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From a scientific point of view, the rediscovery of frankincense was long overdue

Posted by Team YUZ

Current studies and field reports on the effects of frankincense provide such interesting results that one wonders: Why did we in the western world almost once forget it as a remedy?

With frankincense we refer to both the intensely fragrant incense and the resin of the frankincense tree (botanical: Boswellia). If you scratch its bark, it gives off a whitish juice. It dries at the injury site and can be harvested from there in partly pearl-like form. The resin saves the tree from perishing if its bark is damaged by sealing the affected area, preventing the penetration of microorganisms and fungi and possibly also deterring harmful insects through its scent.

Resumption of incense in the German Pharmacopoeia

Frankincense has had a cultic meaning for thousands of years, for example in Egypt ("sweat of the gods"), in Arabia (consecration for the sun god) and in Israel2. In addition, the very mundane properties were valued. When the emperor moved into a city, he was paid homage to him with incense and at the same time drove away the stench of sewers. Similarly, the scent in the church masked the body odor of the community, especially when, for example, many pilgrims gathered at a place of pilgrimage. Frankincense probably even has an additional effect as a room disinfectant and possibly reduces the risk of disease transmission.

Frankincense looks back on a long tradition as a remedy. From China to India and Arabia to Europe it has been used against all kinds of inflammatory diseases. It was used by famous doctors such as Hippocrates. His colleague Dioskurides described the indications in detail, including joint, gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin diseases2.

The monastery medicine of the Middle Ages tried to preserve in its writings the accumulated knowledge of medicine. It ranged from the famous doctor Avicenna from Persia to European antiquity. When it came to incense, the monks became very specific and recommended the following combination preparation in the well-known Lorsch Pharmacopoeia as "a tracheal medicine against hoarseness"3: 4 drachms of saffron, 4 drachms of myrrh, 2 drachms of frankincense, 2 drachms of Indian nard, 4 drachms of cinnamon cassia, 2 drachms of turpentine, enough honey.

The German Pharmacopoeia of 1872 describes the resin of the frankincense tree in a so-called monograph * under the pharmaceutical name Olibanum. However, in the course of the 20th century, frankincense disappears as a remedy in the western world, but remains continuously present in the Holy Mass. Presumably the successes of the synthetic anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. acetylsalicylic acid, ibuprofen) were so convincing that one thought they could do without natural medicines.

This attitude has changed in the meantime, and in the 7th supplement of the 5th European Pharmacopoeia the olibanum reappeared - via Ayurvedic medicine in the form of Indian frankincense4. In India it is called Salai guggal and after the usual botanical name Boswellia serrata. But today mainly the species Boswellia carterii from Somalia, Iraq and Iran is traded.

Modern science clarifies composition and effect

Since it is a natural substance, the composition differs depending on the cultivation area, Boswellia variety and harvest time. In pioneering work at the end of the 20th century, a German pharmacy laboratory separated the ingredients of different types of frankincense in a pharmaceutical-analytical manner and determined their proportions individually. In general, olibanum consists of essential oils (5-9%), mucilage (25-30%) and the actual resin (60-70%)5.

The so-called boswellia acids act as the actual active ingredients. They intervene in the arachidonic acid metabolism, an ingenious and risky invention of evolution. Because a misdirected arachidonic acid metabolism plays a disastrous role in the development of serious diseases6. That is why researchers have long been trying to fine-tune medical controls. The boswellia acids in frankincense work in a different place than acetylsalicylic acid and ibuprofen - namely where certain enzymatic processes (“5-lipoxygenase pathway”) metabolize arachidonic acid into special tissue hormones (“leukotrienes”). These in turn are involved in inflammatory diseases (e.g. chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, asthma, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis). Today we even know that the two frankincense components AKBA and KBA are particularly important (acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid and 11-keto-β-boswellic acid).

In a review article, Johannes Mosch points out that the effects have been confirmed in various studies2: After six weeks of taking a Boswellia serrata extract, ulcerative colitis patients had a better effect on stool than comparative patients on sulfasalazine therapy (synthetic drug). Asthma patients were given frankincense extract for acute attacks on a regular basis for six weeks, with three-quarters of them being observed to have a significant decrease in dyspnoea and the number of asthma attacks. There was also a significant improvement in symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Furthermore, Iranian scientists received the following result: In stroke patients with increased inflammation levels, a significant reduction in inflammation markers in the blood and a significant recovery of their neurological functions could be observed after a month's therapy with boswellic acids - in contrast to the placebo control group7.

In addition, Prof. Hermann praises PT Ammon, author of a standard work on incense8, its good tolerance with long-term use. He reports, among other things, of doctors who allowed incense to reduce the doses of cortisone in chronic inflammatory diseases, and of a special colleague from Mannheim who, according to his own account, has already successfully treated as many as 6000 patients with frankincense9.

This shows just how great the potential of this herbal remedy can be. The success is borne both by the knowledge gained by modern medicine and pharmacy and by the tendency of an increasing number of patients to seek more natural medication. A rediscovery of frankincense was almost overdue.


  1. Hermann PT Ammon (Hrsg.): Incense - application in western medicine. Springer Verlag, Heidelberg 2018
  2. Johannes Mosch: Well-known incense - from incense to medicinal substance. PTA today 12(6); 2017: 100-103
  3. Galle-Hoffmann, U .: Frankincense and Myrrh. Mystical resins. PTA heute 12 (1997): 1204-1209, as cited in: Angelika Koch, Elke Hahn-Deinstrop: Weihrauch - a traditional natural remedy is becoming topical again. BIOforum 6: 1998-352 (357)
  4. 4. 7. Addendum to Ph. Eur. And supplementary delivery DAB 2007. DAZ 2007, No. 45, p. 69, November 07.11.2007, XNUMX; (Accessed on June 22.6.2020nd, XNUMX)
  5. Angelika Koch, Elke Hahn-Deinstrop: Frankincense - a traditional natural remedy is becoming topical again. BIOforum 6: 1998-352 (357)
  6. Friedrich Marks: The metabolism of arachidonic acid. Biology in our time 30(6); 2000: 342-353
  7. Baram, SM, Karima, S., Shateri, S. et al. Functional improvement and immune-inflammatory cytokines profile of ischaemic stroke patients after treatment with boswellic acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot trial. Inflammopharmacol 27; 2019: 1101–1112
  8. Hermann PT Ammon (Hrsg.): Incense - application in western medicine. Springer Verlag, Heidelberg 2018
  9. Youtube video with Prof. Hermann PT Ammon, January 15.01.2018, 22.6.2020 (accessed on June XNUMX, XNUMX)
* Pharmacopoeia monograph = compilation of tests on active ingredients or dosage forms as well as specifications 

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