The Overlooked Elemi Oil
As so often happens with me, I tend to befriend the underdog essential oils. So many aren’t getting the limelight they deserve and end up being overlooked. This is a shame, as they offer so many benefits. So, as an essential oils doctor, I feel the need to call attention to these hidden treasure oils and educate people on them.
In this post, my focus will be on elemi essential oil. Just as myrrh and cedarwood get overlooked for frankincense and lavender, elemi essential oil, Canarium luzonicum, can also get cast aside for other oils that are more well-known.
Elemi Oil’s Impressive Pedigree & Unique Makeup
Elemi essential oil first caught my eye when it was highlighted as “Poor Man’s Frankincense” by a very prominent essential oils authority.
I was impressed to learn that it comes from the same botanical family (Burseraceae) as frankincense and myrrh, yet contains a high content of the constituent limonene. Limonene is a main compound found in members of the citrus oil family that powerfully supports cellular, digestive, and immune function.
The synergy of this combination of compounds that merge the resinous oils with citrus characteristics intrigued me.
This is when I decided to dive into the research that existed on this oil. Specifically, I was curious about its:
- Characteristics and properties
- Chemical makeup and other main constituents
- The essential oil’s mechanisms of action
- Safety information
I discovered that, although there wasn’t a lot of information in human trials, there was plenty of information to share in the other categories I explored.
Elemi Oil’s Origin: Where Does Elemi Oil Come From?
Manila Elemi or Canarium luzonicum is a large, evergreen tree endemic to the Philippines. It can grow up to 30 m high upon maturity. There are currently 75 known genera and about 550 species of Canarium.
The fragrant oleoresin from the tree is called elemi. One tree can produce 4-5 kilograms of this resin. Elemi has a history of use in food, medicine, and for industrial purposes.
One source states the following on the medicinal value of the oleoresin and tree (parenthesis mine):
It is antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and rubefacient (causes dilation to the skin). It is also used against fevers and chills, arthritis, burns, etc. The bark is used for postpartum baths. The wood of Manila elemi is used in light constructions as it is not very hard.
Aromatherapy & Fragrance
It is said elemi oil has a” terpenic, woody, somewhat spicy and balsamic odor.”
I personally think it smells a bit like fresh parsley.
Due to its properties, it has been reported to be good for grounding, meditation, and invigorating the mood.
Elemi Oil’s Unusual and Beneficial Combination of Compounds in One Bottle
Previously I’ve discussed how single oils can act more like a blend of several oils due to their unusual combination of compounds.
I discovered this first with kunzea oil. Upon learning about it, I found that this single oil had properties of frankincense, oregano, eucalyptus, hyssop, and peppermint all in one bottle.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the fact that a drop of mountain savory essential oil shared common characteristics of oregano, thyme, pine, and eucalyptus.
Elemi oil is equally impressive and inclusive. It contains a combination of sesquiterpenes and monoterpenes, within its array of approximately 40 different compounds.*
In general, sesquiterpenes possess calming properties. They can also be supportive to the immune system in protecting us from harmful microbes, acting as antioxidants, and assisting in cellular repair. Furthermore, there is some evidence that these constituents can cross the blood-brain barrier and assist with neurological health.
Monoterpenes are within the terpene class and are found as main constituents of all the essential oils. They are attributed to many of “anti-“ properties given to essential oils.
To give you an idea of the diverse benefits of monoterpenes and their pharmacological actions, here is an abstract that highlights them (bold emphasis and parenthesis mine):
Monoterpenes, the major components of essential oils, belong to the group of isoprenoids containing ten carbon atoms. Being widely distributed in the plant kingdom they are extensively used in cuisine and human health care products. Studies have shown that both natural monoterpenes and their synthetic derivatives are endowed with various pharmacological properties including:
antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, anticancer, antiarrhythmic (heart rhythm balancer), anti-aggregating, local anesthetic, antinociceptive (pain relieving), anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic and anti-spasmodic activities.
Monoterpenes act also as regulators of growth, heat, transpiration, tumor inhibitors, inhibitors of oxidative phosphorylation (a cellular metabolism pathway), insect repellants, feline and canine attractants and antidiabetics.
(Read more about terpenes here)
*Constituents and chemotypes (the main compound present in an essential oil’s species) will vary based on various manufacturing techniques and quality standards of the company distilling the essential oil.
More on the Distinct Molecules Found in Elemi Oil
The specific, main compounds of elemi and their properties, based on mechanistic and laboratory studies, include: (source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source)
- limonene (a cyclic monoterpene) has evidence for its role in cellular repair, anti-proliferation of cells, metabolism, cholesterol balance, and immune support.
- a-phellandrene (a cyclic monoterpene) is noted for its antimicrobial effects.
- elemicin (a phenolic) has been reported to be antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and have anti-proliferative characteristics.
- elemol (a sesquiterpene alcohol) actions include anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic mechanisms.
- a-pinene (another monoterpene) has clinical data for its immune modulating and stress relieving effects.
Constituents in Elemi Oil with Human Clinical Data
As noted above, limonene is also found abundantly in citrus oils and has many benefits. These include supporting cellular health in humans and in petri dishes, acting as an antioxidant (in vitro), modulating blood sugar, and supporting immune function in animal studies.
According to one 2007 review’s abstract (bold emphasis mine):
Being a solvent of cholesterol, d-limonene has been used clinically to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones. Because of its gastric acid neutralizing effect and its support of normal peristalsis, it has also been used for relief of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). D-limonene has well-established chemopreventive activity against many types of cancer. Evidence from a phase I clinical trial demonstrated a partial response in a patient with breast cancer and stable disease for more than six months in three patients with colorectal cancer.
(You can read more about the studies with limonene here.)
a-pinene also has human trials on its mechanisms of action. It is a compound known as a phytoncide (aromatic molecules derived from trees, including sesquiterpenes and monoterpenes).
This phytoncide has been highlighted and isolated in research for its positive effects on defense and repair and decreasing stress. In Japan, the benefits from the practice of forest bathing (being out in nature) is said to be due to the pinenes released from the trees. This has been backed up in several studies using measurements of immune markers and the stress hormone, cortisol.
Note: Limonene is also considered a phytoncide.
Elemi Essential Oil Studies
I was unable to find human studies with the use of elemi essential oil; however, several laboratory studies demonstrate it may be effective for the following applications:
Antifungal – in one in vitro study, elemi oil demonstrated antifungal properties against several candida species.
Head lice – Elemi is found in a product manufactured as Lysout. It was marketed as a natural anti-lice foaming gel composed of Echinacea purpurea 10% and Canarium luzonicum gum oil 2%. It did demonstrate some deterring ability in vitro.
Body Odor and Acne – According to Robert Tisserand, elemi oil was tested in vitro to be the most effective oil to ward off body odor in a comparison study. Curiously, the malodorous bacteria that is often linked to an unpleasant axillary scent in teenagers, Staphlococcus epidermididis, is also associated with teenage acne. Elemi is also effective against this microorganism and therefore might serve a dual purpose.
Potential Uses of Elemi Oil
Based on its constituents and activity in laboratory studies, elemi may be beneficial for the following applications:
Breast health– due to the clinical data of limonene and breast health, I have advised my female clients to apply oils high in limonene to their breasts a few times a week. This is to maintain a balance in cellular growth. I am now also suggesting that elemi oil may be of benefit to add into the routine.
Skin health – from personal experience, and based on its constituents which modulate inflammation and allergic responses, as well as its cellular supporting properties, elemi is likely beneficial for the skin. I have seen a great improvement in skin clarity with its use over a few months. Also, traditionally, elemi oil has a history of use for various dermatological conditions.
Respiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Immune Support – due to its antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic constituents, elemi may be helpful for supporting lung, joint, and immune function.
Common Suggested Applications
Diffuse several drops in your diffuser or inhale from the bottle for its stress-relieving and cellular health properties.
Apply diluted to the skin for enhancing beauty and as needed for aches and pains and overall body system support.
Safety/ Toxicity of Elemi Oil
Thankfully, due to the synergy of essential oils, compounds in essential oils balance each other out and toxicity is low. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists elemi oil in a low toxicity rating in all categories of cancer, allergies and immunotoxicity, developmental and reproductive, and restrictive.
Although some constituents in isolation may be found to be harmful in high doses, I have NOT found any evidence that elemi, similar to other essential oils, are toxic when used responsibly.
According to one study that assessed the impact of phytoncides when diffused in a hotel room:
The Swedish occupational exposure value for a mixture of monoterpenes (phytoncides) and a single monoterpene is 150 mg/m’ (27 ppm) and the Finnish occupational exposure limit is 570 mg/rn’ (102 ppm) (28-29). The concentrations of a-pinene (less than1 ppm) and total phytoncides (less than 2 ppm) in the hotel room air in the present study were far less than the occupational exposure values, suggesting that phytoncide exposure will not have any adverse effects on human health, including immune function, and that phytoncide exposure at the present concentration should be safe for human health.
That being said, still be mindful to use elemi oil from a quality source. There are always exceptions, and everyone is different.
Those with sensitive skin and other concerns may do best to diffuse the oil. It is also best to use an organic carrier oil and rotate essential oils when applying topically in order to prevent potential skin sensitization.
Summing Up Elemi Oil
I hope this post has you as impressed with elemi essential oil as I am.
It literally is in my “must have” oils based on the skin results I’ve gotten and after studying its biochemical properties.
For those watching their pocketbook, it is a great oil to alternate with frankincense.
If you have experience with elemi essential oil, please include it below in the comments.
Selected Source Link List on Elemi Oil (see additional links for constituents and mechanism)
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.