Boswellia sacra is the sacred Frankincense found growing in the Dhofar region of Oman and is the only species of its genus growing on the Arabian peninsula. Rather than discussing the politics and current affairs of Frankincense I want to share my experience and encounters with the wild trees themselves, their sticky amber-hued resin and the magical distillation of their ambrosial tears.
Prior to my time living in Oman and distilling Frankincense, I was quite acquainted with the essential oil. Conscious of its ability to aid in respiratory ailments and its potent beneficial effect on the nervous system. It’s one of my go-to essential oils for stress, nervous tension, depression and anxiety. Favorable for those with overthinking and worry. Frankincense has the ability to center, ease, calm and connect. Being in the presence of the wild trees has the same effect. It wasn’t until meeting the trees in their natural habitat and distilling the essential oil that I came to a deeper and clearer understanding of its potent healing powers on the skin.
Growing in Dhofar, the southern region of Oman, these trees each stand with their own unique form and figure, of all shapes and sizes, with resilience, patience and strength. They can be found growing in the most unexpected of places… the steep cliffside slopes of Al Fazayah exposed to seasonal monsoon rains, in the uninhabited dry arid desert plateau, emerging from unusual rock formations and even growing horizontally. The leaves grow crowded towards the end of tangled branches with layers of peeling bark and flowers in axillary racemes. All parts of the tree are highly resinous; even the small white flowers nestle a glistening drop of nectar ever so sticky and redolent of the balsam’s aroma.
Camping with these trees and taking the time to admire one after another I began to acquaint myself with them and discern a remarkable resemblance that we humans have to these trees.
Their peeling bark consists of many layers, the driest layers on the outside give way to a healthy new bark underneath, much like our skin. When cut or wounded the tree bleeds its resin that eventually hardens to protect the vulnerable exposed area… when we are cut or wounded we bleed, our blood cells clot, and as the clot dries out it hardens to form a scab. Both the Frankincense resin and the scab of our blood protect the wound and encourage the healing process for the tissues below, fresh new bark (skin) forms, and we are both healed. There are many similarities in response between humans and plants, however the vision of the tree and its peeling “skin”, the tears it bleeds flawlessly shaped like a human teardrop are nearly too poetic for words, and ever so wonderfully symbolic.
It’s no surprise that fresh resin from Frankincense trees has been traditionally used to heal wounds, cuts, and even broken bones as the as the resin, when applied and wrapped in the tree’s bark, creates a waterproof cast. The cicatrisant and cytophylactic properties of fresh Frankincense resin are profound and are present in its essential oil as well, which also possesses analgesic, antidepressant, antiseptic, astringent, expectorant, sedative and vulnerary properties.
I had the pleasure of distilling the resin day after day for over one year living in Oman in the most beautiful distillery I have ever visited, let alone worked in. The distillery belongs to Enfleurage, Middle East and was designed by Trygve Harris herself. Ten traditional copper alembic stills hydrodistilling the sticky resin invited me to the subtle nuances of its aroma. The first return from the still is redolent with white flowers, it is juicy and shares notes of dried pineapple and peaches (my favorite part of the distillation is the first return). It was a pleasant surprise as I did not originally pick up these notes in the oil until I studied its distillation. The distillation later reveals a creamy smooth desert aroma as the color deepens to a golden amber hue. A true sensorial immersion into the world of Boswellia sacra gave way to new admiration and appreciation for the land in which these trees grow, the resin they produce and the volatile aromatic compounds they contain.
Boswellia sacra essential oil, in my opinion, is the most exquisite of the genus, especially the essential oil artisanally distilled at Enfleurage. It has a soft, kind presence, very sophisticated, smooth, and comforting. Almost as comforting as the homemade Frankincense gelato you may be treated to after a visit to the Enfleurage distillery in Oman!