Masha is Guest-Posting today. It’s comin’ on Christmas and she’s the Queen of Frankincense! All Hail MASHA!!!
The Gifts of the Magi have a long and hallowed history in perfumery. Of the three, frankincense is my
hands-down favorite. I’ve got a frankincense collection that is frankly embarrassing. I keep essential
oils from every species of Boswellia ever harvested, and resin nuggets of every type. I also collect many
varieties of frankincense incense from Asia and the Middle East. So when the lovely Musette asked me
to post about glorious frank, I asked myself, where do I start?
First off, frankincense is good for you. In May, 2008, Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem found that frankincense smoke relieves depression and anxiety. The researchers
found that incensole acetate, found in Boswellia resin, activates a protein in the mammalian brain
called TRPV3, which decreases anxiety and alleviates depression. Now I know why we’re constantly
burning the stuff. And why religious authorities like it so much. I feel especially happy, spiritually and
neurochemically, when I wear frankincense-based perfumes. Like CDG Avignon and Heeley’s Cardinal.
I’m blissing out just thinking about them.
Sadly, many species of Boswellia are endangered in their native Africa. They are being over- tapped
for resin, and the land they live on is being cleared to make way for food crops, or housing for our
ever-increasing population. Scientists are working hard to hybridize several species, so they can be
successfully grown by farmers in Arizona, California, and other hot, dry regions.
Peppery, sweet, and pungent, frankincense absolute is not as easy to work with as the essential oil, but
you can dilute either in jojoba oil or perfumer’s alcohol. For those who don’t want their frank straight
up, there are many perfumes to choose from. Some are cold, austere scents, others warm and cuddly.
Let’s start with a few of the cold ones.
Olivier Durbano is a French jeweler who created a series of scents to match gems. Several have some
strong frank: Amethyst, Rock Crystal, and Black Tourmaline. I prefer Rock Crystal. This one is almost
medicinal, but in a good way. Black Tourmaline is very similar, but sharper and smokier. Cartier’s Les
Heures de Parfum XII: Mysterieuse is cool, yet surprisingly soft, frankincense. And I quite like Serge
Lutens’ L’Eau Froide, a very chilly, contemporary frankincense.
Now on to soft, warm, cuddly incense. Heeley’s Cardinal is delightful, just pure, warm, high-quality
frankincense absolute, warmed with a little this and that. Amouage makes any number of warm, frank-
infused perfumes, so you can pretty much take your pick (Epic Woman is my favorite). For cuddling-in-
front-of-the-fireplace frankincense, try Sonoma Scent Studio’s Incense Pure. It’s a frankincense lover’s
delight, and features labdanum, another calming resin. Abdes Salaam Attar has created highly sniffable,
frankincense-based perfumes, including one called simply…Frankincense.
If you’d rather your home smelled like frankincense, there is actual incense. Shoyeido, the centuries-
old Japanese incense house, makes a western-style incense called Diamond. Moving up the price scale is
Tennendo’s Frankincense, which features the highest grade Omani Boswellia resin with its strong citrus
vibe. Minorien, another famous Japanese house, makes benzoin-warm, Catholic-style frankincense. All
can be purchased through JapanIncense.com (a wonderful store in San Francisco with a huge inventory),
Essence of the Ages (web), or through Tom’s Incense via Amazon. (I have no connection to these stores;
I’m just a happy customer.) Raw incense nuggets of many grades and species can be found at Katlyn
Breene’s Mermade Magickal Arts web shop, and eos and absolutes through Eden Botanicals, Trygve
Harris’ Enfleurage in NYC, and Liberty Natural in Oregon, among others. I recently found a wonderful co-
extraction of frankincense with Virginia Cedar at White Lotus Aromatics. There’s always something new
to enjoy in Frankincense World! What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy the sacred resin?
I adore Attar Bazaar’s Tunisian Frankincense plus it’s inexpensive!
Thank you for the recommendation. It’s always nice to hear about a good perfume that doesn’t require winning the lottery to purchase!
I love this post! I’m an incense nut so I’m bookmarking this for future reference. So much good information here. Thanks!
Thank you, Poodle, I’m sure your Incense Perfume Sub-collection is amazing! Incense ‘fumes are my favorite subcollection. The only other that comes close is the Jasmine ‘Fume Subcollection.
Belatedly adding my frankincense love….. I love buying incense in church and devotionalia shops. Generally there are several kinds to choose from, sometimes even sample sets! In Poland (where I spent a happy six months as an exchange student) you could find “herbal incense”, fragrant herbs with a few tiny knobs of frankincense mixed in (because – I suppose – the price of incense was too high for many a rural church, so the incense was “stretched”). Sadly, herbal incense is hard to find these days – I loved that stuff.
Frankincense is what makes me love Messe de Minuit (I don’t get crypt from it, as many do. Just heat and incense), Andy Tauer’s Incense Rose, Incense Extreme and L’Air du Désert Marocain, Czech & Speake’s Frankincense and Myrrh, Annick Goutal’s Encens Flamboyant, DK Black Cashmere, SSS Winter Woods…. for some reason these move me more than the CdG scents.
So thank you for the post – you made me think about digging out one of those church samplers and perfuming my living room!
That Polish herbal incense with frankincense sounds heavenly, now I want some! Thank you for the wonderful comment.
Great post on what is probably my favorite fragrance ingredient. I haven’t met a frankensense I didn’t like so now I have a few new ones to try.
WTF autocorrect? Frankincense. Geez.
Frankensense means we have the common sense to love frankincense! 😉
I was raised deep in the backwoods in a VERY Fundamentalist Protestant church, where no musical instruments were allowed, let alone anything as “worldly” as incense ( I doubt anyone even knew what it was, to be honest) so my first experience with incense was when I moved to SoCal in my early 20s, and it was the headshop, Nag Champa kind. And I love those! So when I found the perfume blogs and started sampling incense frags, I was kerflummoxed, because I wasn’t getting that!
Then one day I got the CdG incense sample set and when he got home, my husband who is a) a very devout Catholic and b), NEVER comments on my perfume ( seriously, in 25 years I can count on one hand the times he has said anything about anything I wear) all but recoiled and mumbled something about church. Poor thing was an altar boy and the incense gave him severe headaches and nausea.
Needless to say I have had to tread carefully around incense, but I think I really like frankincense. I believe it’s the note that makes me swoon in Jub25 ( sorry Mals!) I’d love to try some more and I’d really love to get some chunks to burn. Is there a special way to do it?
Thanks for the lovely and very informative post, Masha!
Thank you for your wonderful comment, Tammy! I’m so sorry your DH had such a bad reaction, but I get it, and he’s not the only one for sure.
You certainly are the Queen of Frankincense! I’m Frankincense’s chamber maid; I do whatever she says. Really, if a fragrance is frankincense-based, then I’ll at least like it. I don’t think there’s any other generalization that I can make as confidently as that one. It’s to the point where I am trying _not_ to get sucked into yet another frankincense perfume, although now that I think about it, why not? My latest crush was on Sideris. Now I think I’m over it, a little out-violetted, no fault of the lovely Frank, as you so charmingly say. 🙂
Violet and frankincense, Violet Meets Frank?? I must try that one….
What an informative post! Thank you! I tried Monastery Icons frankincense incense, and it was horrible. I had to burn something else right away to try to get the smell out–and even that didn’t do the trick. I’m glad to know of better frankincense out there. I do love that Catholic church smell–even when I’m not in a Catholic church, which is almost every day.
Bad frankincense is indeed icky. Usually because it’s been adulterated with synthetics, vanillin, and things you don’t wanna know about. If you like Western Church incense, then I’d recommend the Minorien Frankincense, it’s just pure Christmas.
I love Lyric Woman – love how the frankincense gives the rose that nearly-indefinable, ‘waxy’ quality (that’s a GOOD thing, btw – it’s what makes it so intriguing). I’m still a little ‘iffy’ about straight frank, though – spent my early life in a convent school staffed by vicious BVMs and priests with incense-laden vestments and ugly fingers. Besides, you know my favorite Magi is Larry, the Lost Magi. Legend has it there were 4 Wise Men. Gaspar, Melchior, Balthazar…..and Larry. Larry carried a casket of diamonds for the infant Jesus…but, alas, he was waylaid and ‘relieved’ of his cargo by a thief. Legend has it she was a Lyric-wearing woman of Moorish-ish descent…..most probably with curly hair and a snippy attitude.
Or so they say…
Thank you for that Apocryphal Christmas Story, Musette! 😉 And I agree, Lyric Woman is incredible. As is, of course, any woman who wears it….
I am late to an appreciation of incense, but I’m coming around to it! I’ve found that I really do NOT enjoy Eastern-type incense, with its austere woody notes and citrus aspect – it seems to go unpleasantly sour on my skin. (Paestum Rose, for example, and a number of other frankincense-heavy scents? DISASTER.) I seem to need a heavier myrrh component, and the more benzoin the better, or I smell like wet fireplace ashes.
I do well with Lyric Woman and Jubilation XXV (but not J25), enjoy CDG Zagorsk (Kyoto was awwwwful on me), and adore DK Black Cashmere. Still haven’t tried Avignon, probably should.
There’s very little CAtholic experience in my background, but I loved the way the churches smelled when I visited Malta a few years ago… there’s a DSH fragrance that completely recreated that scent for me, and I can’t find that sample now. It’s not Prophecy and it’s not Cathedral, can’t remember what it was. GAH. I actually just ordered a sample of church-type incense so that I could see if I like that – it hasn’t arrived yet. Also have a small candle from a new company, Rive Sud Interior, called Via Della Basilica, and I love that. Still need to formally review it, but I might need another one!
Thanks for the Frankincense focus today.
Great commentary, Mals! I’m with you in that I believe the more benzoin, the better! 🙂
As far as your incense perfume list goes, it matches mine. I love Lyric, and Zagorsk, and Black Cashmere, but Kyoto smelled like bug spray on me. Total clash. Via della Basilica sounds lovely, I’m looking forward to your review!
I love frankincense. I wear Avignon too but my favourite is By Kilian Incense Oud because it combines frankincense with sweeter and woody notes. to me it smells like Christmas.
I haven’t tried Incense Oud yet, but I love the By Kilian line in general, so I will try it!
Masha, thank you for your wonderful insights…frankincense is so special! I was given a sample of Norma Kamali Incense which I love so much I am hoarding. Also Armani Prive Bois dEncens which is a straight up frankincense to me.
I love the lemon aspect of the essential oil, and there is a high quality resin available locally apparently chewed for oral health.
Also fabulous in facial serums for skin regeneration.
Might I be a bit biased??
I’m with you on the frankincense bias, Jackie b! If I could only take one eo to a desert island, you know what it would be. The frereana is my favorite variety, it’s very sharp and clear. And I really love the Omani with its citrus edge. I’d forgotten the Armani Prive’, I think Sr. Armani designed that for himself originally, it’s just gorgeous. And Mandy Aftel makes a frankincense-infused tea. I tried to make my own frank-infused tea, but frankly, it wasn’t so tasty. I’m sure Mandy’s is better!
Thanks for sharing your specialized knowledge about frankincense! The scents that I wear that have frankincense are Eau D’Italie Baume de Doge, Paestum Rose, and PG Iris Oriental. I was most interested in the medical connection to depression and anxiety since that’s an issue for my son and me. Might have to go out and buy an inexpensive Pacifica Lotus Garden candle today! (That’s supposed to have frankincense notes, too.)
Last December I took a cotton ball with a dab of the Baume de Doge on it to a preschool class that I teach at my church so the kids could sniff frankincense and myrrh. They hear about the three kings and their gifts at Christmas time but nobody ever connects the dots and tells them WHAT those two things are, and that they have a smell! Well, the kiddos loved it. All of them really liked the smell. It was just a small thing, but I felt like I was helping educate some future perfumistas and perfumistos. 😀
Thanks for your wonderful comment, Dina! I remember back when my eldest was doing a report on Ancient Egypt. We created a perfume called “Smell Like a Mummy” that featured typical scents the Egyptians were familiar with, and the kids loved it! It’s great when you can add an olfactory dimension to a lesson. I remember March’s hilarious review of Baume de Doge–about the pickup artist at the bar. But I really liked BdD myself, it reminded me of old cathedrals, and ancient libraries. For the medicinal angle, I just dilute frankincense eo to 2% in perfumer’s alcohol or jojoba and add 5 drops of lemon eo per tablespoon of dilution. It can be used as an anti-anxiety/stress spray if it’s in the perfumer’s alcohol, or a lotion if it’s in the jojoba. Works very well with anxious teens.
What a fascinating article! I’m not much for straight-up frankincense (reminds me of funerals and Christmas in the Catholic church) but I love it mixed with other notes. Thank you for this amazing article!!
Sherri, I sure get the ritual connection to traditional Western frankincense- you might like Middle Eastern, or Japanese versions, better. The Tennendo frank does not smell much at all like the Western Church. It has a very strong, sunny, citrus aspect. Reminds me of a day at the beach, surfing with a bunch of angels! 😉
wow! that’s the one for me! xoxoA
Masha, your description of the Tennendo frankincense is just perfect. The only incense perfume I’ve founds that comes close to its lemony fizziness is Andy Tauer’s Incense Rose. I also like Shoyeido’s Nan-zan in the Incense Road series, which is still ‘happy’ to me though it’s much more churchy. I never tried Minorien’s frankincense, because they don’t actually seem to sell it in Japan. I think it’s aimed at the US market.
That’s correct, it was created specifically for the Western market. It sells particularly well in Europe!
I’m not big into insence, but I’d probably pick Cardinal from what I’ve tried so far,
also Vetiver 46, which shifts from vetiver into incense, a wonderfully warm and sweet one.
That’s interesting to know about Vetiver 46,and I think you’ll like Cardinal. It’s more approachable than Avignon, which is also amazing, but very regal and austere.
UGH. sorry about all the typos. In bed with laptop perched awkwardly across my legs. plus, i suck at typing.
I am the Queen of Typos before I’ve had my morning coffee, no worries.
The best thing about winter (aside from basset hounds negotiating snow banks) has got to be incense perfumes. I am alos a big fan of Rock Crystal. I recently tried the Herve Domar Diamant Noir, which is gorgeous (y’all know what to get my for Xmas, now), but there are many others I live. Especially missing Kamali Ceremony, which was brilliant for blending with florals.
Oh, I’d forgotten Kamali Ceremony, that was lovely, and much more wearable than Kamali Incense, which I also loved. I will have to seek out the Diamant Noir, you’ve started me on a quest!
Very cool post, Masha! Thanks so much!
Thanks, Ann! Glad you enjoyed it!
What an informative post! I am a frankincense lover and glad to have these recommendations, thank you!
Thank you, and glad to know you love the stuff, too!