Frankincense (along with myrrh) is perhaps best known in connection with spirituality.
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In fact, it’s been used in religious rites and traded in the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, and the eastern Mediterranean for over 6,000 years. We’ve all heard of frankincense but what is it and how does it smell?
What Is Frankincense?
Frankincense (Olibanum) is an aromatic resin harvested from the trees of the genus Boswellia. There are five main species of trees that produce frankincense in different qualities and scents.
The trees are incredibly hardy and are able to thrive in surprisingly difficult environments the species Boswellia sacra sometimes even grow directly out of rock.
At 8-10 years old, the trees begin to produce resin and get tapped by slashing the bark 2-3 times a year. The drips of resin are called tears. These are sorted by hand with the more opaque resins usually considered the highest quality.
Due to overharvesting, clearing of woodlands for agriculture, and longhorn beetle, the population of frankincense trees is dwindling.
What Does Frankincense Smell Like?
The smell of frankincense varies both by species as well as soil and even weather conditions.
However, in general, it could be described as aromatic, musty pine with notes of citrus and spice. It’s an austere, earthy scent somewhat similar to rosemary.
The distilled essential oils tend to have a sweeter and brighter scent than resins, and this is what is typically used in incense and perfumery.
Benefits of Frankincense
Besides its historical use in perfumes, ointments, and religious ceremonies , frankincense may also have profound health benefits.
One of the most powerful frankincense benefits is its inflammatory qualities. Research indicates that frankincense contains terpenes like boswellic acid, which can reduce the release of leukotrienes (the source of inflammation).
In plain English, that means that frankincense can reduce bodily inflammation, and by extension, it can minimize the effects of inflammatory conditions. It can help treat arthritis, asthma, and gut function.
On top of that, evidence suggests that frankincense can help prevent gum diseases and has been rumored to be beneficial for those with cancer.
The Use of Frankincense in Perfumery
As noted above, frankincense has been used as a perfume ingredient for thousands of years. You may best know its place in the Bible, as it was one of the gifts of the Magi (Wise Men).
Additionally, it also appears as an ingredient in anointing oil and holy incense, an immensely important part of Jewish holy ceremonies.
In the present day, though, frankincense is used in a variety of perfumes for men and women, with its esoteric scent adding depth to various aromas. We couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Due to its ancient origins, some people wonder does frankincense smell like sandalwood? The answer is no. Even though it has an amber woody scent, it’s not sensual or creamy.
What does myrrh and frankincense smell like? Frankincense’s soft, piney, earthy scent is one of the most attractive aromas you can get your hands on. On top of that, it has a rich history that spans multiple continents and thousands of years.
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Selena Marc is a fragrance enthusiast, freelance writer, and dog mom living in Houston, Texas. When she's not writing about her favorite new perfumes, you can find her enjoying yoga or a morning hike.