The additive and synergistic antimicrobial effects of select frankincense and myrrh oils--a combination from the pharaonic pharmacopoeia

Lett Appl Microbiol. 2012 Apr;54(4):352-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1472-765X.2012.03216.x. Epub 2012 Feb 20.


Aims: The in vitro antimicrobial activity of three essential oil samples of frankincense (Boswellia rivae, Boswellia neglecta and Boswellia papyrifera) and two essential oil samples of myrrh and sweet myrrh (Commiphora guidotti and Commiphora myrrha), collected from different regions of Ethiopia, was investigated independently and in combination to determine their anti-infective properties.

Methods and results: The microdilution minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) assay was performed, whereby it was noted that generally Cryptococcus neoformans (MIC values in the range of 0·8-1·4 mg ml(-1)) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (MIC values in the range of 0·5-1·3 mg ml(-1)) often appeared to be the most susceptible micro-organisms against oils of both Boswellia and Commiphora spp. When assayed in various combinations, the frankincense and myrrh oils displayed synergistic, additive and noninteractive properties, with no antagonism noted. When investigating different ratio combinations against Bacillus cereus, the most favourable combination was between B. papyrifera and C. myrrha. The composition of the oils was determined by gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to document the specific chemotypes used in the study, and the chemical profiles were found to be congruent with previously reported data.

Conclusions: The majority of interactions identified synergistic and additive effects, with strong synergism noted between B. papyrifera and C. myrrha.

Significance and impact of the study: Frankincense and myrrh essential oils have been used in combination since 1500 bc; however, no antimicrobial investigations have been undertaken to confirm their effect in combination. This study validates the enhanced efficacy when used in combination against a selection of pathogens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Boswellia / chemistry*
  • Commiphora / chemistry*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Ethiopia
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests*
  • Oils, Volatile / chemistry
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Terpenes / pharmacology*
  • Yeasts / drug effects


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Terpenes
  • myrrh oil