Ball and Stick model of Alpha-Thujene

What is α-Thujene?

Alpha-thujene (α-thujene) is a natural organic compound that can be found in many essential oils. It catches my interest, because α-thujene is a main constituent of many varieties of frankincense essential oils. For example, the essential oil of Boswellia Serrata (a.k.a. Indian frankincense) can be composed of up to 65% of α-thujene[1].

2D diagram of Alpha-Thujeneα-thujene is also found in eucalyptus essential oil. α-thujene is classified as a monoterpene, it has a pungent taste and a green-herbal-woody smell. α-thujene is transparent with a yellow tint.

The molecular formula for α-thujene is C10H16 and the molar mass of α-thujene is 136.23404 g/mol. In comparison, hemaglobin is 474 heavier with a molar mass of 64,458 g/mol.

The chemical nomenclature for α-thujene is 1-isopropyl-4-methylbicyclo[3.1.0]hex-3-ene.

α-thujene vs α-thujone

But don’t confuse α-thujene with α-thujone. α-thujone is a neurotoxic substance that binds to the GABAA receptors in the brain, one of the main constituents of absinthe and wormwood.

But α-thujene is a substance found in frankincense resin, especially in boswellia serrata, which is a tree from the middle east that secretes a medicinal resin.

Isomers of α-Thujene

Note that the term “thujene” usually refers to α-thujene. But what else can “thujene” refer to? Well, some of it’s isomers, at the very least. Note that an isomer refers to a molecule that has the same molecular formula to another molecule, but with different chemical structures. In other words, an isomer has the same number of atoms of each element, but has different arrangements of their atoms.

Isomers don’t necessarily share similar properties, except if they have the same functional groups. Note that a functional group is a specific group of atoms or bonds within a molecule that are responsible for the characteristic chemical reaction/properties of those molecules.

A good example of isomers is caffeine and theobromine. Both have similar effects on the body & cognition because they share the same methyl groups which binds to the adenosine receptors in the brain. But they differ by the fact that caffeine has one more methyl group. That difference causes caffeine to be more effective at stimulating the central nervous system, whereas theobromine is more effective at stimulating the cardiovascular system.

So what about α-thujene? Well, α-thujene also has 2 isomers called β-Thujene and Sabinene.

Alpha-thujene, beta-thujene, and sabinene side-by-side
Isomers of Alpha-thujene

Whether α-thujene shares functional groups with  β-Thujene and Sabinene, I’ll need to find out later. My speculation (given how similar in structure these molecules are) is that they do share similar chemical and bio-active properties.

There aren’t that many studies done α-thujene on its own. However, it is very briefly mentioned in studies non-specific to α-thujene that talk about other essential oils. But it would be useful if we could figure out what each component of an essential oil does, instead of analyzing the essential oil as a whole, right?

Properties of α-Thujene

Many properties of α-thujene can be deduced by finding a natural substance that has a lot of studies already done on it, with the natural substance being mainly composed of α-thujene. A great example for this would be boswellia serrata essential oil, which is composed of approximately 65% of α-thujene, as I’ve mentioned before.

With that in mind, here I will list down the properties of α-thujene:

  • Insecticide
  • Possibly anti-inflammatory[2]
    • anti-arthritic
  • Antimicrobial[3]

Like many other plant-derived substances, α-thujene has an insecticidal property. This is a common property for many plant-based substances, given that plants are often the target of insects, and thereby plants are required to use “chemical warefare” to defend themselves from being decimated by insects. Other well known insecticides include caffeine and nicotine.

α-thujene also shows possibly anti-inflammatory properties. I say “possibly”, because the study I am referencing used an alcoholic extract of Boswellia serrata. The alcoholic extract of Boswellia serrata would contain the essential oils, and perhaps other substances like boswellic acid. So either boswellic acid or α-thujene, or both have anti-inflammatory properties. The extract of boswellia serrata was also shown in the rats to have anti-arthritic property.

Related Links


  1. GC/MS report of Boswellia Serrata by Dr. Robert S. Pappas [Eden’s Garden]
  2. Pharmacology of an extract of salai guggal ex-Boswellia serrata, a new non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent. [Agents Actions.]
  3. Synergistic antimicrobial activity of Boswellia serrata Roxb. ex Colebr. (Burseraceae) essential oil with various azoles against pathogens associated with skin, scalp and nail infections. [Lett Appl Microbiol.]

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