The Essential Oils of the Burseraceae

  • Anjanette DeCarlo
  • Noura S. Dosoky
  • Prabodh Satyal
  • Aaron Sorensen
  • William N. SetzerEmail author


The angiosperm species of mainly tropical, often aromatic, trees and occasionally shrubs with flaking bark, some containing resin ducts in the inner bark, can be found in the order of Sapindales in the Burseraceae family. The most well-known genera that are found in the Bursereae tribe are Bursera, Boswellia, and Commiphora; those found in the Canarieae tribe are Canarium, Dacryodes, Haplolobus, Santiria, and Trattinnickia, while those found in the Protieae tribe are Crepidospermum, Protium, and Tetragastris. The most well-known Burseraceae species are those known as frankincense (Boswellia spp.) and myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and to a lesser extent balm of Gilead (Commiphora gileadensis). These plants have been sources of ethnobotanical items of commerce for their medicinal, religious, and aromatic properties since ancient times. The aromatic properties of essential oils isolated by water or steam distillation from various species found in the Burseraceae have been the subject of increasingly intense study over the past 20 years. This has resulted in a plethora of studies on the oil compositions produced from botanically authenticated members of this aromatic plant family. As a result, the compositions of oils produced from 24 Bursera species, 16 Boswellia species (although the synonymy of Boswellia sacra with B. carteri has been kept separate), 16 Commiphora species, Aucoumea klaineana, 9 Canarium species, 3 Dacryodes species, and 22 Protium species are reported. The oils reviewed are a combination of leaf, stem, fruit, bark, and wood oils and extracts with many, particularly the frankincense oils, originating from the oleoresin. Most of the oils contained monoterpene hydrocarbons, some oxygenated monoterpenoids, and sesquiterpene hydrocarbons. The oils of Dacryodes; Protium, particularly P. heptaphyllum; and Boswellia, particularly B. carteri and B. frereana, were rich in monoterpene hydrocarbons, while the oils of B. papyrifera were rich in octanol and its acetate. In contrast, the oils of Commiphora were richer in sesquiterpenoid compounds. In addition to the oil compositions, a summary of the traditional uses and chemical ecology of frankincense and the traditional uses of myrrh is found.


Aucoumea Boswellia Bursera Canarium Commiphora Dacryodes Protium Santiria Trattinnickia 







Median inhibitory concentration


Median lethal concentration


Median lethal dose




Minimum inhibitory concentration


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus


Solvent-assisted flavor evaporation


Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction


Steam distillation


Solid-phase micro extraction



This work was carried out as part of the activities of the Aromatic Plant Research Center (APRC, The authors are grateful to dōTERRA International ( for financial support of the APRC. A careful editing of the chapter by Brian M. Lawrence is acknowledged by the authors.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest. The funding sponsor, dōTERRA International, played no role in preparation or in the decision to publish this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anjanette DeCarlo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Noura S. Dosoky
    • 1
    • 3
  • Prabodh Satyal
    • 1
    • 3
  • Aaron Sorensen
    • 1
    • 3
  • William N. Setzer
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Aromatic Plant Research CenterLehiUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental StudiesSaint Michael’s CollegeColchesterUSA
  3. 3.dōTERRA InternationalPleasant GroveUSA
  4. 4.Department of ChemistryUniversity of Alabama in HuntsvilleHuntsvilleUSA

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