Essential oil of the month - Elemi

Essential oil of the month - Elemi

Elemi essential oil (Canarium commune) is produced from a large tropical tree, native to the Philippines and neighbouring islands. The tree, known locally as ‘Malapili’, can grow up to 30 metres in height and produces small almond-shaped nuts called ‘Pili’. It belongs to the Burseraceae family and is closely related to the trees that produce Myrrh, Frankincense and Opoponax essential oils.

Like the other trees, Canarium commune exudes a pungent gum or oleoresin which is predominantly found in resin channels on the inside of the bark. The gum is extracted by making incisions into the trunk, a process known as ‘tapping’. The gum is mainly produced during the rainy season and stops flowing when the tree loses it leaves. It solidifies as soon as it comes into contact with the air.

Traditional uses

Elemi has been used since ancient times for skincare, respiratory problems and as a general stimulant. It was highly prized in ancient Egypt for its antiseptic properties and aroma and was one of the aromatics they used in the embalming process. It has also been used for thousands of years in the Middle East for healing wounds and scars.

It was introduced into Europe in the 16th century and was used extensively in skin healing ointments and balms, including the famous 'Baume au Fioravanti’ and ‘Baume paralytique’. 17th century pioneering physician J. J. Wecker also used it for healing soldiers’ wounds.


Elemi essential oil is steam-distilled from the gum, which although called a gum, is actually made up almost entirely of resin and essential oil (10-25% essential oil). The distilled oil is colourless to pale yellow with a light, fresh, balsamic-spicy, slightly lemony aroma that is a little similar to Frankincense. In fact, the oil is often referred to as ‘poor man’s Frankincense’ as it offers similar properties, but at a cheaper price.

In aromatherapy Elemi is used as an analgesic, antiseptic, balsamic, cicatrizant, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic and general tonic. It is also used in the cosmetic, perfumery and paint industries and for flavouring some foods and drinks. 

Safety note: Not recommended for use on those with sensitive skins.

Therapeutic properties

  • Stimulant: A general circulatory and immunity stimulant, Elemi essential oil also helps stimulate the release of hormones (progesterone and oestrogen) and digestive enzymes, and helps the peristaltic action of the gut. It is therefore useful for those with hormonal imbalance, sluggish digestion and poor circulation. It is also useful for stimulating the mind and boosting positivity, particularly when suffering with stress, nervous tension and fatigue.
  • Antiseptic: A stunningly powerful antiseptic, Elemi oil helps protect against microbes, bacteria, fungi and viruses, so it is a very strong addition to your Winter First Aid kit! Use it as a sick room spray, as a vaporiser to help ward off infections, and as an inhalant if you get respiratory, urinary or digestive infections. It is also useful for topical skin infections when diluted.
  • Expectorant: Elemi helps your body to expel phlegm and stubborn congestion in relation to respiratory infections, and eases breathing by helping open the airways.
  • Analgesic: Elemi is also an excellent addition to pain relieving blends particularly in relation to aches, sprains, arthritic and muscular inflammation, headaches and sinus pain/earache. Aches and pains relating to high temperatures and viruses respond well too.
  • Tonic: A general and mildly stimulating tonic for the whole system – especially when you are stressed, “run-down” or fatigued. Elemi oil helps stimulate your immunity, circulation and various metabolic processes. Again, a real gem for your Winter aromatherapy kit!
  • Balsamic / Cicatrizant: The oil’s soothing, healing, regenerative properties make it an excellent choice for skincare. It is particularly useful for healing minor wounds, sore, chapped skin and allergic rashes and improving the appearance of scars. It is also commonly used for rejuvenating and revitalising mature or prematurely ageing skin. 

The name ‘Elemi’ comes from an Arabic phrase meaning ‘As above, so below’, indicating that it is beneficial emotionally and spiritually as well as physically. Its harmonising effects are ideal for bringing mind, body and spirit into alignment, which makes it an excellent aid for meditation.

Aromatherapy recipes using Elemi essential oil

Inhalation For Coughs & Colds

Add to 2 drops Tea Tree, 3 Elemi and 6 Bergamot to a bowl of steaming hot water. Lean over the bowl with a towel over the head and inhale for 5-10 minutes.

Diffuser Blend For Boosting Immunity

Mix drops 2 Tea Tree, 3 drops Elemi, 3 Frankincense and 4 Lemon

Massage Oil For Muscular & Joint Pain

Blend 30ml Sweet Almond Oil, 5 drops Lavender, 3 Elemi, 3 Frankincense, 2 German Chamomile and 2 Camphor. Massage into affected area after a bath or shower.

Anti-ageing Facial Oil / Moisturiser

Blend 30ml of Organic Moisturising Cream or Rosehip Seed Oil with 2 drops each of Elemi, Lavender and Rose.

Hand Cream For Dry / Chapped Skin

Blend 50ml of Organic Moisturising Cream, 5ml Hemp Seed Oil, 5ml melted Extra Virgin Coconut Butter and 10 drops each of Elemi, Benzoin and Myrrh.

Meditative Aromatherapy Inhaler

Combine 7 drops Lemon, 5 drops Elemi and 3 drops Patchouli apply to the wick of an aromatherapy inhaler. Or use a few drops in a burner or diffuser.

Joannah Metcalfe
Consultant Aromatherapist

Disclaimer & Safety Advice

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