidden wisdom, as it is an herb long associated with the Sun, the intuition, divine connection, inner strength, personal power, and the archetype of the King,

Many of the esoteric and magical uses of Frankincense are based on its affinity to the Sun. In times of old it was used as sacrificial incense to many Sun gods including the Egyptian Sun god Ra, the Greek deity Apollo, and the Babylonian Sun god Bael. This sacred connection resembles spiritual insight, spiritual self-discipline, and the dedication of finding ones true spiritual nature. Frankincense is known to open up channels to a higher power and higher wisdom during meditation and ritual; a sacred key that unlocks the door to the divine.

Sustainability and Endangerment

The Frankincense populations of the world are greatly threatened at this time due to their ever-growing popularity, over-harvesting, and natural destructive forces. The rise in popularity of essential oils has had the most devastating effect on the natural populations of these trees. Local harvesters try to meet large-scale corporate demand of essential oil companies by harvesting much more than the trees can handle, jeopardizing the tree’s well-being.

Once weakened in this way, their immune systems are compromised, allowing disease and insects to finish them off. Frankincense trees are highly endangered at this time, though the demand and trade of this precious commodity has not slowed. Studies show that if we continue down the road of unconscious stewardship and over-harvesting, Frankincense trees could be extinct in 50 years!

However – times of crisis tend to generate good in the world. In light of this critical reality, local leaders and wild-harvesting co-operatives in North Africa have begun to address this issue, spreading knowledge and best practices for healthy harvesting methods as quickly as possible. Though in its infancy, the exports from these co-operatives and sustainability groups are growing. Soon sustainability certification will be available for suppliers, allowing the consumer to vote with their dollar and do their part to preserve the timeless treasure and traditions of Frankincense.

Be sure to ask your Frankincense resin/oil supplier to look into these co-operatives, and demand ethical and sustainable sourcing of their Frankincense from them. You can find ethical and sustainable Frankincense resin at


Article By – Evan Sylliaasen

© 2016 Evan Sylliaasen, Higher Mind Incense. All Rights Reserved.

*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.