A Pantheon of Nine, Divine Frankincense

As the silvery smoke and paradisaic perfume of Frankincense wafted through ancient societies, vesperal stories spoke of mythical groves rich with incense trees whose bark “wept with odorous gums and balms” (i). The smoky, musky-lemony vapours of this invocative, ensorcelled scent heralded a new era, as Frankincense’s fumes furnished feasts, scented ceremonies of civilizations, forged trails of trade, and treaties of nations. Woven into the fabric of life, Frankincense vapors made visible the daily confluence of aspiring prayers rising and the pouring forth of the inspiring sweet sweat of the gods. Whether it be the fragrant fumes or precious perfumes, Frankincense pleasantly activated minds of the time, and in kind, its resinous nectar, the sagacious substance of many opulent unguents, brought on a new dawn, of potent balms to soothe the body and seriously satiate the skin.

And, while flacons of Frankincense may be the true OG cologne of the ancients and afterlife, its olfactive rainbow bridges through the kaleidoscope of time and what a blessing to find fresh strands of these ancient telegrams distilled again as a touchstone in the eternal timeline of Frankincense’s message for a millennium: upon the altar of existence may we embody the temple of the body.

Living Libations is imbibing on cloud nine with a line of nine, fine Frankincense essential oil varieties. While each Frankincense is a fulsome force and charmed with distinct, exceptional characteristics, they can be used interchangeably, and, as always, the best Frankincense to use is the one you have on hand.

Akin to wine, the essential oil of a plant can be said to have terroir. Terroir reflects the repertoire of all the environmental elements that affect the expression of the distilled plant’s genetics, and this gives the plant, and thus the distilled oil, specific characteristics. Ecology that influences terroir includes terrain, sunlight, altitude, rain, the composure of the soil and mycelium networks, and the types of plant guilds that grow nearby. For example, lavender angustifolia grown in California is going to have a different terroir from lavender angustifolia grown in the French Alps.

The same is true for Frankincense terroir, which is why we offer nine kinds of fascinating Frankincense essential oil. The earth’s treasure trove of Frankincense trees flourishes in a singularly specialized and precariously textured climate region that runs from the Horn of Africa to Southern India. Yet, this narrow patch of geology has vast variation in geomorphology that dramatically effects the tree’s texture, trunk, flowers, fruit, sap, and leaves. These phenotype fluctuations along with varying seasonal collections and sap sun-drying times produces oleoresins with distinctly colored and aromatic enunciations.

We offer nine kinds of fascinating Frankincense essential oil to adore and explore the depth and breadth of its terroir. The botanical Burseraceae family bursts forth a variety of Frankincense trees that are all major in merited monoterpenes that offer plenty of alpha-pinenes, yet their terroirs give them distinct characters, scents, phenotypes, and benefits — and we love and enshrine all nine!

Here are the distilled delineations of these nine gifted constellations from the Boswellia family:

Our canonical Carterii Frankincense (Boswellia carterii from Puntland) is the ancient olibanum, the biblical botanical, the timeless and treasured tree that is honoured for its opulent oleoresin. Gracing the eternal airwaves with its warm balsamic Boswellia breeze, it has brought many to their blessed knees. For hundreds of years, among the arid climes and mid-altitudes of the rocky slopes that lead to the Indian Ocean, heritage groves of Carterii thrive. Tapping the organic, milky sap of this revered resin takes place in the dry summer months as the gum is gathered and graded.

Over the decades, botanical and scientific references have vacillated between identifying two ancient species of Frankincense, Boswellia carterii and Boswellia sacra, as being synonymous (sensing this may have been to the mysterious presence of newly found Occulta Frankincense). A difference was definitely detected with in-depth phytochemical analysis. It revealed two discernable Frankincense species, which is also apparent by simply sniffing the two essences side by side. Reminiscent of a sunlit Balsam Fir forest, Carterii is characteristically classic Frankincense. Additionally, our Carterii is distilled by a capacious supercritical extraction creating more antioxidant activity along with distilling denser oleoresin molecules uncommon in standard steam distillation. Capturing the true character of the oleoresin, it includes warming, mellowing incensole acetate and incensole, along with major amounts of multifaceted monoterpenes alpha-pinene. These are accompanied by alpha-thujene and some limonene to bring lemony-hues and further imbued with accent amounts of myrcene, p-cymene, and β-caryophyllene. This Frankincense of fortitude is the coniferous cologne of the ancients connecting us to the Chronos of the cosmos.

Our Sacred Sacra Frankincense (Boswellia sacra from Oman) is the balsamic Boswellia balm that started scent trails and buoyed human history for over five fragrant millennia. Mentioned on clay tablets in Mesopotamia, anointed by Pythagoras to prophesize, distilled by Avicenna to strengthen the wit and understanding, sent by Sheba to serenade Solomon, revered and referenced in the materia medica of the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, Sacra is the Boswellia of aromatic amphoras and brimming in alabaster jars for burial and embalming. Viewed as godly gifts, these venerated trees were encouraged to grow wild, rather than be cultivated. As roots cling to rocks, hearty Boswellia sacra hails forth from harsh, hilly climbs and produces perfumed pastel yellow flowers. Sacra has a higher alpha-pinene content than Serrata and Carterii, contributing to a character composition that is warm and woody, like smelling a sweet boreal-coniferous forest dappled with a dash of lemon. Where Carterii is collected in summer and known for its fresh forest, pine notes, Sacra is tapped and sapped in the winter months and its opalescent oleoresin marinates a woodier vibration rounded with softer cistus cues. This Sacred Sacra Frankincense libation exudes balance and beauty throughout with a twin calming and fortifying effect.

Our resplendent Royal Hojari Frankincense (Boswellia sacra from the Oman) rises from rocky slopes in the misty, monsoonal magic and green oasis of the Dhofar Valley. Schizogenous gum oleoresin reservoirs vein the inner trunk, which are incised to exudate the milky emulsion that indurates over days in the sun into solid tears of sap. Royal Hojari is a distillation of the milkiest Boswellia sacra pearls considered to be cardinal quality. Holding the wisdom of the ages, this highest grade Hojari is as prized today as in was in Queen Hatshepsut’s day. Where quantity was coveted for chewing and imbuing daily activities with wafts of fragrant Frankincense, and the quality was desired for cosmetics, crushing into Kohl, and calibrating into Kyphi. The female pharaoh and early arboriculturist organized a two-year naval caravan to Gods Land and brought back ships laden with heaps of aromatic oleoresin and the most precious cargo, a treasury of 31 Frankincense trees, to be replanted upon arrival at her epic architectural temple complex of Deir el-Bahri. Inside, the walls of Djeser-Djeseru, meaning Sublime of the Sublimes, were illustrated with the illustrious expedition, along with reliefs depicting ingenious tree transplanting (showing innovation and care for root ball protection and handling). Royal Hojari yields an exceptional oleogum essential oil made up of the major monoterpene players alpha-thujene, limonene, sabinene, myrcene, β-caryophyllene, and p-cymene, yet simply saturated by peak alpha-pinene levels. Similar in scent to classic Carterii with a warming resinous medley of amberous, nuanced-pine yet, Royal Hojari is topped with dulcet green-lemon notes as it is comprised of a little more limonene. As such, upon inhalation this incense of eminence hits the heart with balsamic embers that expand feelings of elation.

Our musky, dreamy Dakkara Frankincense (Boswellia neglecta from Kenya) opens the doors of perception with the fine spirited scent of connection. Dakkara is distilled from the charcoal-colored pearls of sap oozing from tapped trees, yet the distillation results in a clear, deep balsamic essence with woodier undertones that smells dryer and sweeter than classic Carterii. Like most Boswellia, Dakkara contains the monoterpenoic constituents of alpha-pinene and alpha-thujene yet to a lesser extent as it is uniquely and lucidly laden with terpinen-4-ol which lends leathery, drier balsamic notes. Ever enthusiastic about this ancient ecclesiastic’s earthy, amber-incense edge tinged with cordial-camphor, our dashing Dakkara is a cleansing, clearing chrism in any context. It finesses focus, sentinels the skin, and consistently connects us to our inner core of valor. Dakkara’s aromatic and inner distinction is that it resides on the doorsill of dawns; it takes one into dusk, into night, into seasons short on light.

Our gorgeous Green Hojari Frankincense (Boswellia dalzielii from West Africa) grows in grassy savannas, blooms in fragrant white flowers, and is bedecked with propitious paper-layered bark that is as cherished in local home apothecaries as the gifts of the tree’s sea-green sap clusters. This redolent resin is hydrodistilled in small batches in customary copper alembics. The essence exudes a crisp green-aroma reminiscent of pine sap, camphor, and a heavenly hint of the softest lime-mint. This Frankincense’s verdant edge is peerless in perfumery as an incandescent top note or as an addition to floral and fougère fragrances. While hearty alpha-pinene levels bring peace of mind comparable to Sacra, Carterii, and Frereana, what sets Green Hojari apart is its soft-citrus-mint-candy scent suffused with smaller shares of character-building constituents of α-copaene, carvone, sabines, myrcene, camphene, incensole, bornyl acetate, α-cubebene, α-thujene, and γ-terpinene. The green light is given on this luminous Hojari Frankincense.

Our transcendent Tigray Frankincense (Boswellia papyrifera from Ethiopia) has a warm-ambery sweetness that sings to the calm choir inside. Celestial spheres rejoice in the timeless tale of this ancient aroma that has heralded eras along smoke signals of incensed connection and communion. Differing from Boswellia trees that perch cliffside, Papyrifera’s papyrus barked trees grow in wooded grasslands, bloom sweet smelling pink flowers, and produce a luminous yellow oleoresin. This Frankincense, the ancient signature scent of holy sacrament, emits a unique resinous-arch of ambery, balsamic-caramel, with surprising citrus-vespers making it one of the finest Frankincenses for crafting colognes and perspicacious perfumes. The warm, summer hay base and almost orange fragrance of Tigray emanates from the opulent amounts of octyl acetate (this imparts the pastel orange aroma and, in fact, is also present in citrus essential oils), along with octanol, and a little loving linalool. Minimal in monoterpenes (<9%) yet it is abundant with two substances unique to Tigray: the diterpenic cembrenoids of incensole and incensole acetate. This Boswellia constituent-cocktail’s lucent orangey-edge, is the friendliest fragrance with a mellow “frankincense and chill” vibe.

Our seasoned Serrata Frankincense (Boswellia serrata from India) also known as Indian Olibanum, is the venerated Frankincense of Ayurveda. Grown in dry mountainous regions, this oleo-gum resin at the heart of Ayurvedic medicine, is wild harvested with a unique extraction method. After trees are tapped, resin is stored for a moon in specially sieved bamboo baskets where excess liquid, ras, flows out. The remaining resiny residue slowly dries into salai-guggul tears. Boswellia serrata Frankincense contains copious classic monoterpenes, mainly terpenic-pine top-notes of alpha-thujene with minor alpha-pinene, and myrcene yet, differs with its spicey-balsamic accents of methylchavicol and methyleugenenol. Subtle sprinkles of sweeter sabinene, limonene, linalool, and diterpenoids soften Serrata’s Boswellia-bouquet. This frankincense radiates a sweet-spicy, resinous-coniferous charm with an airy balsamic undertone and is beautiful in body balms and breast blends. Masticated for centuries as effective oral care, it is also excellent as an aperitif and harmonizing in honey. Revered and endeared for centuries, this nuanced, numinous Frankincense brings heart and soul and gets to the gist of the matter.

Our crowning King of All Frankincense, Frereana Frankincense (Boswellia frereana from Horn of Africa, Somaliland) hails forth from high limestone cliffs. This elevated growth yields a yellow-golden sap, Maydi, that distills a unique terpene profile decisively delivering its reputation as the King’s Incense. The resolute attributes of this King Frankincense tree are bestowed into its restoring essential oil, which is a wealth of robust and bolstering compounds. What distinguishes blithe Boswellia Frereana is its most kingly content of alpha-thujene with just a gild of alpha-pinene, whereas Carterii and Sacra are inverse. Though both Carterii and Frereana flourish in the mountainous regions of Somalia, Frereana grows at higher altitudes, and this crowns its phytochemical composition. This legendary Coptic Frankincense is also comprised of classic limonene, alpha-pinene, sabinene, β-caryophyllene, and terpene p-cymene along with interesting triterpenes called epi-lupeol and lupeol that protect the appearance of collagen and elastin from losing its mojo. This regal resin brings lithe into life!

Our fascinatingly, fragrant Occulta Frankincense (Boswellia occulta from El Afweyn, Somaliland) has been hiding on arid hillsides in plain sight and finally brought to light. Aptly named Occulta Frankincense it is as ancient as all other Boswellia, yet it remained hidden from botanists until recently and has phenomenal phyto-chemistry. Compromised of classic Boswellia constituents, yet it is soaked in enigmatic esters that make Occulta Frankincense morphologically distinct from all other Boswellia species. It is set apart by the presence of remarkably rare and ample amounts of methoxyalkanes and methoxydecanes (methyl esters) normally found in the insect world with spider silks and millipedes. These esters act as a chemical raincoat to protect bugs from water saturation, and they may have evolved in Occulta Frankincense to protect it from desert-desiccation by trapping the water inside the plant material. The naturally sweet, fresh air scent of these methyl esters is evident in Occulta’s resinous aroma —an unexpected atmospheric and aqueous essence that may be best described as perfume of petrichor. This Frankincense is a fortifying tonic, a plant pharmacopeia, and a new ancient ablution to beautify the body and tap into trapping the skin’s hydration with the extra emollient and singularly splendid methyl esters of this new Frankincense cult classic.

With nine finespun Frankincense favors, an array of fortifying oil play is here to chill apprehension, mellow tension, and complement complexions, while the various varietal aromas take you to many inner dimensions. This pantheon of nine are each divine; rich in sesquiterpenoids for every strand of skincare, ample alpha-pinene for optimal oral care, and maximal monoterpenes for merry mitochondria. Spend time to unwind with Frankincense’s divinations. Imbibe on the paths their scented wafts take you with molecularly mindful inhalations that bring on nuanced inspirations.

“The Phoenix does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums.” ~Ovid

“Frankincense oil is a mobile liquid, pale yellow or pale amber greenish in color. Its odor is strongly diffusive, fresh terpeney, almost green-lemon-like or reminiscent of green, unripe apples (peel) but not terebinthinate. A certain pepperiness is mellowed with a rich, sweet-woody, balsamic undertone. Depending on the method of distillation of the oil (time, vapor pressure, etc.) the odor is tenacious with an almost citrus-like, ambre-like, balsamic dryout note. Frankincense oil is used in fine perfumery… It gives delightful effects in citrus colognes where it modifies the sweetness of bergamot and orange oils. A similar effect is obtained in rather difficult “fresh” perfume notes such as verbena, citrus, etc. where Frankincense and citral form useful bases for further modifying work. Frankincense in itself is a base for all “incense” or “Frankincense” type perfumes and specialties, and it is an important ingredient in many spice-bases, ambers, “powder type perfumes, floral perfumes, citrus colognes, spice blends, violet perfumes, “men’s” fragrances.”
~Steffen Arctander, Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin

“And so he would now study perfumes and the secrets of their manufacture, distilling heavily scented oils and burning odorous gums from the East. He saw that there was no mood of the mind that had not its counterpart in the sensuous life, and set himself to discover their true relations, wondering what there was in frankincense that made one mystical.”
~Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Grey

“Whenever we look in historic writings, myrrh and frankincense have been consistently employed for ritual, healing, transition, and transcendence.”
~Kurt Schnaubelt, Advanced Aromatherapy

“Frankincense essential oil is obtained from an oleo-gum resin formed in specialized resin ducts in the tissues of this small shrubby tree that grows in West Africa. Incisions can be made in the bark, and in response a milky white resin exudes, and the solidifies in amber tear shaped drops.”
~Jennifer Peace Rhind, Essential Oils

“Frankincense resin in most ancient cultures was also an important aromatic in perfumery, hygiene skin care and medicine. Resins such as myrrh, galbanum, and frankincense saw widespread secular as well as sacred applications, which included extensive individual and social fragrancing… Frankincense was an important component of Kyphi, the temple incense burnt in Heliopolis every sunset to honour the setting of the sun.” ~Peter Holmes, Aromatica

“Like a rainbow bridge, Frankincense is the olfactory link that binds the long history of the West into a single tapestry.” ~Peter Holmes, Frankincense Oil: The Rainbow Bridge

“Until the daybreak, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.” ~Song of Solomon

i. John Milton, Paradise Lost

Nadine Artemis, the founder of Living Libations, is the author of Holistic Dental Care: The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums, and Renegade Beauty: Reveal and Revive Your Natural Radiance, which was named one of “The Top 10 Books on Skin Care” by The Strategist of New York Magazine. She is a respected media guest and contributor, and her products have received rave reviews in the New York Times, LA Times, Elle, People, Vogue, and Hollywood Reporter. Described by Alanis Morissette as “a true-sense visionary,” Nadine crafts elegant formulations and healing creations from rare botanicals that have skin glowing around the world. Her concept of Renegade Beauty encourages effortlessness and inspires people to rethink conventional notions of beauty and wellness.