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Therapeutic Effects of Essential Oils in the Burseraceae Family

Therapeutic Effects of Essential Oils in the Burseraceae Family Header

The Burseraceae are also known as the torchwood family and the incense tree family. This family includes both trees and shrubs and is native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. They produce resin in virtually all plant tissue and have a distinctive smooth, yet flaking, aromatic bark.

Most have been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine and religious ceremonies, most often as incense hence their being referred to as the incense tree family.


The trees are usually cut to allow the resin to ooze out and harden. These tears are gathered, sorted and either steam distilled to produce an essential oil or solvent extracted to produce an absolute.

Essential oils from the Burseraceae family include elemi (Canarium luzonicum), frankincense (Boswellia sacra), myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), opopanax (Commiphora guidottii) and palo santo (Bursera graveolens).

This plant family has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, tonic, cytophylactic and expectorant qualities in common. Useful for bronchitis and coughs, healing wounds and ulcers and reducing scar tissue. They are soothing and comforting to the soul and encourage us to find our own inner strength.

Elemi (Canarium luzonicum)

Elemi has been referred to as the poor man’s frankincense as she shares many of frankincense’s properties.
Elemi is a large tropical evergreen tree that can reach up to 30 metres with large white or yellow flowers and green fruits which produce edible nuts. It exudes a pale yellowish resin when the tree sprouts leaves; the resin solidifies on contact with the air and stops flowing when the last leaf falls.

Therapeutic Effects
Heals wounds, gangrene and abscesses. Respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and sinusitis especially where there is a lot of phlegm. Excellent for skin care especially for mature skin and is said to reduce wrinkles.

Emotional and Subtle Effects
She is a balancing, strengthening and centring oil. She brings the body, mind and soul into alignment. Useful for stress that has led to exhaustion as she is both stimulating and a tonic. In meditation she induces a deep calm without drowsiness.

Non-irritating, non-toxic and non-sensitising. Elemi is often adulterated with a-phellandrene and limonene. Elemi has also been found as an adulterant in many oils including black pepper, lemon and angelica seed.

Frankincense (Boswellia carterii), (B. frereana), (B. neglecta), (B. rivae), (B. papyrifera), (B. sacra), (B. serrata).

Frankincense resin

Frankincense is a small tree that grows to a height of 7 metres. It has abundant narrow leaves and white or pale pink flowers.
Frankincense is also known as olibanum. There is little difference in the properties of the 7 species listed above but their aromas vary. The oleo-gum-resin is tapped from an incision made on the trunk of the tree which exudes a milky white liquid that hardens into drops of resin known as tears.

Therapeutic Effects
Very good for respiratory conditions including bronchitis, laryngitis, coughs and congestion. Skin care for mature, dry and sensitive skin. Excellent for wound healing.

Emotional and Subtle Effects
Frankincense has been burnt in temples and used in religious ceremonies for centuries and continues to be used even today for that purpose.
Slows down breathing and induces feelings of calm. Ideal for meditation as she helps to still the mind and cease mental chatter allowing the spirit to soar and your inner guidance to be heard. Helps restore a sense of equilibrium when feeling anxious or confused.
Valerie Ann Worwood writes that in cases of spiritual shock or loss, when the spirit can step out of the body, even for a brief moment, Frankincense can gently ease us back into our earthly home.

Non-irritating, non-sensitising. Possible skin sensitization if oil is old or oxidized.

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) (C. molmol)

myrrh resin

A small stunted tree with scanty leaves and small white flowers. The trunk of the tree naturally exudes a pale yellowish oleoresin through the fissures in its bark which harden to semi-transparent reddish brown tears on exposure to air. The natives make incisions in the bark and collect the resin once it is dried and ship it off to various countries for distillation. The trees then require 6 months to two years to recover and if not given this time will wither and die.

Therapeutic Effects
Wound healing, mouth ulcers, dry cracked skin, weepy eczema, tinea, coughs, bronchitis, painful periods.

Emotional and Subtle Effects
Use for people who feel stuck in their lives and want to move forward emotionally and spiritually. Helps balance the upper and lower chakras. Useful for overthinking, worry, confusion, mental distraction, loss and rejection. Emotional, mental and spiritual wounding.

Non-irritating, non-sensitising, non-toxic. Best not to use during pregnancy and lactation as she may be fetotoxic due to her ß-elemene and furanodiene content.

Opopanax (Commiphora guidottii)

Opopanax is a viscous exudate obtained by breaking the twigs of a tall tropical tree that grows wild in Somalia and Ethiopia. It solidifies to brown lumps of a warm-balsamic and sweet, honey-like fragrance. A resinoid is prepared by solvent extraction, and steam distillation of the resin gives an essential oil.

Therapeutic Effects
Wound healing, respiratory tract infections with phlegm and mucus.

Emotional and Subtle Effects
Helps heal emotional, mental and spiritual wounding.

Non-irritating, non-sensitising, non-toxic. Moderate risk of skin sensitising. Hypersensitive, diseased or damaged skin, children under 2 years of age.

Palo santo (Bursera graveolens)

Palo Santo wood and resin

Grows in dry, tropical forests reaching a height of 4 to10 metres. It is densely branched with a smooth, non-peeling bark that is purple tinged but appears to be pale or silvery gray due to a covering of lichens.
The tree or limb must die a natural death and remain in the forest for 4 to 10 years to decay in order to produce a good quality essential oil. Cutting down the tree and leaving it to decay for the same amount of time will yield an oil of a poor quality.

Therapeutic Effects
Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiviral, diuretic, reduces fever, sedative, headaches, wound healing, joint and muscle aches and pains, sprains and respiratory symptoms, coughing, bronchitis, asthma, colds.

Emotional and Subtle Effects
Grounding, calming, anxiety, depression, emotional stress or trauma, panic attacks, clears negative energy. The Incas and shamans in Central and South America used and continue to use it, as part of their sacred healing rituals to heal, remove or cast spells, and gaze into the future.

Possible skin sensitization if oil is old or oxidized.

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