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Frankincense: the ancient anti-depressant – Advent Calendar Day 8

Most of you reading this will have heard of Frankincense. This ancient oil and resin have been extracted from desert-dwelling Boswellia plants for centuries for use as skin treatments, urinary and gynaecological issues and as an expectorant. Of course, it is also known as one of the 3 gifts said to be given to Jesus on his birth in Bethlehem.

It has also been burned as incense, first by the Egyptians and right up to modern times. But when European scientists heard reports in the early 1980s that altar boys in churches were becoming emotionally addicted to frankincense, they investigated, and discovered that when the resin is burned, it produces a substance called incensole acetate, which not only has anti-inflammatory properties but also has a psychoactive effect and had antidepressive-like behavioural effects on mice in the lab.

Further investigation by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Hebrew University revealed that burning frankincense activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression.

More research still needs to be done, and although using Frankincense oil or burning the resin should not be used as an attempt to cure mental health issues, it could certainly be something a sufferer could try to help them relax, along with seeking proper medical advice.


To find out more about aromatherapy, take a look at our related qualifications.

We also provide qualifications in Mental Health Awareness.