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OK, while Frankincense isn’t a herb, per se, when I think of the festive season, I cannot help but think of Frankincense. I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s something to do with my Catholic upbringing. Don’t worry, I’m not getting all religious on you, but influences from our formative years stay with us, to include aromas.

Have you ever been transported back to a time and place simply from the scent of a cologne or perfume? I know I have, and that is because the olfactory system (sense of smell) is the first to develop in human embryos – usually within 10 weeks 1 – and the first to leave us when we die, so vital is it to our wellbeing and survival.

The aroma of Frankincense is a bit like Marmite – there is no middle ground as to whether you like it or not! As an essential oil, it has many aroma notes to reflect the depth of the remedy, ranging from earthy, woody, spicy and slightly fruity which, together, create a uniquely grounding, calming yet uplifting remedy. So, while Frankincense isn’t a herb, I had to include it as, unsurprisingly, it is one of the primary sleep-promoting remedies, especially if your insomnia is stress-related. 2

Frankincense for sleep and mental health

Sleep and mental health have a bidirectional relationship, meaning that a problem in one causes a problem in the other. Anything you do to help your sleep, will help your mental health, and vice versa.

It has a uniquely balancing and purifying effect on the mind, bringing emotional stability, unity and calm. It stimulates the mind-body connection to restore equilibrium.

The Stress Connection

Stress is called the silent killer for a reason. There are innumerable ways that stress can affect an individual, dependent on their triggers – what stresses one person, another will sail through. You can read more about the Catch-22 of Stress, Insomnia & Mental health here. 

Sources & Origin

There are several sources of Frankincense, with the main two trees being Boswellia Sacra and Boswellia Carteri, located in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Africa, India and Southern China.

In ancient Egypt, Frankincense was traditionally burned as incense by the High Priestesses who also used it as a perfume, in rejuvenating treatments as well as the ground and charred resin as kohl around their eyes. Other uses include insect repellent, medicine and healing, as well as for embalming.

In the Christian faith, the Three Wise Men brought the gift of Frankincense (gold and myrrh) to the baby Jesus. In those times, Frankincense was treasured far more than gold because of its medicinal and healing properties.

These precious Pearls of the Desert have been traded for over 5000 years and it is believed the Babylonians and Assyrians burned Frankincense (and myrrh) at religious ceremonies.

The Greeks and Romans imported it to burn as incense during religious ceremonies and to aid meditation and is still used by Catholics today in Mass and religious ceremonies.

Therapeutic Uses

Published research confirms that boswellic acids are the main active components of Frankincense and responsible for its therapeutic effects, to include anti-inflammation, intestinal diseases, cancer (it stops the spread of cancerous cells), diabetes, asthma, infertility and memory problems, all of which are symptoms of modern day maladies.
Frankincense is known to promote healthy cell regeneration and has a rejuvenating effect so
is used in many anti-ageing products. Its astringent effects are useful to strengthen gums
and hair roots as well as promoting wound healing. 3-6


To produce the ‘King of Essential Oils’ as it is known, the resin is steam-distilled and, in treatment sessions, is used to bring comfort during times of stress and despair, having a calming and grounding effect. When used in meditation it helps bring mental peace and relaxation, easing anxiety and worry. It is an excellent for those with stress-related insomnia too. I can think of nothing more appropriate and necessary for the times we are living in. Topically, it can be used in massage to help skin problems, particularly scarring and stretch marks. 7-9


There are rare cases of skin rashes, nausea, stomach pain and hyperacidity. It also has blood thinning properties so caution is required in people with a bleeding disorder or taking anticoagulant medications. In view of its stimulating effects, and potential effects on circulation, it is not recommended for pregnant women and nursing mums.

My love affair with Frankincense

I came across Frankincense when I started my career in natural therapies as a Massage Therapist, over 20 years ago. As students, we were able to experience the effects of various essential oils and I invariably chose a combination to include Frankincense – its aroma is unmistakeable. In my Corporate massage practice, I used Neal’s Yard blended oils and while restocking at the flagship Covent Garden Store, I saw their award winning ‘miracle cream’ which was a combination of Frankincense and Myrrh. It is still on sale over 20 years later – what worked then works now! – but is renamed as Frankincense Nourishing Cream –
it is my daily moisturiser.

In the days when we could travel freely, I was lucky enough to see several of Spain’s Easter processions, where the story of Easter is told through a series of processional ‘thrones’. Each day during Holy Week (Semana Santa), the air is awash with the scent of burning Frankincense.

How to get your Frankincense Fix

You will have to go a long way to beat the quality and of Neal’s Yard Remedies Frankincense products. The sole source is the endangered Boswellia Sacra tree, so to help conserve these precious trees, NYR has pioneered a conservation programme to propagate 1000 Frankincense saplings every year for 10 years under the supervision of the Environment Society of Oman.

The Frankincense seedlings are grown in the NYR nursery in Oman and, when ready, the saplings are gifted to the children in the Dhofar region to plant  and nurture, so they learn to value and conserve this beautiful and ancient tree in its native habitat. This initiative will protect the heritage and sustainability of the Boswellia Sacra trees which will create an income source for the villagers.

When you choose NYR Frankincense products, be assured that you are buying ethically sourced, organic and sustainable Frankincense and that you are contributing to the conservation of these trees, the sap from which is expertly harvested by tribal women using traditional methods, to produce the dried resin, or Pearls of the Desert, and the finest quality Frankincense.

Maturing Gracefully, and Naturally

The lucrative skincare industry is obsessed with anti-ageing, and the forever young promoters prey on mature women’s vulnerability and sense of waning beauty during menopause. But fear not, there are effective natural alternatives available to you, despite what the Press and medical industry say otherwise.

Frankincense is high in antioxidants which neutralise harmful free radicals which, among other more serious things, create visible signs of ageing, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Frankincense boosts and maintains collagen levels, which diminish during menopause, to help restore a natural youthful glow.  It also maintains healthy hair and volume. Neal’s Yard Remedies’ scientifically formulated organic skincare ranges are proven to rejuvenate, smooth, rejuvenate and lift ageing skin but you will benefit from the calming and soothing qualities of the pure essential oil that NYR uses to fragrance the products.

You can read more about relaxation techniques, lifestyle and dietary changes for women at all stages of their hormonal journey, but especially perimenopause and menopause. See my Menopause blog here

This year, let Frankincense bring you the true meaning of Christmas: peace, joy and rejuvenation.

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1 Sarnat, SB and Sarnat LF, 2019: ‘Development of the human olfactory system’ – paper

2 Steflitsch, W and Steflitsch M, 2008: ‘Clinical Aromatherapy – oils/frankincense-oil.aspx

3 Al-Yasiry, A,R,M and Kiczorowska, B, 2016: ‘Frankincense-therapeutic properties’ – paper

4 Noroozi, S et al, 2018: ‘ review of the therapeutic effects of frankincense’ – research

5 Han, X and Parker, TL, 2017: ‘Biological activities of frankincense essential oil in human dermal fibroblasts’ – article

6 BBC, 2010: ‘Could Frankincense be a cure for cancer?’ – BBC News article

7. Lawless, J: ‘The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1995), 96-97.

8 Ryeman, D: ‘The Aromatherapy Bible’ – Frankincense essential oil (

9 Organic Facts – 10 Health Benefits of Frankincense Essential Oil | Organic Facts

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