“Deep, rich, earthen, slightly musky. This scent, ancient and church-like, instantly tells you why frereana is called the King of Frankincense.”
- Species: Boswellia frereana
- Common name: Frankincense, Olibanum, Frankincense frereana
- CAS Number: 8016-36-2
- Chemical composition: a-thujene, sabinene, p-cymene, a-pinene
- GC/MS tests of current and previous lots
- MSDS, other documents
About the Trees
Unlike Boswellia carteri trees, B. frereana trees are pretty uniform. They grow up to 8 meters tall, either branched from the base or with a single trunk. They grow either directly out of rocks or in sandy, rocky soil. The bark is pale yellow-brown, flaking and papery. The leaves are compound and imparipinnate, with oval, characteristically wavy leaflets. The flowers have five petals and are red or reddish-green. The fruits are hard, not fleshy, and dispersed by wind. The trees generally prefer hot, dry conditions at low elevations, especially on the sub-coastal plain. However, they do grow up to 750m, sometimes together with B. carteri.
The Somali name for the trees themselves is “Yagcar”, while the resin is known as “Maydi.” The resin is unique for the large size of the tears and for the fact that it contains little to no water-soluble gum or boswellic acids. For that reason, it’s frequently used as chewing gum, especially in Arab cultures.
The essential oil is most often dominated by a-thujene, sabinene, and p-cymene, which gives it a characteristically musky scent that’s reminiscent of old churches. A second chemotype is dominated by a-pinene, which is sharper, fresh, and not surprisingly, quite piney. Both scents are strong and full-bodied, thoroughly pleasant and proud.
The trees are harvested by making small cuts into the bark and waiting for the resin to seep out. Typically harvesters wait 15-30 days for the resin to harden before collecting it and re-opening the wound to allow more to come out. Only the resin on the actual wound is collected, though–the resin that has run down from the wound is left to accumulate over the whole season, creating the large tears for which B. frereana is famous. The harvest season often involves 8-12 of these tapping cycles, and takes place between September to June. The trees are supposed to receive up to 12-16 cuts, depending on their size.
Most trees are clearly owned by an individual or family. Specific areas with trees, called “farms” by the harvesters, are owned by individuals and passed down from father to son. The boundaries of each farm aren’t marked or written down, but are well-known to each harvester–we are doing some of the first mapping to delineate and monitor each farm we source from.
As with B. carteri, sometimes harvesters feel pressure to put too many cuts on a tree, overharvesting in an effort to get more resin. This isn’t due to ignorance or irresponsibility on their part, generally, but simply by wanting to provide adequately for their families and improve their lives. This is why we’re conscious of the need to continuously monitor the trees from which we get our resin, work with the harvesters to ensure that they are being paid fairly and can provide for their families, and help support the harvesting communities to develop sustainably. You can read more about our comprehensive Harvesting Sustainability Plan here.
Resins can be ordered in any quantity, and are shipped from Berbera, Somaliland. There are several grades of B. frereana resin: Musha’ad (large tears), Mujarwaal (medium-sized pieces), Fas Kabir (small pieces), and Fas Saqir (very small pieces). If you’re looking to distill, the lower grades are probably most cost-effective, but if you’re looking for incense and beautiful, high-quality resin, it’s impossible to beat the elegance of the large tears.