Different Types of Frankincense, Photo Credit: Fotolia
Different Types of Frankincense, Photo Credit: Fotolia

Frankincense essential oil is particularly popular during the Holiday season, in addition to its many uses in aromatherapy practice. However, do you know which species of frankincense essential oil you are using? Here is a quick look at some of the more popular species available as an essential oil.

Boswellia carteri Essential Oil

Boswellia carteri is the “traditional” frankincense species. Native to the Red Sea area of northwest Africa, Boswellia carteri is a small tree with white or pink flowers, and green, pinnate leaves. The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of the gum resin. The gum resin naturally exudes from the tree bark when it is cut.

Boswellia carteri essential oil is a base note oil with a deep, spicy, balsamic aroma. Although it is used in aromatherapy practice for skin care, respiratory problems, colds, flu, and anxiety, it has traditionally been used as incense for religious purposes. The reason for this use is that “Frankincense has, among its physical properties, the ability to slow down and deepen the breath…which is very conducive to prayer and meditation.”1

Boswellia sacra Essential Oil

Although some sources state that Boswellia sacra and Boswellia carteri are one and the same, a study published on the PubMed.gov website concluded that this was not so 2.

Boswellia sacra is related to Boswellia carteri – they both belong to the Burseraceae plant family – and consequently they share similar characteristics. Boswellia sacra is also a small tree but with yellow-white flowers. Boswellia sacra is indigenous to Oman, Yemen, and Somalia.

The essential oil is distilled from the resin and it has a deep, slightly spicy, wood/resin aroma with hints of citrus. It is also a base note oil but, being so precious and rare, it is often reserved for sacred, perfume blends rather than therapeutic aromatherapy practice 3.

Boswellia frereana Essential Oil

Boswellia frereana also grows in Somalia. It is important to check the country of origin of the essential oil that you are buying, in addition to the botanical name, because of the relative close relationship between similar plant species such as frankincense.

Boswellia frereana is nicknamed the “king of all frankincense” and it is known locally by several synonyms including those of Maydi or Dhidin. The essential oil is steam distilled from the resin and it has a fresh, woody-pine aroma with hints of citrus. Like the other types of frankincense essential oil, it is a base note essential oil and it is often used as a fixative in perfume blends.

For aromatherapy practice, Boswellia frereana essential oil can be used for the same problems as Boswellia carteri essential oil.

Learn More About Essential Oils with Sedona Aromatherapie

If you would like to learn more about essential oils, consider taking the Sedona Aromatherapie home study aromatherapy course program. To learn more, visit the courses home page.


  1. Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK: Thorsons

  2. PubMed.gov website, Chemical differentiation of Boswellia sacra and Boswellia carteri essential oils by gas chromatography and chiral gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, accessed December 21, 2015

  3. Eden Botanicals website, Frankincense, Oman – Rare, accessed December 21, 2015

  • Author is a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author and editor in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal

Print Friendly, PDF & Email