Introduction: A Transformation in Modern Medicine
Our mechanistic approach to treating the physical body has led to substandard health results, especially in comparison to the financial investment. Although the United States has the highest expenditure on medical care in relation to most developed nations, it ranks last overall in all healthcare outcomes, except one.
The only health category the U.S. did not come in last place was in coordinated care. Whereas some people may see more patient engagement in preventative screening, counseling, and treatments as a good thing, this is not true in this case. The fact that we have more of it should lead to better outcomes, not worse. That is, if it’s effective care.
Only with a genuinely integrative approach can we hope to accomplish the holistic transformation that ignites true wellness for our nation. For this to happen, mind-body practices, spirituality, and ancient healing traditions need to be merged with modern medicine.
In this article, I have highlighted three ancient essential oils that have roots in sacred traditions and also have evidence in how they impact our physiology and biochemistry. This makes this form of plant medicine a means to translate ancient healing practices into conventional medical terminology. This kind of research is the first step in merging mainstream healthcare with traditional wisdom.
Religion, Spirituality, and Health
Most Americans identify themselves as religious or spiritual. Yet, they rarely mention this during their conversations with their primary heath providers. If this aspect is being ignored, even unintentionally, practitioners do not have access to all the factors that promote their patients’ wellness.
Studies have indicated that the mind-body-soul connection and spiritual and religious practices favorably impact overall physical and mental wellness. In fact, living one’s purpose, a form of spirituality, is linked to overall healthier habits, decreased risk for mood disorders, stronger relationships, better cognition, and enhanced stress and emotional regulation.
Therefore, without knowing what drives someone and what they feel is important, how can a healer or physician motivate one to a true transformational healing; or, honor the doctor-patient therapeutic relationship for that matter?
Merging Science and Mind-Body-Spirit with Plants and Essential Oils
One means that is currently being employed to merge the mind-body-sprit connection with modern medicine is studying how various ancient healing practices mechanistically impact the physical body. In other words, researchers are using their understandings in biology to translate how these traditional systems work into modern medical terminology.
Plant medicine, essential oils, is one integrative modality that has scientific evidence for favorably modulating our physical and emotional health. Yet, they also have deep roots in spiritual traditions and influence our psychology. They exemplify how ancient wisdom can combine with mainstream medicine.
In the following sections, I discuss three ancient essential oils with biblical roots. These oils have been used in both religious and spiritual traditions to augment inner guidance, deepen meditation practices, promote connection to a higher power or purpose, and/or to assist in blessing or forgiving others. They also possess powerful science-backed mind-body balancing properties.
Frankincense has been deemed the “King of Essential Oils.” This is due to its powerful effects and multifaceted uses. There are various species and distinct chemotypes of frankincense oils. Although each kind shares some similar benefits, they have specific characteristics. Below, are three of the most popular types of frankincense on the market and their actions.
- Boswellia sacra and B. carterii are both high in pinene content, aka phytoncides. These compounds provide stress-relieving and wellness-boosting benefits.
- Boswellia freeana, another popular frankincense oil species, is higher in terpene content. Terpenes have various biological and biochemical functions in the body that are multidimensional and assist overall body-mind support.
- Boswellia carterii, which, depending on the company’s distillation practices, can possess the additional neurological, brain supportive compound incensole.
It can be easy for one to get lost in the biochemical soup of different compounds when deciding which frankincense oil to choose.* A commonality among the most well-known frankincense oil species is that they all possess health and mood-promoting properties.
* If you want to learn more details on different frankincense species, you can explore my article series aimed to help clarify this form of “Boswellia Bewilderment.”
Are Boswellic Acids in Frankincense Oils?
This question is a hot topic and has sparked controversy among essential oil researchers and aromatherapists. According to Robert Tisserand:
There are several boswellic acids (BAs) found in some Frankincense species (notably Boswellia serrata and B. sacra), and the BAs are credited with possessing, among others, antitumoral properties, with 11-keto-B-boswellic acid being one of the most useful therapeutically (Roy et al 2019). However, whether or not Frankincense essential oils contain BAs has been a discussion point for more than 20 years, with people, including myself, arguing either that they are present in the essential oil, or that they are not.
Although it is possible that a frankincense essential oil can contain boswellic acids, even though they are non-volatile compounds, the conditions to produce this would not be ordinary and may compromise the aromatic experience. To extract BAs, which are a much higher molecular weight than the usual volatiles, the oil would have to be distilled for a much longer than normal time period and at a much higher atmospheric pressure.
The scientific studies that did report the presence of BAs in their frankincense oils had flaws. Robert Tisserand was able to converse with the authors to decipher why these reports could be deceptive and should not be extrapolated generally to other frankincense oils:
Dr. Suhail told me: “The paper description of extraction process is wrong . For “nonsense” reasons revisor refused to include our description of extraction process as it is “unusual” and as there has been post-distillation processing (fractionation) preferring to include the basic and common extraction process of frankincense essential oil.” Dr. Suhail sent me this photo of the equipment used, apparently showing that a vacuum unit was included.
In summary, Robert’s conclusion reads:
So far there is no reliable report of BAs in any Frankincense oil produced using normal distillation parameters. BAs do not show up in GC-MS analysis of Frankincense oils, but may be present in trace amounts that will show up with HPLC analysis, and that will likely have no influence on the therapeutic action of the oil.
It is entirely possible that some Frankincense oils demonstrate antitumoral properties, whether or not they contain BAs. Although so far there is not much clinical evidence – most of the published studies are in vitro….BAs are found in substantial amounts in almost any Frankincense extract, and there are several sold online with anything up to 60% BAs.
Summary on the Types of Frankincense Oils and Their Compounds
Whichever type of frankincense oil you choose, and whatever compounds it does possess, you will likely experience a feeling of upliftment and be provided with beneficial molecules that enhance resiliency based on its biochemistry and some human trials. (R, R, R,R) With ancient roots in the Bible as a gift to the Christ Child, frankincense oil is also very popular for its use to connect with the divine or a higher purpose.
Application Tips: This oil can be applied topically, diluted in a carrier oil, or diffused to create an atmosphere of warmth, comfort, and stability. It is my go-to oil for mediation and prayer. Inhale it straight from the bottle for an instant aromatic boost in mood.
A sidekick to frankincense oil as a holy anointing gift, myrrh oil also has evidence of its medicinal potential. It is high in sesquiterpenes, compounds which are beneficial to the brain, nervous system, and cellular health and defense. For these reasons, I have suggested myrrh and frankincense blends for some of my clients with neurological issues to further support their brain health.
Myrrh oil is also often used to soothe the skin as it calms the mind-body. It is a beautiful way to enhance both inner and outer beauty.
Application Tips: This oil can be applied topically or diluted in a carrier oil. It is quite thick and can be placed on cotton balls or on incense sticks. I like to inhale it directly from the bottle and apply it to my wrists and the bottom of my feet. I also mix it with DIY face recipes to soften my skin on occasion.
One oil I have recently become fascinated with is spikenard, first introduced in the Old Testament. As the other essential oils, the evidence in human trials is also still forthcoming, yet I find the discovery process in proving its efficacy intriguing. Below is some modern research on the physical and mood benefits of this ancient oil.
Calming: One rodent study suggested that spikenard has powerful calming properties that enhance sleep based on certain volatile components found within it (valerna-7,7 (11)-diene, being one). The authors stated, “The continuous sleep time of pentobarbital-treated mice was prolonged by about 2.7 times with valerena-4,7(11)-diene, an effect similar to that of chlorpromazine administered orally.”
Antioxidant: Several in vitro and in vivo studies have touted spikenard oil to have antioxidant properties and that it may alleviate tissue irritation.
Application Tips: Similar to myrrh, spikenard oil is resinous and thick and best to be inhaled or applied topically. I have a few pre-mixed blends with this oil in it that I apply topically with a carrier oil to enhance calming in the mind and heart.
Conclusion: Merging Ancient Essential Oils with Modern Medicine for Spiritual and Holistic Health
In this article, I have highlighted the biblical essential oils of frankincense, myrrh, and spikenard. These oils have been used since ancient times to enhance one’s health and religious and/or spiritual connection. They also have supporting evidence for their mechanisms of action on how they can favorably influence our physiology and emotional balance.
By translating how healing traditions work into medical terminology, plant medicine is the first step we need right now to fully integrate modern healthcare into holistic wellness.
It is my hope that you will consider using these oils throughout the coming days ahead. They can be atomized to promote grounding and to soothe a swirling brain.
You can diffuse them in many different situations in the upcoming new year, including:
- In solitude as you are taking time to unwind or to be with yourself in silence
- While cooking and arranging your home for gatherings
- When entertaining loved ones and guests
- While resting, rejuvenating, and reflecting on the year past and what is yet to come
Sending blessings and wholistic health to you as we approach 2023 and beyond.
A Note on Essential Oils Blends
Creating essential oil blends is a complex process. One must be versed in aromatherapy to accomplish a mixture of complimentary chemical constituents with therapeutic effects. (R) This is why I rely on trusted suppliers that produce quality essential oils and have expertise in essential oils’ chemistry. I suggest that you search out essential oil blends with similar oils as the ones shared from a company you trust.
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Mood, Hormonal, and Digestive Support
Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
An Integrative Mental Health and Stress Resource Guide.
Tools for coping with isolation and separation.
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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.