What is Olibanum?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A popular incense ingredient, olibanum is a spicy, balsamic resin. Also known as frankincense, it is produced by Boswellia trees. Used in homeopathic medicine, olibanum is also an ingredient in pharmaceutical drugs, and in several varieties of perfume.

Olibanum incense can be burned to repel mosquitoes.
Olibanum incense can be burned to repel mosquitoes.

As an herbal remedy, the resin is used for digestion, healthy skin, and other uses. Ayurvedic Indian medicine calls for olibanum in treating wounds, arthritis, female hormonal imbalance, and cleansing. This use is known as "dhoopan." Many Indians also burn frankincense in their homes daily to promote good health. A psychoactive drug, smoke from incense may help relieve anxiety and depression.

Mosquitoes can be repelled by burning olibanum.
Mosquitoes can be repelled by burning olibanum.

Scientific inquiries into the resin indicate that it may have many medical uses. These include treating chronic inflammatory illnesses, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and osteoarthritis. Other maladies frankincense may be helpful in alleviating include asthma, liver cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, melanoma, ulcerative colitis, and brain tumors.

Olibanum resin is ground into a powdery substance called kohl, which ancient Egyptians used to line their eyes.
Olibanum resin is ground into a powdery substance called kohl, which ancient Egyptians used to line their eyes.

Burning olibanum incense helps repel mosquitoes. Because of this property, many people use the resin to help protect themselves and their families from West Nile Virus, malaria, Dengue Fever, and other mosquito-borne sicknesses. Completely edible when pure, the resin can also be chewed as a gum.

Christian and Islamic followers may use olibanum to anoint newborns.
Christian and Islamic followers may use olibanum to anoint newborns.

Essential oil made from olibanum is often used in religious rites. Christian, Judaic, and Islamic followers use the oil for anointing newborns and blessing other followers. Its aroma represents life for many different sects. The resin was also ground into a powdery substance called kohl by the Egyptians. They lined their eyes with this dramatic, dark powder.

Four main types of Boswellia trees are used for harvesting frankincense; each type produces a different grade of resin due to soil and climate conditions. Opaque resins are considered to be of higher quality than clearer types. Other factors that determine the grade of the product include age, size, color, scent, and purity.

To harvest frankincense, the hardy Boswellia tree is cut and bled. As the resin seeps out of the tree, it hardens into what is known as tears. The trees are able to produce resin when they are eight to ten years of age, and are tapped for resin two to three times annually. Due to overuse, the population of these trees is declining.

Olibanum has a vast history of use. Traded in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula for thousands of years, it was also used by biblical characters, such as the Magi, King Tutankhamen of Egypt, and Frankish Crusaders. The lost city of Ubar, located on the Incense Road, may have also been a center of frankincense trade.

Olibanum can be used to treat the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, which include stomach pain and bloating.
Olibanum can be used to treat the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, which include stomach pain and bloating.
Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I believe we could learn a lot by studying all the many ways people used the plants, leaves, herbs and trees they had available to them.

I was fascinated to learn the Egyptian women used this ground resin as a liner for their eyes. We have so much access to makeup and cosmetics that I don't stop to think about how women used them so long ago.

Even though there are many medicinal uses for this special oil, it goes to show that concern for their outward appearance was as important to women back then as it is for us today.

I also remember that my grandma always had the most interesting smelling linens. When I asked her what it was, she said she stored them with an Olibanum sachet. I have never forgotten this scent, and it always reminds me of her.


I work with a guy who uses all kind of natural and homeopathic remedies for things. At first I thought this was kind of strange, but I have warmed up to it quite a bit.

What has helped is that the things he has given me to try have usually worked! It makes it kind of hard to disregard something when you get good results.

He sits right next to me in the office and one day I couldn't figure out what I was smelling. It smelled like some kind of exotic cologne and he told me was wearing Frankincense essential oil.

He then started telling all the different things you could use this oil for. The next day he actually came in with some resin and told me he chewed it like gum.

I was curious enough to try some and it really wasn't too bad. I don't go around chewing Frankincense resin, but at least know what it tastes like.


I have a friend who started teaching classes on essential oils and how they were used in the Bible. I went to one of her classes, I found myself very interested in the concept of using these oils for therapeutic purposes.

In doing some research, I have came across several studies where they have used frankincense to help with several medical conditions with good results. If you were to look through all the different frankincense uses, you would be amazed.

I am most interested in using this for arthritis. It would be wonderful if something like this worked instead of relying on medications to control the pain.

Frankincense was one of the gifts the Magi brought with them when they visited Jesus. In that day and culture, they would have known exactly what to use it for. I am sure it was very highly valued or they would have not carried it with them to present as a gift.

Whenever I smell Olibanum essential oil, I am reminded of the incense they burned in church when growing up.

Most any time I walk into a Catholic church, I can smell frankincense being burned. This essential oil is known to be very spiritually grounding.

I must say there is something about this scent that is appealing. I don't know if it is because of all of my memories, or the properties in the resin, but it certainly heightens my senses.

I don't know enough about these oils to know if they blended this with other scents, or if this was a true Boswellia frankincense scent.

They always burned the same one at my church, but I have been to other churches where the scent was similar, but not quite the same.

It would seem like something was missing if I walked into a Catholic church and wasn't greeted with this scent.

Post your comments
Forgot password?