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Frankincense: A Co-Impact Sourcing Story

People chatting at a table in a park
People chatting at a table in a park

Frankincense: The Ancient King of Oils

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Since ancient times, Frankincense resins have been a highly valued trade commodity by many civilizations such as the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians, and Kushites. These precious resins were traded in what is believed to be one of the world’s oldest global supply chains.

dōTERRA’s Frankincense essential oil is a proprietary blend of four species of Frankincense resins sourced from northeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula: Boswellia carterii, Boswellia frereana, Boswellia papyrifera, and Boswellia sacra.

Different Frankincense species thrive in different environments and soil types. For example, Boswellia carterii trees grow best in sandy soil, while Boswellia frereana trees grow best in dry, rocky terrain.

Boswellia frereana tends to produce the largest-size resins of the Boswellia species. dōTERRA sources from multiple locations to provide our unique tested-grade proprietary chemical profile blend of Boswellia genus oils and continues to explore opportunities to sustainably source Frankincense in other nearby regions. This sourcing strategy ensures that the resins are harvested from regions where each Boswellia species grows best, helping to reduce environmental pressure on any single Frankincense species.

Watch the playlist videos below to learn more about Frankincense essential oil!


Frankincense resins have been widely sought after for thousands of years. Frankincense trees grow in some of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. Unfortunately, this lack of development and regulation can lead to exploitative conditions in the supply chain, incentives to over-harvest, and unhealthy conditions for both the harvesters and the Frankincense trees. Over-harvesting is evident in trees that have too many cuts, are cut too deep, or are not allowed to sufficiently rest between cuts. In some areas, such as Ethiopia, the largest threat to these trees’ health is land conversion, where wild-growing areas are cleared and converted to facilitate cultivated agriculture or grazing areas (particularly in Ethiopia). Such pressure on these ecological systems is threatening the longevity of the trees and their surrounding biomes.

In our pursuit of purity, dōTERRA has developed a Responsible Frankincense Strategy, or RFS, in conjunction with our sourcing partners, local governments, and university research teams. The RFS aims to establish ethical and sustainable supply chains of Frankincense resin by focusing on two objectives: 1) sustainable harvesting and land management, and 2) large-scale propagation of Frankincense trees in Ethiopia, Somaliland, and Oman. This RFS initiative is part of dōTERRA’s Cō-Impact Sourcing model which creates shared value for all stakeholders in the Frankincense supply chain by being at the source. Through the RFS, dōTERRA and its partners locate and protect trees showing signs of over-harvesting while also propagating Frankincense seedlings and cuttings to re-establish forest populations in the regions where we source.

Progress Updates:

  • dōTERRA is proud to be a leading supporter in research and sustainability initiatives to protect these sacred and historic trees, including presenting on these successes and lessons learned at the 6th World Congress on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (WOCMAP VI) in 2019.
  • dōTERRA and our key partners are working closely with the network of harvesting communities and resin-sorting warehouses to continuously improve the traceability and transparency of these harvesting supply chains.
  • dōTERRA is currently working with partners to conduct tree care training with harvesters . These ongoing efforts are designed to enhance the harvesters’ knowledge of tree health and longevity.
  • dōTERRA has also developed some of the first Frankincense nurseries in Somaliland, Oman, and Ethiopia, which will help to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the Boswellia species.
  • dōTERRA has partnered with IGAD Sheikh Technical School in Somaliland to conduct ongoing Frankincense tree health monitoring in representative pilot Districts of Daryale and Donyaha. This monitoring includes measuring the height and circumference of each tree as well as the number of cuts on the bark.
  • dōTERRA has been actively engaged since 2019 in funding and developing an advanced satellite monitoring algorithm and reporting process to assess for the first time ever the status of Frankincense tree forest health in the Cal Madow Mountain range. Given the remoteness of these harvesting areas, satellite imaging will provide higher quality historical and current data that has been previously unavailableto make more informed decisions as a research community focused on the long-term sustainability of Frankincense resources.
  • Oman

    In the Sultanate of Oman, known as the jewel of the Arabian Peninsula, dōTERRA works with Boswellia sacra harvesters in the Dhofar region. Dating back as early as 400 BC, Dhofar was the hub for the Frankincense trade route, delivering Frankincense resins around the world. Oman considers their Boswellia forests as a national heritage and created policies in the 1990s to protect them. As part of a sustainability initiative, our Boswellia sacra partner is regularly monitoring trees to ensure sustainable harvesting practices. They also run the largest private Frankincense nursery and plantation in Oman with hundreds of trees ranging from four to eight years old—with thousands of smaller trees now growing as well. These propagation efforts will eventually take pressure off existing Boswellia trees and will help replenish their population. To date, 3,200 trees have been planted. Of those trees, 2,000 are more than a year old and thriving.


    In Ethiopia, where dōTERRA sources Boswellia papyrifera,  land conversion (or cutting down trees to clear space) for farming, residential, or commercial purposes poses the greatest threat to the Boswellia tree population. dōTERRA is actively investigating how to best support the reforestation of Boswellia papyrifera trees and is developing both a propagation program and a sustainable harvesting training program to revitalize the Frankincense tree population in Ethiopia. In early 2021, dōTERRA’s first nursery in Ethiopia was started by planting a few hundred cuttings in the Sherkole area. These cuttings are being carefully monitored by our local partners to better understand how to scale up further nursery operations..


    dōTERRA’s Boswellia carterii and Boswellia frereana resins come from the Cal Madow Mountain range in the Sanaag region of the self-declared state of Somaliland. Approximately one-third of the national population lives in this region, and Frankincense harvesting is the main source of employment. The trees are passed down for generations through lineage and tribal rights. doTERRA has trained and prepared a local team to identify over-harvested Frankincense trees by collecting quantitative forest density and tree health data. In 2021, dōTERRA established the Frankincense Sustainability Research Center to evaluate optimal conditions for frankincense tree cuttings.  The Center has two greenhouses with over 700 cuttings and seedlings from the Daryale and Donyaha districts.

    Through dōTERRA’s Co-Impact Sourcing® initiative, dōTERRA strives to meet the needs of individuals working in the Frankincense supply chain. For example, over the years dōTERRA has contributed to the construction of warehouses built throughout the mountains where resins are collected. These warehouses function as a cooperative, organizing harvesters, sorters, and shopkeepers into a network, adding supply chain value in the rural harvesting areas. Through this network, dōTERRA’s partner is better able to provide harvesters with fair wages and on-time payments, including food and cash prepayments spread throughout the year. dōTERRA can provide a more stable and reliable income, fairness, employment, and security for those who are participating in these supply chains by working closer to the source with those who harvest, collect, and sort our Frankincense resins.

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    Frankincense Research Sustainability Center in Somaliland
    Inauguration day of the hospital when David Stirling and others visited Somaliland. Shown are the cuttings for propagation.
    Boswellia sacra trees, Oman (Dhofar Region)
    Resin sorting

    The Frankincense Process

    Frankincense essential oil comes from the resin, or sap, of Boswellia trees. Harvesters typically make shallow cuts into the bark, which allow the resin to seep out. The resin is left for approximately two weeks to crystallize into “tears,” which are then scraped and collected, with this process repeating over multiple weeks throughout the harvesting season. After the season, the trees are left to rest. Trees are tapped for two years and then left to rest for one year. Before distillation, sorters who are mostly women carefully clean and sorted resin tears by size and color for quality grading.

    Facilitating Community Development: doTERRA Healing Hands Foundation

    In addition to the thousands of jobs supported through Frankincense harvesting activities, dōTERRA implements social impact projects to improve basic quality of life and livelihoods in harvesting areas, as well as provides educational opportunities and other life skills training with the support of dōTERRA Healing Hands.

    1. Education

    dōTERRA Healing Hands has assisted the efforts of leaders from multiple clans and patrilineal groups from Uurwayne, Somaliland, who united with the goal to provide education for their children. dōTERRA Healing Hands donated funds towards the construction of a school for boys and girls, ages seven through 12, with classes for older children in the evening. Approximately 120 children from 16 villages have attended the school, with an additional four-classroom school built to help 100 more students from other areas have access to education.

    2. Disaster Relief

    A severe drought in 2017 left more than six million Somalians—half the country’s population— devastated due to dying livestock and failing crops. dōTERRA promptly responded to the crisis by donating significant emergency drought relief funds to support 4,000 families in 32 of the most severely impacted villages.

    3. Health Infrastructure.

    dōTERRA Healing Hands and its local partners have donated more than $4 million to establish the Sanaag Specialty Hospital, a non-profit regional hospital located in Erigavo. This was in response to the critical health care needs in Sanaag, Somaliland’s primary Frankincense harvesting region. The hospital, which includes a 45-bed facility opened in May 2021 and provides accident and emergency, outpatient, diagnostics, maternity, and pediatric departments. The Sanaag Specialty hospital aims to be a model referral hospital by providing the most high-quality health care to the most remote, underserved populations. Improved access to these life-saving services impact tens of thousands of people living and working in the heart of Somaliland’s resin harvesting area. To view more information, please visit the hospital website by clicking here.


    Additional Content:

    Learn more about Frankincense oil by reading through the blog posts and sourcing story below!

    Frankincense Sourcing Story

    Discover Solutions: Frankincense

    Frankincense Oil Uses and Benefits

    The Future of Frankincense

    Frankincense YouTube Playlist

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