On my own Facebook page, Rae of Light, I have spoken and shared information about the sustainability of frankincense for several years now, even before I watched this YouTube video, Tears of the Frankincense Forests:
What you can see in the video is the crisis the trees are experiencing due to over-harvesting, and not allowing the trees to rest and recover between harvests. Essentially, cuts are made to the bark of the trees, which the trees respond by excreting resinous tears to help wound-healing. So the very properties that heal the wounds on the trees and protect them from further harm – antiviral, antibacterial, cicatrisant, to name a few, are what we value in the resin and the essential oil.
Traditional practices of harvesting frankincense resin allows the trees to heal between cuts. With greater demand for frankincense, the trees are cut more than 2-3 times a year, and trees are not left to rest between cuts (traditionally, trees are left to rest after a few years of harvesting), and trees are incorrectly tapped (cuts are made deep to the heartwood which impacts the trees). So essentially, you have trees under chronic stress, meaning you have trees that are more susceptible to natural pests in their environment, and seed germination in tapped trees versus untapped trees is 81% versus 18%.
Sort of like humans – when you are under chronic stress, you are more susceptible to illness,
and aren’t your best selves.
So why do we do this to our plant allies?
When I did a search for frankincense uses, several points struck me, which, in the face of sustainability, was just downright frustrating :
1. Frankincense essential oil has anti-cancer properties
NO. Frankincense essential oil does not have any more anti-cancer properties than other essential oils. Frankincense RESIN contains the Boswelliac Acid that has been shown in-vitro to have anti-cancer properties, but Boswelliac Acid has too heavy a molecular weight to transfer across in the steam distillation process. If you want to read more about this, I suggest Robert Tisserand and Dan Riegler‘s work. So basically, if you are looking for cancer support, opt for the resin and extracts of the resin, NOT the essential oil
2. “When in doubt, use Frankincense”
This approach reminds me of when, as a teenager in Malaysia, one year our peninsula experienced the aftershock of a sea-quake. Mild tremor – enough for a friend of my mum’s to reach immediately for Panadol because she thought she had a dizzy spell coming on. Reaching for the Frankincense essential oil for whatever ails you, without understanding the symptomatic presentation, factors underlying the symptoms, the person’s holistic presentation, and the therapeutic actions of different essential oils, herbs, spices, foods, minerals, and so on, is simply sloppy medicine. And using Frankincense as the never-ending supply of Panadol, is simply ignorant privilege.
3. Frankincense in Cleaning
These were the following recipe titles that had frankincense in the recipe when I googled, “Frankincense in cleaning”:
– “Cleansing Spray for Surfaces”
-“Frankincense Toilet Spray Cleaner”
– “Frankincense All-Purpose Cleaner”
On the first page of results, only ONE bloggist stated they now opt not to use frankincense to clean, due to sustainability issues. And when you see titles like, “frankincense is a powerful astringent and a fantastic addition to your household cleaning supplies
Of all the recipes recommended, very few suggested proper dispersants to safely disperse the essential oils. The basic recipes were vinegar, water, and essential oils, and no warnings on shelf-life for the sprays. So potentially, you are spraying your surfaces with contaminated water plus droplets of essential oils, because oil and water do not mix, and the essential oil does not extend its antibacterial properties into water. This post has an excellent infographic demonstrating how essential oils do not disperse in water or vinegar, you are best to use isopropyl alcohol or high-proof vodka. This post is a long one, showing experiments conducted by a scientist on the efficacy of essential oils and their germ-killing abilities in the home. At topic 15 towards the end of the article, she shows how oil-and-water combinations do not do a good job at all in terms of cleaning . So basically, in terms of cleaning, isopropyl alcohol or high-proof vodka is sufficient on its own for cleaning anyway, without essential oils, least of all a precious resource like frankincense eo.
One thing we can all agree – Frankincense is a sacred, powerful, magical, healer.
Let’s treat it with the respect it deserves, and learn to use with sustainably – not just the essential oil, but the whole resin too, as the medicine it is, not a cleaning agent.