Oman Frankincense Project
The rugged landscape where frankincense trees grow
At Floracopeia, we’re proud to support an eco project to protect the highest quality frankincense resin — the Boswellia sacra variety grown and harvested in Oman.
History of Frankincense
Frankincense has been harvested in Oman since time immemorial, and the resin has been traded long distance for at least 2,000 years.
Frankincense was burned in ancient Mesopotamia by the Assyrians to honor the sun god Baal as early as 3,000 B.C.E., while the Babylonians are said to have burned up to 70 tons of frankincense a year in their temples.
The Greek and Roman civilizations adored frankincense for its heavenly scent; it was known also for its medicinal properties, having been mentioned both by Pliny the Elder and the renowned Islamic doctor, Ibn Sina. This demand was supplied by the Arabian tribes that owned the frankincense trees, and particularly by the Nabateans, an Arabian tribe that built sophisticated, long-distance trade networks to supply their customers.
The Boswellia sacra variety was likely the botanical source of the frankincense in the Bible, and has been used continuously for its spiritual and medicinal properties.
WHERE OUR BOSWELLIA SACRA GROWS
The Boswellia sacra we’re delighted to support and offer grows in the Dhofar region of southern Oman. Like most frankincense trees, B. sacra thrives in the harshest, driest desert conditions, often growing on rocks or marginal soil in the arid wadis (channels) and coastal cliffs of this region.
The Dhofar region features a unique landscape that gives a home to the frankincense trees. The Dhofar mountains (also called the Al-Qarah mountains) rise abruptly from the coast up to 2,100 meters above sea level. During the Khareef — the rainy season — from June to September, rains bring the mountains into intense greenery and lush vegetation. For the rest of the year, the mountains are arid desert, but with a special quality: thick fog rolls inland from the Indian Ocean, filling the wadis, cliffs, and mountainous plateaus with a life-giving touch of water. Few other trees are able to survive on so little water, but the frankincense trees not only survive, they thrive. Indeed, the frankincense trees are the dominant species in many areas where they grow.
How is the Frankincense harvested?The frankincense resin is collected by making small cuts in the bark of the trees, allowing the resin to seep out. After two weeks, the resin is scraped off the wound, which is re-opened to allow more frankincense to flow out. The trees are harvested once a year, from April through June. Trees that have been harvested for two years are then left to rest for a year to avoid overstressing them. Resin is sometimes harvested during the autumn, following the rainy season, but this produces poor quality resin and is considered bad practice for the trees’ health.
Grades of frankincense in the dhofar regionBoswellia trees can produce different types of frankincense based on the conditions in which they grow; the resin produced is dependent on the elevation, type of substrate, amount of water the tree receives, etc. In other words, the frankincense is a reflection of the unique ecosystem in which the tree grows!
There are four broadly recognized ecozones in which Boswellia trees grow in the Dhofar region, and each has a unique environment. As a result, types — or grades — of frankincense are recognized:
Hojary, often considered the highest grade for its large, light-colored frankincense tears, comes from the high-altitude mountains in the north of Dhofar.
Najdi, the second grade, known for its yellow tears, is collected from the wadis in the interior plateau behind the mountains.
Shathari, the third grade, is collected from the wadis in the western mountains, near the border with Yemen, and is darker in color.
Sha’abi, the fourth grade, is collected from the coastal cliffs and wadis and is specifically known for its black color. Our frankincense oil is distilled from a mixture of Sha’abi and Hojary resin.
Our frankincense oil is distilled from a mixture of Sha’abi and Hojary resin.
The conservation status of Boswellia sacraCamel grazing — noted as a concern by the IUCN Redlist in the 1990s — continues to affect the frankincense trees in flat, particularly accessible areas.
Frankincense leaves are a favorite snack of camels, so the trees are often heavily browsed in areas with lots of animals. Luckily, though, camels aren’t able to walk easily on steep, rocky terrain, so a large proportion of the trees that live in the mountains or on the cliffs are protected and remain unbrowsed. Seedlings and young trees are also present in many areas, indicating a regenerating population.As with all other frankincense trees, some trees face the threat of over-harvesting or improper harvesting. This often happens when harvesters put too many cuts on a single tree, or harvest it multiple times per year without letting it rest, in the hopes of maximizing the amount of resin they can gather. While this does happen in Oman, the areas affected by severe overharvesting seem to be relatively limited. In fact, there are also large areas where trees are not tapped at all, including a robust population in a protected area, the Jebel Samhan National Park. Where trees remain untapped and/or in protected areas, multiple populations show regeneration. As a result, the production of Boswellia sacra frankincense essential oil is largely sustainable in Oman.
Towards Regenerative Frankincense: Actions in OmanWe believe that the harvesting of frankincense should not just be sustainable (able to be carried out indefinitely without depleting the resource) — it should also be actively regenerative, leaving the trees better off for our activities. To that end our suppliers are pursuing two key initiatives:
Traceability to tree-level. Our supplier is working to document and monitor the individual trees that produce the frankincense resin. This will help us ensure consistent good harvesting practices and the health of the trees.
Scientific research. We know that the best sustainability initiatives begin with comprehensive data. That’s why our supplier is organizing with university and NGO (non-profit, non-governmental) partners to comprehensively survey and map the Boswellia populations in Oman. This will help give us definitive, quantifiable information on the size and health of the frankincense tree populations, and allow monitoring of the species as a whole for ongoing sustainability.
We’re pleased to support this eco project and to offer this extraordinary Frankincense essential oil.
- Frankincense in Oman