Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Search for Sacra

Back 18 or so years ago, one of the multi level marketing companies started saying that Sacred Frankincense, Boswellia sacra, was a cure for Cancer.

The whole world wanted to buy Sacred Frankincense. Now, I knew that NO Frankincense was going cure cancer. But people were asking us to supply Boswellia sacra, and we wanted to.  So the search began.

I researched. Dr. Art Tucker, from U. Delaware, is the US authority on the botany of the various Frankincense species. We had discussed some GC's he had done for us, both of distilled Frankincense oil, and on my first specimen of Frankincense CO2. (This was in 2002!) He referred to the tested sample as B. Sacra.  I wrote back that they were B.Carterii, would that make a difference? He wrote, "Herbs of Commerce, mandated by the FDA for all commercial labeling by the CFR (published by AHPA and co-authored by me), says that Boswellia sacra is the correct synonym, including B. carterii, for commercial frankincense,despite the labeling of the supplier, so this is what I would use in comments in a Certificate of Analysis."

Oh.  The correct name is Boswellia sacra,  and Boswellia carterii is a synonym.  But, but, but... my suppliers are shipping me what they say is Boswellia carterii.  So we stayed with the "carterii" nomenclature.

Ten years later, in another conversation, when I had asked him to analyze another Frankincense, his analysis referred to the sample as "Boswellia spp," and I asked why.  Why did he not label it Boswellia carteri, or Boswellia frereana, or..whatever.

His reply? "So little has been published on the Boswellia spp., and I have only analyzed a few, so I indicated Boswellia spp. to hedge my bets."  And this man is the leading botanist in the US.  Art went on to talk of "vouchered specimens,"  "A herbarium voucher means that you can go back and check the botanical identity of the reported chemistry."

And I came to the understanding that, first of all, most distillers receive the resin to be distilled from those who gather it, and are at the mercy of the identification that the harvesters give them.  And Dr. Tucker was not going to state the species of a Frankincense oil that he analyzes unless he has personally seen the resin gathered from the tree.
At one point, perhaps a decade or so ago, we had two lovely specimens of Boswellia carterii from Somalia. Both excellent oils. Quite different aromatically. (One seemed a bit more lemony in aroma.) We wanted to offer both, but how to delineate/differentiate between the two? And I remembered Art teaching me that Sacra = Carterii.  We blithely labeled the more lemony one "Boswellia sacra" - Sacred Frankincense.  This was, perhaps, in 2007, 2008. 
At some point I made the differentiation that perhaps, no matter what the botanists say, that the boswellia sacra or carterii that grows in Somalia, is B. carterii.  And that the trees of  Boswellia sacra (or carterii?) that grow in Oman,  are called Boswellia sacra.  That makes some sort of sense.   

The problem being that I knew no distillers in Oman. Nor did any of my reliable and trustworthy sources.  I WANTED Boswellia sacra from Oman.  And I couldn't find it.

One bright and shiny day in 2012 a distiller in Oman contacted me. Would I be interested in his Boswellia sacra essential oil.  Of COURSE I would! He sent me a generous sample of the oil and some of the (absolutely lovely!) Resin.    I loved it.  Piney, resinous, balsamic, I loved the oil. (I still do!)  But, I am suspicious of strangers offering to make my dreams come true.  So I sent it to someone else (not Art Tucker) for testing.   And the chemist who analyzed it basically said that the a-pinene content was higher than ANY he had ever seen in any specimen of Frankincense oil, and reminded me that a-pinene is dirt cheap and easy to add to an oil.    I was disappointed, to say the very least.  I so wanted that oil to be real.  But, apparently, it wasn't.

In the years since then, about once a year, some stranger from Oman will offer me some boswellia sacra.  More recently  even my nose has known that something was... off.   

I had become resigned to the fact that Nature's Gift was never going to be able to offer you true Sacred Frankincense.

But I was wrong.  Sometimes I love being wrong.

Our next blog article will tell the rest of the story.

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