USEs & BENEFITS
From the mountains of Tibet to the Temple of Solomon, thousands of years of spirituality and mystical experience, attest to the mystique and appeal of frankincense. Add to that scientific studies showing potential anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, and suddenly even modernity finds itself extolling the virtues of this ancient aromatic.
It defined trade routes and made empires in the ancient world, becoming worth more than its weight in gold by the time it was offered to the infant Jesus.
For me though, even without that impressive background on paper, an evening with frankincense speaks for itself. Experience can confirm the mythical status of this substance in ways that mere words cannot.
In my hand, the irregularly shaped granules are slightly sticky. Easily crushed into powder, each chunk is covered in its own dust. It feels like holding pieces of hard candy dusted with fine sugar. The dry scent is invigorating and mysterious. It’s elusive - not woody, not earthy, not floral.
Rather, there is an ethereal mineral character like amber coating a vaporous pine spiciness that can be felt in the throat. That crystalline, spiciness is strangely inviting like a treat from another world.
Yet at room temperature, frankincense is a partially closed flower.
With some heat that a mineral freshness with pine undertones expands rapidly filling the room before unleashing a zesty citrus tart that you can almost swallow. Then, as the resin begins to melt and bubble, crackling like firewood in the process, the salt and mineral notes melt away leaving a heady, grapefruit zest and pinecone spice combination to fill space and time.
This fragrance is devotional. It’s no wonder frankincense can be found in sacred places of every description around the world.
A while into the burn, the resin begins to caramelize, and a comforting dark toffy scent rises to prominence. What began as devotional and ethereal ends with the assuring comfort of a mother’s kitchen.
Then I turn off the heat and let it all sink in. The “frank” in frankincense is from Old French and it means exquisite.
And that is exactly what this resin is.
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The word Frankincense comes from Old French franc encens (pure, or exquisite, incense). In Latin, it's called Olibanum (oil of Lebanon). In Hebrew, Levona (white). Probably the Arabic, Luban (having to do with milk), would be the name most suitable since it best describes the appearance and texture of the milky-white sap from which frankincense is produced. Its other Arabic name, al-Bakhur, is commonly used to refer to the incense rather than the oil. Bakhur (or Bukhoor), however, is loosely used when referring to any incense, burnable resin, or fragrance that is heated, and isn't limited to frankincense only.
Frankincense is obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia in the family Burseraceae, particularly Boswellia sacra (B. bhaw-dajiana), B. carterii, B. frereana, B. serrata (B. thurifera, Indian frankincense), and B. papyrifera.
These trees grow in Oman, Yemen, India and the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Ethiopia.
The frankincense producing lands in Oman are perhaps the best known, have the highest quality, and are the most ancient source of it. Boswellia sacra, also loosely called Hojari (Omani ≠ Hojari), can be found there.
Gifted to the newborn Jesus, praised by prophets and kings, used for medicinal purposes by the disciples of Muhammad, burnt in temples and religious ceremonies for millennia, and agreed upon—as attested to by Nabatean, Arab, Greek, Persian, Jewish and Roman cultures—as the one offering of truly divine worth, frankincense has been an important part of our lives since 2800 BC.
Its spiritual and religious importance are well documented. It's many times mentioned in the Gospel, the Talmud, and Hebrew Bible also called the Old Testament. The 10 century Persian historian Abu Ja'far al-Tabari, author of a medieval text on the history of prophets and kings, said, 'The smoke of incense reaches the heavens as does no other smoke.' And it's still used today in many religious ceremonies at births, weddings and funerals for blessings and protection against evil negativity, restlessness, anxiety, and stress.
Even the 19th century American historian Henry David Thoreau acknowledged its spiritual significance saying, "The words which express our faith and piety are not definite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures."
WHAT? THERE ARE HEALTH BENEFITS, TOO!?
Please note that this section is for information purposes only. The benefits/effects listed below are not necessarily clinically proven, they are mainly the reported experiences of users and practitioners of folk and traditional healing/medical systems. This information is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a suitably qualified health-care practitioner for medical advice.
The sheer abundance of healing and psychoactive effects packed into these frankincense ‘tears’ has lead to frankincense being dubbed the King of Essential Oils. Its scent is heavenly and unobtrusive, the ideal daily incense for you home, office, or yoga studio.
Frankincense can be heated or chewed like bubble gum. The scent’s aroma-therapeutic value is well documented, and its use goes back millennia. Frankincense is the incense of choice in churches and monasteries around the world till this day, and doctors of conventional medicine are said to be catching on to its traditionally acknowledged medicinal properties.
Medicinally, frankincense is said to help with skin conditions, bronchial issues, rheumatic, and even urinary conditions. Practitioners of traditional medicines advise applying the oil around your eyes to prevent winkles. They also use it to treat scars.
Thanks to its strong antiseptic and antibacterial qualities, frankincense is also said to make a great mouthwash or oral hygiene chewing gum. Its citrusy taste makes it quite easy to chew or drink. Simply chew on a piece like you would bubble gum or dissolve the gum (or add a drop oil) to your tea or water to benefit directly from its internal health benefits.
Some other the possible benefits are listed below:
Boosts immune system: Frankincense is said to be an effective antiseptic and even the fumes or smoke from burning it has antiseptic and disinfectant qualities. It can be applied to cuts to protect them from infection without any adverse side effects. It's also good for internal injuries, also protecting them from infection.
Improves oral health: It's a useful preventive measure against oral health issues, like bad breath, toothaches, cavities, mouth sores and other infections. Try chewing some, you'll taste the difference immediately.
Astringent properties: It is also known for its astringent or contracting properties because of which it is said to strengthen the gums and hair roots preventing premature loss of teeth and hair. Frankincense tones and lifts skin, and strengthens muscles and blood vessels. This quality also reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fights the loss of firmness of the intestines, abdominal muscles, and limbs with age. On top of all that, if you can believe it, it acts as a coagulant helping to stop bleeding from wounds and cuts.
Regulates menstruation: Good news for women! It reduces delayed menstruation and delays menopause. It helps to cure other symptoms that come with menses and pre-menstrual syndrome, like pain in the abdominal region, nausea, headache, fatigue, and mood swings.
Prevents bloating: It gets rid of gas and stops it from building up in your body. This gives relief from associated problems like stomach aches, pain in the abdominal region, abnormal amounts of sweating, indigestion and many other conditions.
Reduces scarring: How about this interesting property? In this age of looking good and staying young, frankincense is in style. When rubbed on or inhaled, it is said to make scars and marks of boils, acne and pox on the skin quickly disappear. This includes stretch marks and scars that come with pregnancy and delivery.
Promotes digestion: How many times have you suffered from indigestion after that delicious meal? Sick of gulping down antacids? You could try frankincense oil instead as it is said to digestive properties and no adverse side effects. It facilitates digestion and doesn't just suppress the symptoms like most antacids do. It is said to also speed up the release of digestive juices in the stomach and help with the movement of food through the intestines.
Anticancer properties: Hard to believe? Well, research has shown that applying the oil may help prevent the spread of breast and skin cancers. It's also being used as an alternative treatment to bladder cancer.
Delays aging: Yep. The tree of youth! Frankincense is said to promote regeneration of healthy cells and keep existing cells and tissue healthy. Remember the contracting property? Combine that with this regeneration property and you may well have one potent anti-aging solution on your hands. So, get rid of those crow's-feet and wrinkles with frankincense oil!
Reduces respiratory issues: Frankincense is said to soothe coughs and eliminate phlegm in the lungs and respiratory tracts. It is also said to provide relief from bronchitis and nasal congestion. It has anti-inflammatory properties that help relax the breathing passages and, in doing so, reduces the dangers of asthma attacks. It's said to be an immune system booster, too.
Relieves stress: Frankincense very effective as a sedative, giving one a feeling of mental peace, relaxation, and satisfaction. It is said to be the perfect accompaniment to daily yoga or Chi Kung as it encourages a meditative state.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Unfortunately, due to natural and unnatural causes, frankincense tree populations are declining. Research has shown that seeds from heavily tapped trees germinate at rate of only 16% as opposed to 80% for untapped trees.
Also, due to economic factors, farmers in some countries clear the Boswellia trees in order to grow more profitable crops like sesame and cotton.
Animals often munch on the tree's foliage, flowers, and seedlings which results in low regeneration. On top of all that, the mature trees seem to be dying.
Yet all is not lost! Scientists are aware of the dwindling numbers of frankincense trees and have been researching ways to protect the current numbers and/or grow them in different countries with suitable climates. These are difficult tasks due to the pressures of the global economy and a general lack of appreciation of the importance frankincense in places it is traditionally produced.
Despite reducing demand for frankincense, prices continue to rise which means more output is required for it to be profitable. This in turn means more tapping. The number of spots a tree can be tapped without affecting its lifespan is about nine. Yet some of trees tapped in as many as twenty-three places! Over tapping also makes the tree more vulnerable to the longhorn beetle which likes to lay its eggs underneath the bark.
Researchers believe hope lies in education, even as they acknowledge the challenges faced in delivering that education to the people, especially in poorer countries.
As one professor said, "Boswellia has played a major role in the modernization of the Arab world. Maybe it's time we gave something back to the plant."