Frankincense has a rich and lengthy history that stretches back over five thousand years. The oil was used among a variety of cultures and has been known for its ability to alleviate anxiety and chronic stress. It has also been a common ingredient to use cosmetically and can be found in a variety of beauty products today. Recent research shows that the oil could be a promising treatment for a variety of cancers with little to no side effects. Here are some of the more interesting facts related to the frankincense tree and the essential oil that is produced from its resin.
About The Frankincense Tree
The genus Boswellia is used to describe any of the varieties of trees that produce frankincense resin. It is a member of the Burseraceae family and is native to the Arabian Peninsula and northeastern Africa. It is a small and deciduous tree and can be anywhere from 6 to 26 feet tall. It has one or several trunks and the bark feels like paper to the touch. It can be removed easily and is treated very carefully when extracting the resin from the tree. It grows compound leaves and also produces tiny flowers, which are yellowish white.
The trees usually grow on steep slopes and can often be found in the mountains. Some species can even grow in rocky terrain. Despite their durability, the trees are in danger. They grow slowly and the amount of resin that is needed to keep up with oil needs is hard to match with the number of mature trees available. The more that a tree is tapped for resin, the less likely that it will produce seeds that produce more trees. There are also many threats from animals and the loss of land where they can grow.
Frankincense In History
Frankincense has deep roots in history that stretch back over five thousand years. It was used by the Egyptians for both animal sacrifices and the process of embalming. The Hebrews and Christians used both frankincense and myrrh during religious ceremonies. The Papyrus Ebers of 1500 BC noted that priests recommended frankincense resin as a treatment for wounds. History shows that the resin and oil was also used to cure hemlock poisoning, leprosy, worms, snakebites, plague and cosmetic issues.
The demand for frankincense was so high that the trade market in the Middle East lasted several hundreds of years. The monopoly on the material spawned many attempts from other countries and civilizations to take over the lucrative business. None were successful and the same region that produced frankincense thousands of years ago still produces the oil today. This is mostly due to the fact that most of the species of the frankincense tree only grow in specific climates, making is nearly impossible to grow them anywhere else in the world.
- Nero, a ruler of the Roman Empire, burned frankincense at an alarming rate. The frankincense was brought to Rome by camels and eventually the amount that he asked for required over three thousand camels to complete the journey. Today, satellite images still show faint traces of the trails through the wilderness that were used. The business was so profitable that Alexander the Great had plans to invade Arabia so that he could control the roads and profit from a tax on travelers. He died before he could execute his plans.
- It is known that the ancient Egyptians used frankincense during the embalming process. When the tomb of the famous Tutankhamen was opened in 1922, thousands of artifacts were discovered, including sealed flasks. Some of these flasks contained frankincense oil and when opened, the scent was just as powerful as if the oil was made today, even after sitting for over three thousand years.
- Arabic doctors made sure that their clothes were heavily scented with frankincense before visiting with patients. While they may have not known the scientific reasoning behind it, it was strongly noted that individuals who worked close with essential oils remained free of disease. For example, people who worked with the dead, embalming their bodies, did not usually become sick with the same illness that the deceased succumbed to. During the Great Plague, people in the perfume business seemed to be immune to the disease. This led many advanced cultures to see the link between essential oils, including frankincense, and the prevention and treatment of illnesses.
- The burning of frankincense symbolizes prayer rising to the heavens like smoke and was a practical gift to give during Biblical times. This is evident in the story of the birth of Jesus, where the Magi gave the baby and his parents three gifts, one of them being frankincense. This was an expensive but common gift at the time and would have been used to possibly clean wounds and promote overall health.
- The name frankincense is derived from an old French phrase. “Fran encens” means “high quality incense” which is very fitting for the resin and oil. Frankincense is often used in perfume and is a favorite scent when choosing incense.
- In the early 1990s, the lost city of Ubar, located along “Incense Road” was rediscovered. It is believed to have been the primary trade route for frankincense.
Frankincense and Frankincense Oil Today
Frankincense has a long list of therapeutic properties, including antiseptic, astringent, sedative, diuretic, uterine and carminative. It is used by cultures all over the world as a natural treatment to a wide variety of conditions and illnesses. It is well known for its anti-aging benefits along with its ability to alleviate the dangerous symptoms of stress and anxiety. While the oil has been used for thousands of years, only recently have scientists begun to thoroughly examine the oil and its effects on the human body. With promising studies, most notably ones that involve the oil’s successful treatment of certain kinds of cancer cells, frankincense oil is sure to become more popular. This brings attention to the fact that the trees are becoming less available and that steps need to be taken now to ensure that this oil will be available for many centuries to come, as it may hold the key to the cure for several diseases.