The frankincense burned as church incense today is the same as that used by ancient peoples who inhabited the Middle East and North Africa. Eventually the use of frankincense spread throughout Europe and eastward into India, and it was burned as an offering to the gods of many cultures. It was one of the four sweet scents; used by Jews in their ceremonial incense, and it was presented each Sabbath day with the shewbread. For Christians it was one of the three precious gifts brought by the Magi to the infant Jesus.
Exceeding the value of precious metals and gems, frankincense was only produced by 3,000 families called Sabians from the land of Punt. The men chosen to prune and gather frankincense gum had to undergo ritual purification. Frankincense was so greatly valued because its fragrance was believed to heighten spirituality, sending one into a deep, meditative relaxation that enhanced worship.
Aromatherapists and massage practitioners have observed that frankincense’s fragrance does deepen breathing, aid relaxation, and cause the lungs to expand. Modern science backs up these observations by showing that, when burned, frankincense releases molecules of trahydrocannabinole, a psychoactive compound that may be responsible for uplifting the spirit.
Charred and powdered, frankincense was the major ingredient in the traditional black kohl that Egyptian women still wear as eyeliner. It was believed to help women see a more spiritual aspect of the world, to avoid ill-fate, and to prevent eye infection. Of course, it has been, and still is, used in expensive perfume.
This small tree has been planted on rocky hillsides in Yemen and Oman, but the highest quality frankincense still comes from North Africa, with some produced in Somalia, China, and India. The clear to pale yellow oil is steam distilled from hard tears of oleo gum resin.
Principal constituents of frankincense: Olibanol, resinous matter, and terpenes
Scent of frankincense: The fragrance is soft, balsamic, and sometimes lemony or camphorous.
Therapeutic properties of frankincense: Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, astringent, sedative; clears lung congestion, decreases gas and indigestion, brings on menstruation
Uses for frankincense: Historically, it has been utilized for treating syphilis, infections, and all kinds of skin disorders. Ayurvedic medicine from India has long suggested its use on inflamed skin conditions. Its antiseptic and skin-healing properties fight bacterial and fungal skin infections and boils.
Since it’s quite expensive, however, it is usually reserved for the most difficult cases, such as unsightly scars that remain after an infection has healed, and hard-to-heal wounds. For problem skin areas, use a couple drops of frankincense in an equal amount of vegetable oil.
Frankincense is excellent on mature skin and acne. It is especially good when middle-aged women experience those conditions and also want to prevent wrinkles. Make a compress or massage oil with frankincense for breast cysts or for infection of the lungs, reproductive organs, or urinary tract. It also increases menstrual flow.