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Indian Frankincense

Indian Frankincense

"The seasons, like greater tides, ebb and flow across the continents. SPRING advances up the United States at the average rate of about fifteen miles a day. It ascends mountainsides at the rate of about a hundred feet a day. It sweeps ahead like a flood of water, racing down the long valleys, creeping up hillsides in a rising tide. Most of us, like the man who lives on the bank of a river and watches the stream flow by, see only one phase of the movement of spring. Each year the season advances toward us out of the south, sweeps around us, goes flooding away to the north."
From: "North With the Spring"
by Edwin Way Teale. -- 1960

Dear Friends-
All around us nature's eloquent voice is heard in form of her botanical treasures. The rich textures, colors, aromas, and forms of her herbs, vines, shrubs, trees and flowers-speak to us of a beauty that has existed for hundreds and thousands of years. If by good fortune we can slow down enough to appreciate the grand mystery of life revealed in these quiet denizens of the natural world then our hearts possess a type of wealth that cannot be purchased for millions or billions of dollars. Gratitude and appreciation are qualities that illuminate our path through life and help us to fine meaning even in the midst of great sadness and difficulty. The plants that surround us are quiet helpers that help us realize that life holds out to us a gentle hand to help us find joy in simplicity.

When the April wind wakes the call for the soil, I hold the plough
as my only hold upon the earth, and, as I follow through the fresh
and fragrant furrow, I am planted with every foot-step, growing,
budding, blooming into a spirit of spring.
-   Dallas Lore Sharp, 1870-1929

The air and the earth interpenetrated in the warm gusts
of spring; the soil was full of sunlight, and the sunlight full
of red dust.  The air one breathed was saturated with
earthy smells, and the grass under foot
had a reflection of the blue sky in it.
-   Willa Cather
The world of frankincense oils is diverse from an olfactory standpoint. Even within a particular species of tree there can be considerable difference in olfactory qualities because this particular genus cannot be successfully cultivated but remains a denizen of the wild plant kingdom where infinite variety exists based on soil types, mico-climates, region of the world where it grows etc
Another factor the greatly influences the olfactory qualities of frankincense oil, whatever be its origin, is the time after harvest that it is distilled. Most frankincense be it from Oman, Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen, etc is shipped to ports where it is stored and later exported. The raw material is first sorted and then packaged according to grade. The majority of material destined for distillation is from the smaller less visually desirable pieces of frankincense.
In a few rare cases the freshly harvested frankincense goes immediately to the distiller and these materials generally yield oils with greater amounts of trace components which in turn effect the olfactory characteristics. Trace and minor components play a very important role in the quality of any essential oil, often having a greater impact than components present in large percentages.

In India, Frankincense oil is distilled from the fresh resin of Boswellia serrata by my fragrance mentor. Ramakant Harlalka. He works closely a company which ethically harvests Boswellia serrata resin on forest department land in Madhya Pradesh, a hot dry central province of India.

Boswellia serrata has a venerable place in Indian systems like Unani and Ayurveda. its use stretches back thousands of years. Most of the information presented here concerns the resin itself and not the distilled oil.

A large sized tall, deciduous tree having straight, buttressed trunk with a clear bole and widespread branches. The trunk and branch bark are gray in color having hard, sharp and conical prickles. Leaves are large, deciduous, digitate and glabrous. Leaflets 3-9, entire, lanceolate or oval, cuspidate and tip is acute. Petiole is long (up to 20 cm), petiolules 1,2-2.5 cm long, and stipules small and caducous.
Flowers solitary or clustered, axillary or sub-terminal, fascicles at or near the ends of the branches, when the tree is bare of leaves. Calyx is cup-shaped usually 3 lobed. Corolla red or white, petals 5, oblong, recurved, fleshy, tomentose on the out side and sparingly pubescent inner. Staminal tube is short, more than 60 in 5 bundles. Ovary conical, glabrous, stigma 5, capsule ovoid, 5 valued dehiscing by 5 leathery, woody valves and lined with white silky hairs. Seeds are numerous, long, ovoid, black or gray in colour and packed in white cotton.

The tree is common at the foot of the Western Himalayaas, in Rajasthan, Gujurat, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh. Bihar, Orrisa, Andrah Pradesh and further south in the peninsula...
The tree prefers the dry hot exposure of rocky hills, especially in the volcanic traps.

Oleo gum resin-
The tree on injury exhudes and oleo-gum-resin known as Indian olibanum or Indian Frankincense or Salai-guggul. The oleo-gum-resin secreted from the cortex is fragrant, transparent, and golden yellow and solidifies intto brownish yellow tears or drops and crusts, varying from peanut size to walnut size.
Healthy and mature trees of 90 cm or more are selected for tapping. Proper tapping leaves no injurous effect on the tree.
The trees are tapping by shaving a thin band of bark about 20 cm wide and 30 cm high at a height of 15 cm from the base of the tree(this is called a blaze) The initial blaze is made to 1/2 the thickness of the bark. The rule of thumb is that only one blaze should be made on a tree of 90 cm and for each additional 50 cm another blaze can be made. Tapping starts in November and should be stopped before the monsoon season.
The exhudate starts oozing out soon after the blazes are made and may be collected initially after a month. Regular collections throughout the season can be made every 7-14 days. Up to 24 collections can be done in a season.
The oleo gum resin is scraped and collected in a circular tray placed around the trunk. It is collected in a semi solid state and the vegetable impurities manually removed.
Four grades of the tears are known
Superfine-translucent, very light yellow and free from impurities
Quality 1- brownish yellow, less translucent but free from impurities and bark
Quality 2 -browish, semi translucent but with some impurities
Quality 3-dark brown, opaque and with impurities

When the oleogum resin is being collected exclusively for essential oil production-the fresh semi-solid material is used. It is not allowed to dry over a period of time as many trace components will be lost

Active Compounds:
The gum oleoresin consists of essential oils, gum and terpenoids. The terpenoid portion contains the boswellic acids that have been shown to be the active constituents in boswellia. Today,extracts are typically standardized to contain 37.5-65% boswellic acids.

Major, minor and trace components of the oil in a sample analysis
58.906% a-Thujene
6.579% a-Pinene
5.784% Sabinene
0.400% b-Myrcene
0.299% a-Phellandrene
5.174% 3-Carene
2.751% p-Cymene
2.485% Limonene + Eucalyptol
0.616% g-Terpinene
0.876% Methyl Chavicol
0.676% b-Bourbonene

In other samples linalol, limonene, elemol, geraniol, cadinene, , terpinyl acentate, terpineol have been found. Many many other trace and minor elements have been identified depending on the region from which the oleo-gum-resin has been harvested.