Frankincense & Myrrh are two of the oldest and most famous of aromatherapy essential oils (resins) known to man. Their history dates back to the beginning of civilization and was prized among kings, royalty, sages, and healers, and as every Christian knows was received as a sacred gift by baby Jesus from the three wise men. The resin has been a major item of commerce for at least 3,000 years. Even today, Frankincense & Myrrh are still prized for their many uses.
The Adoration of the Magi, a tapestry designed by Edward Burne-Jones. The Bible mentions frankincense about 50 times and myrrh about 20. They were used for everything from an aphrodisiac and perfume sachet worn by King Solomon, to incense burned by temples and places of worship around the globe. Frankincense and myrrh are famously two of the three gifts from the Magi to the infant Christ child and were highly symbolic; gold for royalty, frankincense for divinity, and myrrh for suffering.
Frankincense & Myrrh Noted in the Bible (Song of Solomon)
“Who is this coming up from the wilderness
Like palm-trees of smoke,
Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
From every powder of the merchant?”
“Till the day doth break forth,
And the shadows have fled away,
I will get me unto the mountain of myrrh,
And unto the hill of frankincense.”
More about Frankincense & Myrrh
Though both frankincense and myrrh tend to bring up certain religious connotations to the western mind, they have been in active use as magical incenses, ritual tools and for their healing properties since at least 1500BC.
In the Chinese medicine books, frankincense was first mentioned in the Mingyi Bielu (Miscellaneous Records of Famous Physicians; ca. 500 A.D.). It was called fanhunxiang (calling back the soul fragrance) and ruxiang (nipple-shaped fragrance); the latter name has been retained, but the former is true to the original use of frankincense as incense for mourning the dead. Myrrh, already known in China, entered the formal herb books somewhat later, in the Kaibao Bencao (Materia Medica of the Kaibao Era, 973 A.D.). Its name, moyao, indicates the medicine (yao) of mo, the Chinese pronunciation of the Arabic name murr, meaning bitter. In modern Chinese Materia Medica, these two resins are classified as herbs for vitalizing circulation of blood and are utilized for treating traumatic injury, painful swellings, masses, and other disorders related to stasis syndromes. Their source remains the Middle East, though frankincense trees have been cultivated in southern China.
Frankincense Tears are known for their use in consecration, meditation, protection and purifying. Along with many other uses…
Myrrh is known for: Protection, purification, healing and magical potency.
Both are known for their use as a sacred tool in many cultures. And it’s best not to use them during pregnancy….especially during 1st trimester. Frankincense may be used heavily diluted after 2nd trimester, but myrrh should not be used during pregnancy.
The traditions of caretaking frankincense trees and harvesting their resin have played an important role in the life of nomadic desert tribes of North Africa for millennia. The trees are owned by families living in the area where they grow; ancient rituals surround the harvesting of the resin, and guardianship of the trees is passed on from generation to generation. The traditions, customs, and ceremonies surrounding frankincense, like many other important plants, are being lost. As people embrace modern lifestyles, the old ways of caring for the plants vanishes, and the plant’s numerous benefits are lost. Frankincense was once a source of many items of commerce, including medicines, dyes, and cosmetics.
Botanically, frankincense trees are an excellent example of the natural diversity that can occur in different species of the same genus, and different varieties of the same species. There has been much confusion about the proper identification of the various types of frankincense, because of differences in species (approximately 25), varieties of individual species, quality of resin, micro-climates, and time of harvesting. Wild frankincense trees have a wide range of characteristics even within the same basic climatic zone.
The essential oil of frankincense contains more than 200 individual natural chemicals, giving the fragrance a very complex bouquet. There is considerable variation in the proportion of these components depending on the micro-climate where the trees grow, the season at which the resin is harvested, and a number of other factors.
Boswellia seedlings are slow growing and are susceptible to livestock grazing before they are able to reach a more mature state. Serrata in particular is becoming endangered and is need of conservation due to extensive farming, overgrazing and poor harvesting practices. Once established, Frankincense trees can live for at least a hundred years. Their flowers are popular with bees, and the long flowering period from October to February is helpful for bee colony maintenance.
I love Aura Cacia’s description,
The deeply meditative aromas of frankincense and myrrh evoke ancient tombs and temples. Their fragrances, like the breath of a prayer, create an olfactory link to the dawning of civilized human society.
The earliest recorded use of frankincense is found in an inscription on the tomb of a 15th century BC Egyptian queen named Hathsepsut. Ancient Egyptians burned frankincense as incense and ground the charred resin into a powder called kohl. Kohl was used to make the distinctive black eyeliner seen on so many figures in Egyptian art. Egyptians also used myrrh resin as incense and as an important ingredient in the embalming process, sometimes placing the crude resin in the eviscerated body cavities of mummies.
Frankincense and myrrh are familiar botanical products in the east, where they’ve been used for millennia. Most people in the west are unfamiliar with the true identity of these enigmatic substances — even though they are frequently mentioned in historical texts, especially scripture, (frankincense is mentioned 22 times in the Bible).
Frankincense and myrrh essential oils are distilled from the resin of two separate but related trees of the burseraceae family. Plants of this family are often sculpted into natural bonsai by the extreme conditions of their desert environments, with eerily contorted trunks and stubby leafless branches.
There are many different species of frankincense (Boswellia) and myrrh (Commiphera) growing from east Africa through southern Arabia and into northwestern India. The general consensus of botanists identifies four main species of Boswellia and two of Commiphera.
Boswellia carteri comes from Somalia. B. sacra comes from southern Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman. B. frereana also grows in Somalia. Its resin and essential oil are known as African elemi, (not to be confused with true elemi essential oil, which comes from a Philippine tree). B. serrata grows in India. Its resin and essential oil are known as Indian olibanum.
Commiphera myrrha or true myrrh occurs in Somalia and the Arabian peninsula, along with about eight other species which are often mixed together in commercially available crude resin.
The trunks of both frankincense and myrrh trees exude a sticky substance called oleo gum resin. This oleo gum resin is made up of roughly 65% gum, 30% resin and 4% essential oil (frankincense), and 45% gum, 30% resin and 4% essential oil (myrrh). The tree trunks are incised by collectors to expedite the release of the resin, which dries in the hot desert sun into hard knobby masses called tears — a fitting name considering what the tree goes through, and in light of the fact that myrrh traditionally symbolizes suffering. (Frankincense symbolizes divinity.)
The crude resin of frankincense and myrrh can be treated in one of two ways to produce liquid aromatics. The resin is soluble in chemical solvents and the essential oil can be steam distilled. The solvent extraction process produces a viscous, almost solid substance called a resinoid. Resinoids are soluble in high-grade, odorless alcohols. Alcohol dissolved resinoids are sometimes passed off as distilled essential oils. Resinoids are often used in perfume making. Steam distilled essential oils of frankincense and myrrh are most appropriate for use in aromatherapy.
More About Frankincense:
Oil of frankincense is slightly viscous, yellow to green with a deeply balsamic, fresh-resinous aroma. Sweet-lemony or green apple-like notes add complexity to the overall aroma profile of good quality frankincense oil. Thin, turpentine or solvent-like, weak, short-lived aromas are indicative of poor quality or adulterated frankincense oil.
Other Frankincense Names:
Arbre à Encens, Arbre à Oliban Indien, Boswella, Boswellia, Boswellia serrata, Boswellie, Boswellin, Boswellin Serrata Resin, Encens Indien, Franquincienso, Gajabhakshya, Indian Olibanum, Oliban Indien, Resina Boswelliae, Ru Xiang, Salai Guggal, Salai Guggul, Sallaki Guggul, Shallaki.
Frankincense Medical Uses:
Indian frankincense is used for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain (rheumatism), bursitis, and tendonitis. Other uses include ulcerative colitis, abdominal pain, asthma, hay fever, sore throat, syphilis, painful menstruation, pimples, and cancer. Indian frankincense is also used as a stimulant, to increase urine flow, and for stimulating menstrual flow.
How does frankincense work?
The resin of Indian frankincense contains substances that may decrease inflammation.
Frankincense has a long history as incense. It was burned by the Egyptians and is used in many religious ceremonies. Traditionally it has also been used for skin ailments from acne to wound healing.
Analgesic, anti-arthritic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, sedative, tonic, vulnerary
Acne, anxiety, asthma, blemishes, bronchitis, colds, coughs, dry skin, flu, nervousness, rheumatism, scars, skin ailments, stress, ulcers, urinary tract infections, wrinkles, wounds. To take advantage of some of the skin healing properties of this oil it may be added to skin creams or toners.
Blends Well With:
Bergamot, black pepper, camphor, cinnamon, cypress, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mandarin, neroli, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, pine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, ylang ylang
Of Interest: Frankincense has many other names that it is known as. Most commonly you will see it as frankincense, olibanum, or boswellia.
Frankincense history dates back thousands of years, with both spiritual and medicinal uses. It is considered the “holy anointing oil” in the Middle East. The ancient Chinese used frankincense as a treatment for a range of ailments. The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest known medical records from the sixteenth century B.C., mentions frankincense oil. The ancient Egyptians listed the oil on hundreds of prescriptions and recipes.
The various types of frankincense include
Boswellia carterii and Boswellia frereana from Ethiopia, Somalia, and Oman; Boswellia thurifera from Somalia and India; Boswellia papyrifera from Ethiopia, East Africa, and the Sudan; Boswellia serrata (also known as Indian frankincense or Salaigugal); and Boswellia sacra (also called hojary, hojari, houjari, hogary, hawjari, hawjeri), which grows wild in inland Arabia. – Carol Wiley
- Stress Relieving Bath-Soak
- Natural Household Cleaner
- Anti-Aging & Wrinkle Fighter
- Natural Hygiene Product- It can help prevent dental health issues like tooth decay, bad breath, cavities, or oral infections.
- Relieves Symptoms of Indigestion
- Scar, Wound, Stretch Mark or Acne Remedy
- Natural Cold or Flu Medicine
- Helps Relieve Inflammation and Pain
be sure to read this scientific study: Curcumin & boswellia combo beats top arthritis pain med in trial - without the NSAID-associated risks
More About Myrrh:
Oil of myrrh is slightly viscous, yellowish to amber orange with a warm-spicy, balsamic fragrance. Overly viscous, dark brown oils may be extracted resinoids and not steam distilled essential oils, which are more useful in aromatherapy applications. Myrrh resinoids are more appropriate as perfume fixatives.
Traditional Use: In the fragrance industry the oil is used as a fixative. Medicinally it is used to treat wounds, and in many oral care products.
Properties: Anticatarrhal, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, carminative, cicatrisant, emmenagogue, expectorant, fungicidal, sedative, stomachic, tonic, uterine, vulnerary
Benefits: Amenorrhea, arthritis, asthma, athleteâ€™s foot, bronchitis, catarrh, colds, cough, cracked skin, cuts, diarrhea, dyspepsia, eczema, flatulence, gingivitis, gum infections, hemorrhoids, hyperthyroid, laryngitis, leucorrhea, loss of appetite, mouth ulcers, sore throat, thrush, ulcers, wounds, wrinkles. The antimicrobial and astringent properties of this oil make it useful in oral and skin care products.
Blends Well With: Bergamot, chamomile, clove, cypress, eucalyptus lemon, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemon, neroli, palmarosa, patchouli, pine, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, tea tree, vetiver, ylang ylang
Of Interest: Myrrh has been prevalent throughout history. It was used in the mummification process by the Egyptians. It has been used in religious rituals all over the world, and it is utilized in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines.
Aromatherapy uses of frankincense and myrrh
Aromatherapy draws on the deeply meditative quality of these oils. A gentle diffusion of a blend of equal proportions of both can evoke emotional balance in cases of anxiety or stress. Such a blend is also appropriate as an adjunct to prayer and meditation. In fact this usage is consistent with the long history of frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh can be useful in less relaxing blends as well. Outstanding and unusual aromas can be created by blending the two oils with citrus oils — lemon and bergamot work well with frankincense; orange and tangerine with myrrh. The citrus oils produce a lighter, cleaner, more uplifting aroma, more inspiring and less introspective than using frankincense and myrrh alone. These citrus frankincense and myrrh blends are useful when seeking emotional inspiration. Frankincense and myrrh alone are best used when seeking emotional insight.
One of the most appropriate ways to use frankincense and myrrh may be to burn the crude resin on hot coals as the ancients did. This simple ritual will release a distinctive aroma and sinuous trails of fragrant incense that hold a mysterious presence in the room. The curling tendrils of burning frankincense and myrrh have measured the passage of history, and facilitate the navigation of inner and outer spiritual.
Frankincense & Myrrh by Martin Watt and Wanda Sellar—A great reference book for enthusiasts of ancient cultures and those interested in the beginnings of aromatherapy and the use of incense. This book charts out and goes into great depth about the ancient spice routes and how each culture (Egyptian and Mesopotamian) viewed and used Frankincense & Myrrh. The book also includes ancient and modern recipes for medicinal used of both resins.
The Many Uses & Benefits of Frankincense
There are so many uses and benefits of frankincense essential oil its hard to list them all, but one thing known about frankincense is its meditational value and action as a skin tonic. It is considered especially good for dry and mature skin, and is commonly used in high-end skin-care products.
Frankincense contains sesquiterpenes, which stimulate the brain’s limbic system (the center of memory and emotions) and the hypothalamus, pineal, and pituitary glands. The scent can calm and soothe the whole body and mind, while also being stimulating and elevating. Useful for visualizing and improving one’s spiritual connection, frankincense has comforting properties that help center the mind and overcome stress and despair.
In The Fragrant Heavens, Valeria Ann Worwood describes the spiritual benefits of frankincense essential oil as “adaptogenic – it will adapt to a person’s spiritual state of being… capable of offering support in a wide range of circumstances.” And it can “induce feelings of emotional stability, enlightenment, protection, introspection, courage, resolution, fortitude, acceptance and inspiration.”
According to Aromatherapy for Dummies, frankincense essential oil can help improve circulation and improve the integrity of blood vessels (along with bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, grapefruit, and lemon). Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy notes frankincense is used for weakened immune system, asthma, and depression.
According to the Essential Oils Desk Reference, frankincense uses are for depression, cancer, respiratory infections, inflammation, and to enhance the immune system.
In March 2009, a study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2009, 9:6 showed that frankincense essential oil “suppressed cell viability in bladder transitional carcinoma J82 cells.”
Frankincense is suitable for many conditions and has been shown to:
- Treat skin inflammation, scarring, wrinkles and acne
- Encourage cellular regeneration
- Alleviate headaches
- Treat allergies
- Help heal bronchitis, laryngitis, and asthma
- Enhance digestion
- Slow down and deepen your breathing
- Act as a powerful anti-depressant
- Calm your mind, ease anxiety, and reduce nightmares
- Have properties that can heal melanoma and some cancers (see this post for more on frankincense healing cancer)
Myrrh is equally beneficial and can:
- Balance your thyroid and endocrine system
- Heal fungal and viral infections
- Enhance your emotional well being
- Treat ulcers
- Eliminate gingivitis
- Rid your body of parasites
- Relieve asthma, coughs and colds
- Act as an expectorant and rids your body of congestion
- Reduce cholesterol
fine image of frankincense
excellent image, takes a while to load but shows both Boswellia sacra tree and how oleo-gum-resin exhudes from the trunk
frankincense a microscopic view of Frankincense
molecular image of frankincense resin-stunning
frankincense resin congealing on trunk
That site has images of many plants of the bible including frankincense-You need to scroll down the list almost to the bottom to reach Boswellia but there are several excellent pictures of the tree, its flowers and the varioius grades of resin.
One thing to be very aware of is that if you are interested in purchasing Frankincense and/or Myrrh essential oils, most are adulterated, and diluted, so it may be more beneficial (depending on how you want to use them and what for) just to buy the resins and burn them on hot coals (charcoal), or read more below on crude resin and how it’s made into liquid aromatics as well as where to get therapeutic grade frankincense oil:
Resources and More Reading:
study: Curcumin & boswellia combo beats top arthritis pain med in trial – without the NSAID-associated risks
Great info and back story frankincense & myrrh: http://www.itmonline.org/arts/myrrh.htm
More info: https://traveltoeat.com/myrrh-and-frankincense-1/
Also, if you are interested in grinding your Frankincense or Myrrh into powders for other uses, see this awesome post;
8 Uses for Frankincense essential oil by Dr Axe
Where to buy Sacred Frankincense (therapeutic grade); from a dear friend who is also a distributor for Young Living Oils, see her fb page here.
many resins, incense and raw material: http://www.scents-of-earth.com/frankincense.html
Bella Mira therapeutic grade essential oils ..
Mountain Rose Organic