You probably recall the story of the Three Wise Men, who came bearing the world’s finest gifts for the baby Jesus.
Regardless of whether or not you celebrate Christmas, this story provides insight into what the ancient world valued most highly. Apparently, gold, frankincense, and myrrh were the cream of the crop.
Today, we still haven’t lost our fascination for gold, but frankincense and myrrh have fallen by the wayside. In the time of Christ’s birth, frankincense and myrrh (which is botanically related to frankincense) were more expensive than gold.
Frankincense is still sometimes referred to as the King of Oils—one of the last vestiges of its soaring ancient value.
So why was frankincense more valuable than gold?
Frankincense is harvested from the Boswellia carterii and Boswellia sacara trees. These plants grow very slowly, require meticulous cultivation to thrive, and can only be harvested two to three times per year.
In order to respect the plant’s fragile nature, farmers must only harvest frankincense by making tiny cuts along the bark, from which a milky sap drips drop by precious drop. The sap is then dried into beautiful, teardrop-shaped resin stones, which can be burned or refined further into oil.
This time-consuming process made frankincense a very rare (and thus valuable) commodity. But it was more than just scarcity that led the ancients to regard it as one of their most sacred and valued goods.
The ancients knew something about frankincense that modern medicine seems to have forgotten—namely that it makes one of the most powerfully healing essential oils in the world.
Medicine fit for a king
As evidenced by the story of the Three Wise Men, frankincense has been highly regarded for thousands of years.
It was traditionally used as an incense (the word actually is derived from the French franc ensens, which literally means “quality incense”), not only for its earthy, fragrant aroma, but also because of the belief that its scent heightens intuition and spiritual connection (hence its usage in Church Masses and earlier religious ceremonies).
Ayurvedic medicine, which refers to frankincense as dhoop, has used it for millennia to treat arthritis, heal wounds, and balance the hormones, among many other therapeutic applications. By the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties of this fragrant sap were already well-known. Even Hippocrates—often referred to as the father of modern medicine—highly recommended frankincense for numerous medicinal applications.
According to the Roman historian and botanist Pliny the Elder, the sale of frankincense and similar resins (like myrrh) to these flourishing ancient nations made the Southern Arabians the richest people in the world.
Now modern medical researchers have (re)discovered a plethora of benefits associated with frankincense and frankincense essential oil.
Antiseptic and immune-boosting. Frankincense works wonders against harmful bacteria and other microbes, including viruses. And unlike antibiotics and other conventional defenses against colds and flus, it does so without harming beneficial bacteria (in fact, it balances microbiome activity and strengthens the immune system).
Next time you feel a cold or flu coming on, try putting a couple drops of high-quality frankincense essential oil in a cloth and inhaling the vapor deeply.
House cleaning. These same antiseptic and astringent properties make frankincense an excellent natural replacement for chemical cleaning products. It even works as a deodorizer at the same time. Just add a few drops of frankincense essential oil to water (or vinegar, for heavy duty cleaning jobs).
Stress and anxiety relief. Inhaling the aroma of frankincense essential oil has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, calm anxiety, and even ameliorate depression. Add a couple drops of the oil to a hot bath next time you need to shed your anxiety and balance your emotions.
Hormone balance. Studies have shown that frankincense also is profoundly balancing for the endocrine and reproductive systems. It can be especially helpful for women seeking hormonal balance—it calms the symptoms of menstruation and menopause by regulating estrogen production, and can even relieve cramps, nausea, constipation, headaches, and other unpleasant symptoms of endocrine imbalance.
Heals inflammatory conditions. Frankincense inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body, and thus helps heal a wide variety of conditions associated with chronic inflammation, like arthritis, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune dysfunctions, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.
And this only scratches the surface of this remarkable substance’s benefits.
When trying out these applications of frankincense, just remember that a little goes a long way. It’s immensely powerful medicine and should be treated as such. Don’t take more than a few drops at a time internally, and stick with inhaling or infusing it unless absolutely necessary. Always seek out 100% pure essential oil, and vet your sources.
Taking this advice to heart, you can safely enjoy the many of benefits of frankincense, and experience why this resin has captivated civilization for thousands of years.
It originates from the Middle East, with abundant pinnacle leaves and has white or pale pink flowers. Deep incisions are made in the tree trunk and the bark peels off in narrow strips. Over weeks a milky juice exudes and hardens on contact with the air, resulting in an oleo gum resin, from which the oil is extracted by steam distillation. The word is from the French word ‘Franc’ meaning ‘luxuriant’ or ‘real incense’ and together with Myrrh, it was the first gum to be used as incense. Also known as Olibanum, frankincense was used by the ancient Egyptians as an offering to the gods and as part of a rejuvenating face mask. It was also used to fumigate the sick, in order to banish evil spirits. The Hebrews valued Frankincense highly, it was one of the gifts offered to the baby Jesus.
The therapeutic properties of frankincense oil are:
• antiseptic: “Tending to inhibit the growth and reproduction of microorganisms”.
• astringent: “Causing the contraction of body tissues, typically of the skin”.
• carminative: “An agent that prevents or relieves flatulence”.
• cytophylactic: “the protection of cells against cytolysis”.
• digestive: “Substance that contributes to the process of digestion”.
• diuretic: “substance that promotes urination”.
• emmenagogue: “An agent that induces or hastens menstrual flow”.
• expectorant: “An agent that increases bronchial secretion and facilitates its expulsion.”
• sedative: “Having a soothing, calming, or tranquilizing effect; reducing or relieving anxiety, stress, irritability, or excitement.”.
• tonic: “ Producing or stimulating physical, mental, or emotional vigor”.
• uterine: “Of, relating to, or in the region of the uterus”.
• vulnerary: “Used in the healing or treating of wounds”.
Summary: Frankincense oil soothes and calms the mind, slowing down and deepening breathing and is excellent for use when meditating. It also helps to calm anxiety and obsessive states linked to the past. On the respiratory tract, it clears the lungs and helps with shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis, coughs and colds. It can be useful to ease heavy periods, is a general tonic to the uterus and has a calming effect during labor. It is also most helpful for rheumatism and has a positive impact on the urinary tract. Frankincense oil is said to help rejuvenate an ageing skin, is a skin tonic and is effective with sores, carbuncles, wounds, scars and skin inflammation
**Not intended or guaranteed to cure, diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. Please see your medical practitioner for health problems