What is it about frankincense and myrrh that rates them with gold, as related in the ancient tales about wise men in the East bearing gifts?
For that matter, what are these two famous and fabled substances?
Both frankincense (Boswellia carterii) and myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) come from trees that grow almost exclusively in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. The sap, or gum resin, is collected by making a longitudinal cut in the tree’s trunk. The sap oozes out and forms tear-shaped globules. Once the sap has dried in the sun, it is ready to be used.
Somali Man Harvesting Myrhh
The dried resin imparts its fragrance when burned as incense. It can also be processed into essential oils. These were so highly regarded that they were both used, together, at least since the time of ancient Jerusalem, Greece and Rome.
A page from History.com tells us:
“Medical practitioners had recognized and documented the substances’ antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, prescribing them for everything from indigestion and chronic coughs to hemorrhoids and halitosis.”
Let’s follow our noses and find out more about these seasonal scents.
Frankincense was in high demand from Europe to Asia. As a result, the kingdoms of southern Arabia joined the global economy, with shipping connections to India, the Mediterranean and the Silk Road.
Because of its strong, acrid odor, frankincense was burned as an offering to the departed – and to cover the odor of the dead body. The Roman emperor, Nero, burned an entire year’s harvest of frankincense at the funeral of his favorite mistress.
On a happier note, known as the king of essential oils, frankincense rejuvenates skin when applied topically, and promotes cellular health, immunity and a healthy inflammatory response when taken internally.
Among its many medicinal uses, frankincense has been used as a home remedy to treat afflictions ranging from ulcers, hypertension, nausea, fever, indigestion, chest coughs and post-childbirth recovery to sore throats, cramps, inflammation, colic and digestive problem
Frankincense is also a powerful aromatherapy tool. Inhaling it can promote feelings of satisfaction, peace, relaxation, and overall wellness, especially during meditation.
The Chinese have used myrrh medicinally for thousands of years. The Egyptians used it in their embalming rituals. The Jews used it to make holy anointing oil for worship services.
The word myrrh comes from Arabic “murr” (bitter). The yellowish, orange oil, thick and sticky, is commonly used as a base for perfumes and fragrances.
But wait, there’s more good news about myrrh! Turns out it has therapeutic value – and it can make you feel better! According to Dr. Axe:
“Two primary active compounds are found in myrrh, called terpenoids and sesquiterpenes, both of which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Sesquiterpenes specifically also have an effect on our emotional center in the hypothalamus, helping us remain calm and balanced. Both of these compounds are under investigation for their anticancer and antibacterial benefits, as well as other potential therapeutic uses.”
Myrrh is prized for its soothing properties in aromatherapy. According to a website that sells the essential oil:
“Emotionally and energetically, myrrh essential oil calms the mind and ushers in a sense of tranquility. It can bring inner stillness and help one reconnect to physical surroundings and one’s spiritual center. Myrrh essential oil can help with overthinking and stabilize a distracted mind.”
So if you want to add some “Mellow Yellow” to your “Jolly Holly” – toss some frankincense and myrrh on the flaming yule log, sit back, put your feet up, and breathe deeply. Ahhhhhhhhh…
This must be why frankincense and myrrh are worth their weight in gold.