MiVT: Colchester business specializes in frankincense and myrrh

Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 6:02 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Did you know that most frankincense is distilled in France? But a Colchester company has proven an exception to the rule. Elissa Borden has more on the local incense distiller whose products are Made in Vermont.

Despite living and working in Vermont, Madhi Ibrahim likes to keep his northern Somali roots close to him.

“When I started the business, I came as a refugee in Montreal. And I always thought I left all the people behind and I want to help to figure out a business where I could help,” Ibrahim said.

To do that, Ibrahim turned to frankincense and myrrh -- two exports from Somaliland, an autonomous region in northern Somalia.

“This came from a dream, and I approached my wife and said, ‘What do you think if I import some frankincense into the U.S.?’” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim and his wife, Jamie Garvey, started their business in the incense industry, but shortly after, decided to go a different route. “When he discovered that there was oil in it, he taught himself how to distill with a small tabletop still, which we still have,” Garvey said.

That was the beginning of Boswellness. The couple has now found success in a small and niche essential oils market, but it didn’t happen overnight. “Everybody knows everybody, so as a newcomer people aren’t going to just trust you. You really have to build that trust, so it took us seven years,” Garvey said.

Even with the long timeline, they say Boswellness is the first of its kind in the country. “We are the only kind of company that does frankincense in the whole U.S. -- distillation,” Ibrahim said.

Most frankincense distillation happens in France. But the home-field advantage has helped them with wholesaling to businesses in Vermont and beyond, starting in Colchester.

“There are two types of frankincense -- one is called Boswellia carteri and Boswellia frereana. And the myrrh -- which is a totally different scent -- is Commiphora myrrha,” Ibrahim explained.

Both frankincense and myrrh are good for things like oral health and skin care, according to Boswellness. you can buy their organic oils, resins, extracts, and hydrosol water online. But the best part, they say, 20% of their revenue goes back to harvesters. Plus, they’ve done work to increase water availability in the villages, something that allows Ibrahim to sleep well at night. “We are a very sustainable business and we try to make a big difference back home where I’m from. And we did, we really increased the value of the raw material in the whole country,” he said.