Boswellia socotrana is one of six Boswellia species unique to the islands of Socotra. The gum-resin appears similar to darker forms of B. carteri, often tan and goldenwith larger pieces containing still fresh, sticky resin inside. The species is quite rare, with many populations showing signs of decline. The Socotran government tightly controls the harvest and export of this rare resin. Native Socotrans make a definite distinction between two forms known as "Ṣama àno" and "Tilī'ǝh". The exact difference is quite confusing to botanists, and still a matter of debate. We appear to have Ṣama àno (Zama'ano), but this has yet to be fully verified. While collecting resin is acceptable for personal use, it is polite to seek permission before harvesting large quantities, especially if the trees are going to be cut open. Wide birth is given to groves of Boswellia and other species on the islands as they are considered the home of jinn and dangerous spirits. All species of Boswellia are considered to shelter various harmful animals, and care should be taken when approaching any of them.
This Frankincense smolders in a similar manner to B. carteri when placed upon a hot charcoal. The resin releases most of the essential oils first and then chars towards the latter half, making it important to remove the black lump from the coal during the burning cycle. The aroma is almost identical to B. carteri, though it does seem to have some sweeter notes with slight earthy characteristics some of the time. For optimal aromatherapeutic purposes, use an indirect heating source such as an electric heater or a hot plate.
Outside of incense, the species of Socotran Boswellia find numerous uses as sources of food, medicines, building materials and in various religio-ritualistic purposes. The new growth, buds, flowers and roots of young plants may be eaten by people and animals alike, as they provide both a source of food and quench thirst in the arid regions of Socotra. Chewing the gum is thought to be strengthening for the teeth and gums, sweeten the breath and produces a tonic for stomach complaints which is also useful to increase lost appetites. B. socotrana is known to be an important source of pollen for the local honey bees, with the bees also making hives within hollow parts of the trees. Locals note that goats who forage on large amounts of Boswellia leaves often produce Frankincense flavored milk and meat.
Religio-ritualistic healing practices often incorporate the burning of Boswellia gum and wood, which is overseen by a traditional healer known as the "mekoli". Frankincense is considered very useful when calling on God for aid. It is often considered taboo for common folk to burn Frankincense as they may be then considered to be involved in witchcraft by their neighbors. The smoke is thought to be a useful treatment for head colds and many other afflictions caused by the Evil Eye. One such condition is known as "di so'o", which is caused by offending the jinn. The incense recipe required as treatment calls for a mixture of "frankincense gum, donkey dung, hair from a goat or sheep's wool, and some trimmings from a goat horn" (Miller 2004). Some mekoli are thought to be able to magically produce Frankincense simply by blowing on hot charcoal. This process seems to be similar to such transmutations attributed to various ascetic sadhus of the far east. B. socotrana use as incense by the common folk is acceptable and encouraged during the entire process of giving birth. The smoke is useful in cleansing living quarters as well as clothing and bedding. This is especially important for ridding the house of insects after periods of absence, as well as during evening rains when evil forces are thought to lurk about. The incense may be used to protect crops and livestock by a process known as "ràhaż" which loosely translates as "washing" or "cleansing". Newly married couples may also be fumigated with the smoke. In some coastal communities, the incense is acceptable during funerary rights. On the island of Samha, Frankincense smoke is used to treat madness, sleepwalking, restlessness and in general any person who is considered strange by the community. The person is fumigated by the incense smoke, often by forcible restraint. The smoke is also considered useful for treating postpartum depression. Many of the practices from the main island of Socotra are also present on the island of Abd al Kuri.
We are currently not aware of any additional binomial terms for Boswellia socotrana.
Originally described by:
Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour (1853-1922)
Boswellia socotrana is widely distributed across the main
island of Socotra, mainly in the northern half of the island. The trees prefer
the dry, semi-deciduous woodlands, though they are sometimes found in Croton socotranus scrublands as
Common English Socotran Frankincense, Soqotra Frankincense, Wadi
Middle Eastern tongues Soqotri:Ṣama àno "Zama'ano", Tilī'o "Tiliy'o", Tālyò "Talyoh", Talī'oh "Taliy'oh", Tilīy "Tiliy", Tāliyə "Taliyeh", Tilī'ǝh "Tiliy'ih", Dūr "Blood" (any gum caused by injury to a tree)
NOTE: The research on Boswellia socotrana is ongoing. We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. Please expect the above information to be revised as more information becomes available. If you have further information about this species or if you wish to submit a correction to this page, please feel free to contact us here
As of 2016, we have decided to majorly simplify the taxonomic structures of the species collection. Due to the numerous systems available, and many species being disputed and in a state of flux, we feel that most of our audience will be better served with a easier to understand condensed listing.