This is the time of year when we sell a lot of Frankincense
essential oil. Everyone knows the story of the wise men coming from the East to visit the baby Jesus and bring him precious gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh (if you want the whole story read Matthew 2:1-12). Many folks are curious about these precious substances – gold seems clear enough, but why frankincense and myrrh?
What we sell is the essential oil, but back then the wise men probably brought frankincense and myrrh in the form of incense (just speculating, of course!). Frankincense is an aromatic resin that comes from trees of the genus Boswellia. This genus of trees is known for being very resilient, growing in very harsh conditions, sometimes seemingly growing out of solid rocks! The trees are tapped for the resin, like maple trees are for syrup. The resin oozes out and hardens into “tears” from which the incense is made or from which the essential oil is distilled.
Frankincense has been traded in Northern Africa and the Middle East for about 5000 years. Because it is so helpful for stimulating and elevating the mind, and centering ones thoughts, it’s no big surprise that it was and is used in so many religious traditions.
Frankincense was used in many religious traditions including Ancient Greek and Roman rituals. The Hebrews blended frankincense with other precious resins, in a blend called the Ketoret, to perfume and prepare the sanctuary for worship. The early Christian church was forbidden to use incense during worship. Later, however, the Roman Catholic Church began using it and still uses it today. Many Anglican churches also use frankincense, especially in their high church ceremonies (what I like to call “smells and bells”).
Frankincense, as an essential oil, is very helpful for focus and overcoming anxiety. Medicinally, it is an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory and is useful for relieving sore muscles and arthritis (we do not recommend using it without first diluting it with a carrier oil). Frankincense is also used in various skin care applications to treat aging or dry skin (again, blended with a carrier). In addition, it has a very exotic and warming aroma that is SO soothing and grounding if diffused in your home, most especially during the holidays. Unfortunately, the Boswellia genus is becoming endangered, so frankincense essential oil may become even more precious and rare in the near future.
Myrrh, the other precious gift of the Magi, is also a resin, coming from the genus Commiphora. It, like frankincense, grows well in arid, harsh conditions and is native to North Africa, It is thought that at some moments in history, Myrrh was worth its weight in gold. Used by the Egyptians in embalming methods, the Ketoret blend in the Jewish tradition, in paganism, as well as Christianity, it is a more subtle fragrance than frankincense: rich, smoky and sensual. Myrrh’s qualities are similar to frankincense; it is uplifting, grounding and purifying. Myrrh oil is widely used as an aid to meditation. We recommend using the essential oil in a diffuser to meditate and awaken your soul.
Physically, myrrh essential oil is reputed to support good oral hygiene and be useful for a plethora of skin issues: chapped skin, eczema, bruises, infections and varicose veins.
It is easy to see why frankincense and myrrh were so valued by all cultures and religions, on par with gold.