Last week, I released my second article that reviews the differences between various species of frankincense essential oil. This doozy of an article drilled down to the molecular details on what compounds researchers have found in the four most popular frankincense oil species, B. carterii, B sacra, B. serrata, and B. frereana.

This long-winded scientific excursion stemmed (pun-intended) from my series of tips for keeping you calm and bright during this hectic holiday time. I suggested using one of the most sacred essential oils, frankincense, in order to support physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I wanted to clear up any unnecessary bafflement that might ensue when selecting which particular species of this plant to use.

My last video gave the key points. In this article, I will provide more brain candy for those fellow geek and/or essential oil fanatics who want to learn more about why researchers care so much about the variances in compounds between these species. Soon, I will record another video which will further assist you in finding your way through the alphabet-soup of constituents that I keep harping on.


Why Is There So Much Ado About Deciphering Differences in Compounds Between Species?

As I stated in my article, the differences found between frankincense varieties are related to several factors. These include:

  • quality of the oil
  • plant location
  • manufacturing and distillation methods
  • climate variations
  • and more…

I further explained in my accompanying video that it is a combination of all these aspects that will determine the different chemotypes of species of essential oils. The author of Essential Chemistry for Aromatherapy (2nd edition) clarifies the relevance of this specification:

A chemotype describes the subspecies of a plant that have the same morphological characteristics (relating to form and structure) but produce different quantities of chemical components in their essential oils…

When essential oils are described only by their common names, not only do these exclude the importance of the species but they also do not account for the chemotype; e.g. ‘thyme’ might be Thymus vulgaris CT thymol and ‘rosemary’ might be Rosmarinus officinalis CT camphor (CT after the name of the essential oil describes the chemotype, naming the significant compound within that oil).

The differences in chemotypes related to the above factors also provides an explanation of why researchers can’t agree and provide definitive studies on what compounds specifically make up an essential oil species. This is also why quality standards of essential oils report percentages of important compounds within certain ranges.

These variations in species chemotypes, the mislabeling of many oils, and the differences in company’s manufacturing methods are why many brands squabble about their specific oils being the best mixture of substances. It is not uncommon for a manufacturer to deem one compound more important than the agreed upon “standards” for therapeutic or aesthetic reasons and to distill more specifically for that molecule.

Another concept to consider when selecting an essential oil is its molecules’ abilities to alter our epigenome, impacting our cellular functions. This means that these components will produce different effects in an individual based on the interaction of their unique biochemistry, environmental exposures, and the specific compounds present in their oil bottle.

If anyone tells you definitively that an essential oil is guaranteed a specific effect, they aren’t being completely accurate. They are really providing a generalization of what has been observed in “most” people.

Frankincense is not so unique among essential oils regarding deciphering among which species to choose and why. You could become baffled with any oil over this decision. I believe it is the marketing and popularity of frankincense that makes the species differentiations among producers particularly relevant.

This being said, I mentioned that regardless of primary constituents, the genus and species of a good quality frankincense oil has a lot of benefits.



General Considerations of Effects Using Different Frankincense Species

Here’s a little more guidance what to generally expect among species of this sacred oil:

B. carterii has chemotypes that are high in monoterpenes, various levels of sesquiterpenes, and some may even contain the compound incensole acetate. All have a variety of health benefits. The later molecule has been studied in vitro and vivo for its anti-inflammatory, mood, and neurological properties. You will need to have a trustworthy supplier to investigate if their bottle of B. carterii has incensole or if it is absent.

If you are looking for high pinene content, substances made popular for their stress-relieving and immune building properties in those practicing “forest bathing,” you’d do well by B. sacra and B. carterii.

You want more terpene action? Then try B. freeana.

You may or may not find the boswellic acids present in the resin of B. serrata in your bottle of the same species of oil, but you will probably find thujene, a monoterpene with not a lot of specific research.

A commonality among all of these species is that most are loaded with monoterpenes and various terpenes. These all provide a lot of wonderful benefits. Below is some additional information on these compounds.


Additional Information on Actions of Constituents… if You Still Want More!

For those who want to learn more about the benefits of the individual compounds found in frankincense, here are a few of my favorite studies along with a few previous articles.

The benefits of monoterpenes and their pharmacological actions are reported on in this abstract (bold emphasis 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, anti-aggregating, local anesthetic, antinociceptive, anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic and anti-spasmodic activities. Monoterpenes act also as regulators of growth, heat, transpiration, tumor inhibitors, inhibitors of oxidative phosphorylation, insect repellants, feline and canine attractants and antidiabetics. These interesting activities which might be potentially used not only in pharmaceutical, but also food and cosmetic industries are discussed below.

Learn “About Terpenes from Forests and Human Health” in the excerpt below:

Forest bathing has beneficial effects on human health via showering of forest aerosols as well as physical relaxation. Terpenes that consist of multiple isoprene units are the largest class of organic compounds produced by various plants, and one of the major components of forest aerosols. Traditionally, terpene-containing plant oil has been used to treat various diseases without knowing the exact functions or the mechanisms of action of the individual bioactive compounds. This review categorizes various terpenes easily obtained from forests according to their anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic, or neuroprotective activities. Moreover, potential action mechanisms of the individual terpenes and their effects on such processes, which are described in various in vivo and in vitro systems, are discussed. In conclusion, the studies that show the biological effectiveness of terpenes support the benefits of forest bathing and propose a potential use of terpenes as chemotherapeutic agents for treating various human diseases. (See this table for actions of various terpenes found in the article.)

Click on the link to find out about “Terpenes, Phenylpropanoids, Sulfur and Other Essential Oil Constituents as Inhibitors of Cholinesterases.” (AKA Memory Support)

Learn about the immune-enhancing power and other properties of limonene here.

For a summary of EO benefits click here.


Brain Overload?

No worries, stay tuned for the upcoming video where I will bring all of this together.



What Is Dr. Sarah’s Favorite Frankincense Species?

That is a very hard question. Honestly, any good quality frankincense oil is better than none at all!

If I had to choose…

  • For mood, brain (incensole), immune (limonene), and overall body aches and pains: carterii
  • For calming and immune modulation (higher pinenes): sacra and B. caterii


I hope this was helpful for your journey of using essential oils and specifically with deciding on a frankincense variety that will best suit your needs.

Please comment and share below!


Thank you for reading.


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.)

Disclaimer: 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!