Other English: Olibanum, Oil of Lebanon Boswellia sacra or B. carteri or B. thurifera; Burseraceae (Frankincense and Myrrh Family)
Frankincense is crystallized tree sap—a hardened gum or resin exuded by a small tree that grows in the coastal regions of the southern Arabian Peninsula and nearby coastal East Africa. In ancient times, frankincense was a precious commodity, sometimes more valuable than gold. Merchants brought this treasure to the great civilization centers of Europe and Western Asia by sea and by a land trail through Yemen and up the Arabian Red Sea coast to the Levant. In Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, frankincense is used as incense today, though not in religious ceremonies.
How to use: 1) Chew as a gum. This is a popular use as frankincense has a mild, pleasant taste and helps to eliminate bad breath. 2) Suck on a granule to relieve nausea; 3) Soak frankincense granules in water and drink the strained liquid; 4) Burn as incense for a pleasant scent or waft on clothing.
Did you know?
- Frankincense comes in five main colors: white, pale lemon, pale amber, pale green and dark amber. The color of the gum resin is influenced by its harvest time. A whiter gum is collected closer to autumn, whereas a darker color is harvested closer to spring.
- Although the frankincense gathering season lasts from May through mid-September, the product is available year-round in traditional local markets of the Middle East.
- Due to unique climatic conditions, the best frankincense is produced by trees growing in the mountainous Dhofar region of Oman. In addition to Oman, frankincense today is grown in Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia and India.
- In the days of the pharaohs, frankincense trees were imported into Egypt, where they were grown for the gum, which was burned in religious rituals.
- Tenth-century Persian physician Ibn Sina (known to the West as Avicenna) recommended using frankincense in treatments for tumors, ulcers, vomiting, dysentery and fever.
- Frankincense today remains an ingredient in various incense mixtures burned in rituals of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
- Western herbalists regard frankincense essential oil as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent, and say it is useful as a uterine tonic during pregnancy and labor.
- Charred frankincense has been used to make kohl, the black powder traditionally used by women in the Middle East to paint their eyelids.