The ‘Noblest’ of the Gin Botanicals
Latin name: Boswellia Sacra
Common name: Frankincense
Frankincense is an aromatic resin used for incense and in the manufacture of perfume. The name comes from the Old French for ‘high-quality or noble incense’. Franc = noble or pure.
It is obtained from the trees of the Burseraceae family. Five species of the family yield frankincense, predominantly growing in Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia. It is harvested by tapping or stripping the bark. The tree then exudes sap which hardens into resin. The drops of resin on the tree are called tears. The more opaque the resin the better the quality. This resin is harvested by hand, making it a labour intensive process.
The trees of the genus Boswellia produce resin once they have matured beyond 8 years old. Tapping takes place 2 or 3 times a year. Any more and the tree will produce much fewer seeds to replenish the population. Boswellia Sacra is under threat due to agricultural clearance and over-harvesting.
The resin, sourced mainly from Ethiopia, is still used today by the Roman Catholic church as incense. But it has a history of use in religious ceremonies that goes back 6000 years. Ancient Egyptians used it in the mummification process. It has sacred associations with Jewish culture. The Greeks were familiar with it. And Jesus received a gift of frankincense, along with gold and myrrh, so prized was this resin.
In Arab culture, frankincense was known as olibanum, a substance that comes from milking i.e. tapping. In fact, the Arabs traded olibanum as far as China, where even today it is used in traditional Chinese medicine for its believed anti-bacterial properties.
Boswellic acid, although a large component of the resin, doesn’t actually distil into the gin as it is non-volatile. Other compounds such as the terpenes, alpha-pinene and limonene, also found in juniper, do distil over.
Frankincense in Gin
Having distilled frankincense as a single botanical I can testify to how powerful a botanical it is. It tastes like liquid incense and any gin will have to balance this very carefully with the other botanicals to stop their gin from tasting like men’s soap.
A couple of gins with frankincense as one of their key botanicals, which don’t taste like soap, are Sacred Gin, a vacuum-distilled gin featuring frankincense from the Sultan of Oman. Find out more here. And Batch Gin which also uses myrrh. For more information click here.