Frankincense and Myrrh

The Bible tells the story of 3 Wisemen, or Magi, coming from "afar" bringing gifts of gold, frankincense & myrrh to the baby Jesus. We know what gold is today, $1389.76 per ounce and back then, just as rare and valuable. But how many people know what the frankincense and myrrh are, or why they were, "precious," or even desirable?

Both frankincense and myrrh are tree resins, meaning the sap of trees. Frankincense (Boswellia sacra), and myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) are both trees native to the Arabian Peninsula. Today, most of the internationally-traded myrrh and frankincense are produced in the southern Arabian Peninsula (Oman, Yemen) and in northeast Africa (Somalia). The resin is obtained by making deliberate incisions with an axe into the bark of the tree. The milky liquid that exudes hardens on exposure to air into droplets or "tears," which are then easily detached by the collector about two weeks later.

The Magi, carrying myrrh, frankincense, and gold, came from the East, meaning, Arabia. The frankincense trade route by camel caravans, reached Jerusalem and Egypt from the Dhofar region of what is today Oman, through Yemen, turning north, following the Red Sea coast. Both resins have been recorded in use at least 7,000 years ago, in religious practices as well as medicinal uses. (You will find frankincense and myrrh still in use today as incense in Catholic and Episcopal churches).

Myrrh tears

Research in India has demonstrated that frankincense may have some positive effects in treating arthritis. Additionally, Dr Suhail, who is originally from Iraq, has teamed up with medical scientists from the University of Oklahoma in research into potential cancer treatments using this resin. Frankincense is used in mouthwashes, as a topical for arthritis, for throat and gum conditions as well as in anti-wrinkle creams and lotions.
Up close, frankincense tears look almost like jewels.
But why were these resins so valuable in the time of the baby Jesus? For one, both have antiseptic properties. It was expensive, mostly because of shipping costs and how labor-intensive it is to harvest. Long treks across the desert by donkey and camel caravan made it rare and precious. Only royalty and the wealthy could afford to use these resins for incense. Remember, this was back before underarm deodorant, before Glade could clear a room of bad odors. A room full of a smelly peasants for a religious ceremony brought about the need for incense in religious ceremonies. (Incense, as you may recall, has long been believed to carry prayers upward to God). Bundle all of those uses together and frankincense and myrrh were the perfect gift for the baby Jesus!
Frankincense & Myrrh Kit in Keepsake Treasure Chest
And we have the real thing here, for a unique gift from our shop. I put together a Frankincense & Myrrh Kit, which comes with 2 easy-light charcoal diskettes, an incense tile, a little packet of frankincense and myrrh in a little gold-colored bag, along with instructions, and it comes packaged in a wooden keepsake treasure chest. It's $14.95, plus shipping. Find it in our Gifts section of our website. Order on-line or calls us during normal business hours (from the Contact Us link on our website). You can smell the very same fragrance and incense carried across the desert, 2,000 years ago! How cool is that?


Terra said...

How cool is that? Way cool and this sounds like an intriguing gift.

Unknown said...

A wonderful and informative post Jim. It is amazing to be able to still capture the fragrance of history through these things. It is why herbs, oils and resins like these are such a delight to many of us.


ronald sprague said...

Three years ago I had a full mouth extraction....the dentist prescribed a "home made" liquid to be used as anti-pain, anti-swelling, and also an antiseptic....the main ingredient was tincture of Myrrh