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Boswellia sacra (frankincense)

Frankincense, an oily gum resin from the tree Boswellia sacra and related species, is named in the Bible as one the three gifts given to the baby Jesus by the 'Three Wise Men'. It has been used for thousands of years in many different cultures.
Boswellia sacra trees in Dhofar, southern province of the Sultanate of Oman

Boswellia sacra trees in Dhofar, southern province of the Sultanate of Oman (Photo: Helen Pickering)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Boswellia sacra Flueck.

Common name: 

frankincense, olibanum

Conservation status: 

Near Threatened (NT) according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List 2008 for Oman; Somalia; Yemen (South Yemen).


Desert-woodland; growing on rocky limestone slopes and gullies, and in the 'fog oasis' woodlands of the southern coastal mountains of the Arabian Peninsula.

Key Uses: 

Frankincense has a long history of medicinal, religious and social uses. For example, in some Arab communities the gum is chewed to treat gastrointestinal complaints, but should not be swallowed (see below).

Known hazards: 

On account of its mildly euphoric and stimulating effects, smoke from burning frankincense is classed as 'slightly hazardous' by the World Health Organization (WHO). Swallowing the gum (olibanum) can lead to stomach problems.


Genus: Boswellia

About this species

Boswellia sacra is a tree with papery, peeling bark and leaves clustered at the ends of tangled branches. It is the source of the oleo-gum-resin frankincense, which besides other uses, has long been valued for its sweet-smelling fumes when burnt. The name ‘frankincense’ is derived from the Old French ‘franc encens’, meaning pure incense or, more literally, free lighting. Trade in frankincense, which is produced by various trees in the genus Boswellia, dates back to at least 2000 BC. Up until the 1830s, many Europeans mistakenly believed that frankincense was the resin of a species of Juniperus, a conifer.


Boswellia carteri, Boswellia undulato crenata


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