Frankincense, the Mysterious
The Frankincense tree, which has been used for thousands of years, has perhaps the strongest association with spiritual practise of any plant on the planet. It has played a role in religious and domestic life in the majority of the great ancient cultures, including the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Hebrew, Greek, and Roman civilizations. Frankincense has long been coveted by kings and regarded as valuable as gold. Recent years have seen an increase in popularity among spiritual seekers and natural healers alike. What makes this tree unique enough that its ‘pearls’ were given as a gift at the birth of one of history’s most revered prophets?
The Resilient Tree and its Tears
At first glance, the Frankincense tree, or Olibanum, may appear unremarkable. It grows to be a colossal shrub with numerous knurled branches topped with an abundance of slender leaves and, on occasion, small white flowers. It is native to northern Africa and appears to belong in the desert, growing in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. However, it is not the tree itself that has such profound lore surrounding it, but rather its sap. When the tree’s bark is pierced with a knife (traditionally called a ‘Mingaf’), a milky-white oleoresin is exuded – without causing any harm to the tree. The resin condenses into droplets called ‘tears’ or ‘pearls,’ which harden into the orange-brown gum called Frankincense. The English name for this natural incense comes from the mediaeval French ‘franc’, which means ‘pure’ or ‘free’, and the Latin ‘incensium’, which means ‘to smoke’.
The Most Popular Incense Throughout History
The hardened resin has been burned in temples throughout Egypt, China, and India for over 5000 years; the Catholic church continues to use it during Mass today. It is one of the four primary components of Jewish ceremonial incense and plays a significant role in Sabbath day offerings. As with other ritual incense, it is believed that the smoke of Frankincense carries prayers to heaven. Additionally, it is said to assist in deepening the breath and calming the mind, making it beneficial for meditation and yogic practise. Incense may also have health benefits, as it produces a highly antiseptic smoke that helps keep churches and churchgoers disease-free.
According to ancient records, Babylon’s great Baal temple consumed 2.5 tonnes of Frankincense per year. In ancient times, the Frankincense trade was enormously important, reaching a zenith around 2000 years ago. Caravans grew to a size of up to 2,000 to 3,000 camels. Cities developed along the trade routes, and high taxes and fees for protection, lodging, and camel fodder significantly increased the cost of the resin, to the point where it was valued at the same level as gold. Alexander the Great was inspired by the wealth involved to plot to control the region, despite the fact that his death occurred prior to the invasion.
Frankincense resin is believed to possess a plethora of health benefits; it was used in ancient Egypt as an ingredient in a rejuvenating face mask (it was also charred and used as the classic heavy eyeliner seen in much ancient Egyptian art), and was once “used to treat every conceivable ailment to man.” It is referred to as salai guggul in Ayurvedic medicine and has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions, including arthritis. Modern science has isolated the anti-arthritic active compounds. These components, dubbed boswellic acids, act as an anti-inflammatory agent, improve blood supply, and prevent further cartilage loss.
Essential Oil of Frankincense
Modern natural medicine has embraced the use of Frankincense essential oil. The oil is steam or CO2 distilled from the resin and has a warm, woody, sweet aroma with a hint of citrus. It is used to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, catarrh, and asthma, as well as wrinkles, wounds, and dry skin, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, cystitis, and leukorrea.
The essential oil’s primary effect may be on the nervous system. Considered an antidepressant, the aroma has the ability to both relax and revitalise, which is beneficial in cases of nervous tension and exhaustion. Sesquiterpenes found in frankincense oil stimulate the limbic system, hypothalamus, pineal, and pituitary glands. The oil is currently being studied for its ability to stimulate the production of human growth hormone. Additionally, it is believed to strengthen the immune system, which may be due to its uplifting properties.
Frankincense essential oil can be used in the same way that incense is burned during spiritual practise. Warming the oil in a candle lamp or applying it directly to the temples and third eye helps to calm the mind, deepen the breath, and promotes meditative stillness. For these purposes, it is frequently blended with Sandalwood, Myrrh, and Cedarwood, and the single-pointed concentration it induces is believed to allow the spirit to soar.
Frankincense resin is inexpensive and widely available. The majority of pearls are wildcrafted, harvested from trees growing in the deserts of northeast Africa – fortunately, the resource is abundant, as the trees easily survive harvesting. Small pieces of resin can be lit alone in a dish or similar container and allowed to smoulder and emit smoke. Additionally, prepared incense sticks and other incense preparations contain frankincense. Simply light in the form of your choice and allow some quiet time to experience the rich aroma.
A diffuser or warming lamp can be used to disperse the aroma throughout a space when using an essential oil. Aromatherapy candles also contain the oil, which is released from the heated oil beneath the burning wick. Frankincense oil can be applied directly to the forehead (it is non-irritating or sensitising), allowing you to inhale the aroma while also directly absorbing the oil. Again, pause for a moment to observe any effects.
The wonderful Frankincense tree is available in a variety of forms and has been highly recommended for thousands of years. Consider incorporating a small amount of Frankincense into your life and discover what the mystery is all about!