The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Therapeutic Frankincense Help You Sleep?

A reader wonders whether therapeutic frankincense can overcome insomnia. The aroma may be relaxing, especially in combination with lavender and mandarin.

In the Christmas story found in the Gospel of Matthew, wise men come from the east seeking the newborn king. They bring him presents: gold, frankincense and myrrh. This part of the story with these precious gifts is traditionally celebrated on January 6. Everyone knows how valuable gold is, of course, but what about frankincense and myrrh? First of all, both products are hardened resins from trees that grow in northern Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Do therapeutic frankincense or myrrh have any resonance in today’s world?

Is Frankincense a Healing Botanical Medicine?

Q. I have been told that therapeutic frankincense has healthful properties. My friend said you can apply it to your skin at night to relax and get to sleep. Are these claims true?

A. Frankincense is the fragrant resin of trees in the Boswellia family. While practitioners of traditional Indian medicine have long prized it, scientists have only recently confirmed some health benefits.

Therapeutic Frankincense to Fight Inflammation:

Boswellia extracts have anti-inflammatory activity (Frontiers in Pharmacology, Apr. 20, 2018). In addition, Italian scientists reported that a mixture of L-methionine with boswellia and hibiscus extracts relieved symptoms of urinary tract infections as well as antibiotics did (Archivio Italiano di Urologia e Andrologia, June 30, 2018).

We could find no research showing that topically applied frankincense improves sleep, however. On the other hand, one cancer center in the UK tested personal inhalers called aromasticks to help people sleep (Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Feb. 2016). Patients liked this approach. Some chose a blend of frankincense, mandarin and lavender essential oils. Others preferred a mixture of bergamot and sandalwood oils.

Does Myrrh Have Healing Properties?

Similar to frankincense, myrrh is the dried resin of trees. In the case of myrrh, the trees are in the genus Commiphora, especially Commiphora myrrha. Where it is readily available, people have applied myrrh to treat fungal infections of the skin. Consequently, researchers tested compounds in myrrh oil and demonstrated that they are effective against fungal organisms that can cause infections (Pharmaceutical Biology, 2016).

Certain components of myrrh oil kill cancer cells in the laboratory (Molecules, Dec. 7, 2018). It is not clear whether scientists will be able to develop actual anti-cancer therapies based on these natural chemicals, however. Researchers in Italy report that a mixture of hibiscus extract, myrrh and vegetable proteases was able to reduce the recurrence of urinary tract infections (Archivio Italiano de Urologia e Andrologia: Sep. 30, 2018).

In summary, both frankincense and myrrh have potential as medicinal plant products. Finally, though, we’ll need more research to find out how to use them most effectively.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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As a child, I knew the three kings were from ORIENDAR, but I never knew where that was.

I have found that a VERY HIGH QUALITY Frankincense essential oil will cause a large wart on the top of my hand to eventually disappear when applied 3 or 4 times a day for a month. I used this method about 30 years ago, and the wart never returned. Now using it on the other hand.

Highly valued in the ancient world, a pound of frankincense cost the equivalent of a Roman worker’s salary for a month. Myrrh costs twice that. Perhaps one can sleep better smelling a scent that in earlier times was enjoyed only by kings.

I need your thoughts. My husband suffers from imbalance x 10 yrs. He walks cautiously (stepping on eggs or foam). uveitis 20 years treated with shots in L eye. Causing scarring Uveitis quiet x 10 yrs, (reads with one eye); was on statins to treat low good cholesterol for 2 yrs. (he c/o weak muscles). Stopped statins. Depression -X 10 yrs. currently, mirtazapine 45mg pmand ventlaflaxine 187mg am each time released (mood and depression improved not ALL better) he works hard to keep up. Losartin 100 mg tx hypertension controlled. (140-150/70) x 5+ yrs. prostate cancer 2009, chole cystectomy 2009, vitreous fluid L eye 2009, total l knee 2017. Cochlear implant 2017, hearing aid in other ear. (Not eligible for magnetic therapy due to cochlear implant. He is a great guy. Could the RX be causing imbalance? Previous Anti depressants failed, he had GENETIC test, and the current meds fell into the acceptable range. He is a healthy 77 yo, married 55 years. Exercises and walks daily up to 1.5 hours. Wit 180, height 6’.
Thank you. Does he have to live with imbalance?

We are so sorry for his tribulations. This situation is far too complicated for us to evaluate. Since the balance disorder is what is troubling him most, he should be evaluated by a balance disorder specialist. We have interviewed Dr. David Kaylie at Duke Medical Center. ( Perhaps you can find a similar specialist near your home town.

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