Frankincense / Olibanum
Frankincense provides one of the most evocative
scents in the long history of aromatics. Its fresh, fruity, pine-lemon bouquet
with delicately sweet, resinous and woody undertones, slows and deepens breathing and has been used since ancient times to awaken higher consciousness, and enhance spirituality, meditation and prayer.
The name "Frankincense" is widely known as an
historic biblical ingredient, and to many as one of three gifts from the visiting Magi
to the newborn Jesus and as an ingredient in the Old Testament's Exodus incense
mixture. Few have experienced its aroma though or know of its rich history and how the world has
treasured and used it since long before recorded time.
Lets explore some of it together...
Frankincense has been one of the world's most
treasured commodities since the beginning of written history. At its peak its
value rivaled that of gold, the rarest silks, and the most precious of gems.
Ironically, it is but a milky-white resin produced by a scrubby, unlikely
looking tree, genus Boswellia. There are twenty-five known species of
Boswellia, each creating a water-soluble gum-resin with its own distinctive
fragrance and medicinal properties.
Frankincense trees require an arid climate
where moisture is provided by morning mist. The few ideal environments in the
world for this small prized tree are found in Southern Arabia (Oman
and Yemen), India, and Northern Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya).
Further, frankincense trees require a limestone-rich soil and are mostly found
growing on rocky hillsides and cliffs, or in the dried riverbeds below.
Harvesting can be a very dangerous task.
trees grow to about 20ft. in height (8m) with branches often beginning near
its base. The common Oman, Aden (Yemen), and Somalia species, B. sacra / B. carteri, produce small
yellow-white colored flowers with five petals, while the African B. papyrifera and B. thurifera produce small pale-red flowers. Each are a favorite among bees and produce small fruits which are fed to livestock. But it's the trees' resin that's been treasured for thousands of years for its aromatic and medicinal uses.
Frankincense resin begins as a milky-white
sticky liquid that flows from the trunk of the tree when it's injured, healing
the wound. The Arabic name is luban, which means white or cream. It's also known as olibanum,
and its essential oil is often called "Oil of Lebanon." It's commonly recognized western name,
frankincense, is said to have originated from the Frankish (French) Knights of the Crusades who treasured it in large quantities.
Frankincense resin flows when a tool called a
mengaff is used to scrape about a five-inch section down the trunk of tree.
The tree is marked and the harvester returns in two weeks to scrape what has
become hardened frankincense resin from the tree. Resins which fall to the
ground are collected on large palm leaves placed when first tapping the tree.
The process repeats itself for about 3 months during harvesting.
Frankincense trees are ideally harvested twice
per year, from January to March and again from August to October. The trees
benefit from rest periods and produce finer quality resin when taken care of
properly. Collected resins are aged for about twelve weeks and are then brought
to the world's markets. Finer resins are opaque white, semi-translucent white
with shades of lemon or light amber. The
exceptions are B. frereana which is used as chewing gum and is best soft
and translucent lemon colored with golden hues, and B. serrata of India which is best
golden to golden-brown. India's B. serrata is highly prized and
extensively used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Recent studies by an international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, have indicated that burning frankincense resin (Boswellia) helps to to alleviate anxiety and depression. The University of Munich found the anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense very effective as a treatment for joint pain and arthritis. The famous eleventh-century Arabian physician, Avicenna, recommended its cooling effects as a remedy for infections and illnesses that increase the body's temperature. Greek and Roman physicians used Frankincense in the treatment of a great variety of diseases. Frankincense remedies appear in the Syriac Book of Medicine, ancient Muslim texts, and in Ayurvedic and Chinese medical writings.
Frankincense is also a natural insecticide and was used in ancient Egypt to fumigate wheat silos and repel wheat moths. In Arabia, the smoke of burning frankincense resin is used to repel mosquitoes and sand flies. Researchers have found that burning frankincense indoors improves the acoustic properties of the room. Dioscorides described how the bark of the
tree was put into water to attract fish into nets and traps. In ancient Egypt
the resin was a key ingredient for embalming their dead.
Frankincense resin is distilled by steam or CO2
to extract its precious essential oil, which is used extensively in modern
aromatherapy. This oil is rejuvenating to the skin, treating acne, bacterial and
fungal infections, and to treat wounds and scars. Thus, it is used in cosmetics, soaps, and perfumes.
Frankincense in summary, is one of nature's
most cherished gifts. Whether you desire the pleasure of its pure resin for
incense or its precious essential oil for aromatherapy, cosmetics or perfume,
you can find a diverse line of high quality frankincense resins and oils here at our
Sepasal Database - www.rbgkew.org.uk/ceb/sepasal/bsacra.htm
Document Repository -
Frankincense and Myrrh; A Study of the Arabian Incense Trade - by Nigel Groom
The Complete Incense Book - by Susanne Fischer-Rizzi
Holistic Herbals - by David Hoffman
Aromatherapy; A complete guide to the healing art - by Kathi Keville & Mindy Green
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2008, May 20). Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses.
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Frankincense Resins & Oils