Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains the anti-inflammatory properties of Frankincense

While Christmas herbs can smell magical, looking at the ways they have been used medicinally through the ages, can help us to see why they were seen as so valuable and why their popularity remains today.

Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 12:30 pm

I love the smell of festive herbs. This time of year, I buy scented Christmas candles, bake with lots of winter spices and usually, before social distancing became necessary, invite family and friends over for mulled wine or spiced cider.

Smells are strongly associated with memories, so the smell of Christmas spices gives me a warm glow, making me think of time spent with loved ones, sparkling lights, cosy winter evenings by the fire and all that is pleasant about this time of year.

From a medicinal perspective, I use many winter spices all year round, I just don’t fill my house with their smells.

Photo by Alina Vilchenko from Pexels

Frankincense, famous as a gift brought for baby Jesus in the bible story, is a powerful and medicinal resin from the Boswellia tree (pictured). The sap from the tree is dried, to produce a light gold resin which can be powdered, tinctured or added to creams to create medicines.

Frankincense is anti-inflammatory, making it useful for inflamed joints after injury or in the case of arthritis and other painful joint conditions.

When used in over the counter preparations, it is often found with other pain relieving herbs, such as turmeric, white willow, ginger or nutrients which protect the joints.

I use it in a formula called Seven, a powerful one-a-day joint remedy which helps with advanced joint pain.

Considering the significant effect it can have on aches and pains, it is not surprising that this powerful medicine was valued so highly, especially in times before modern medicine could provide us with the safe but powerful pain killers we have today.

The anti-inflammatory properties of Frankincense do not stop there though. I use frankincense for inflammation within the digestive tract, particularly for types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s and colitis.

Chronic inflammation of the digestive tract can cause numerous problems and with IBD, this is often a lifelong issue.

Herbs which reduce inflammation can help to reduce the frequency and severity of inflammatory attacks, so Frankincense is a herb I go to for helping manage conditions like these.

Frequent inflammation of the digestive tract can cause loose stool, pain in the bowel and blood or mucous when going to the toilet.

If you notice any of these things, it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor but long term, using herbs like Frankincense, under the supervision of a herbalist, may prove useful.

These properties of Frankincense also make it an ideal herb to use topically on inflamed skin, caused by eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis.

In a skin cream, I would use the essential oil, rather than the liquid tincture. Frankincense essential oil is incredibly potent and should never be used internally.

A couple of drops in a plain base cream when applied to the skin can be very healing, so if you have tried other essential oils without any luck, it could be worth a try.

I have a frankincense and rose face cream in the shop beneath my clinic which sells out every year at Christmas time. The beautiful smell and historical use of frankincense for toning ageing skin, probably accounts for its popularity.

I tend to treat problem skin rather than ageing skin, since beauty is not my trade, but that doesn’t stop me appreciating herbs for their luxurious scent and cosmetic uses too!

When warmed, the oil smells divine and is used by aromatherapists to aid breathing problems, including respiratory infections.

Our aromatherapist suggests it as a breathing aid for chronic lung problems, to slow and deepen the breath. Known to be calming, she suggests it for panic attacks which can bring on short, rasping breathlessness, akin to asthma attacks.

Naturally, any breathing problem should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor, but using essential oils like Frankincense to fragrance your rooms may help as a complementary aid to relax and help with easier breathing.

While Christmas herbs can smell magical, looking at the ways they have been used medicinally through the ages, can help us to see why they were seen as so valuable and why their popularity remains today.

For more information or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733 or email her at [email protected]