You probably recall the story of the Three Wise Men, who came bearing the world’s finest gifts for the baby Jesus.
Regardless of whether or not you celebrate Christmas, this story provides insight into what the ancient world valued most highly. Apparently, gold, frankincense, and myrrh were the cream of the crop.
Today, we still haven’t lost our fascination for gold, but frankincense and myrrh have fallen by the wayside. In the time of Christ’s birth, frankincense and myrrh (which is botanically related to frankincense) were more expensive than gold.
Frankincense is still sometimes referred to as the King of Oils—one of the last vestiges of its soaring ancient value.
So why was frankincense more valuable than gold?
Frankincense is harvested from the Boswellia carterii and Boswellia sacara trees. These plants grow very slowly, require meticulous cultivation to thrive, and can only be harvested two to three times per year.
In order to respect the plant’s fragile nature, farmers must only harvest frankincense by making tiny cuts along the bark, from which a milky sap drips drop by precious drop. The sap is then dried into beautiful, teardrop-shaped resin stones, which can be burned or refined further into oil.
This time-consuming process made frankincense a very rare (and thus valuable) commodity. But it was more than just scarcity that led the ancients to regard it as one of their most sacred and valued goods.
The ancients knew something about frankincense that modern medicine seems to have forgotten—namely that it makes one of the most powerfully healing essential oils in the world.
Medicine fit for a king
As evidenced by the story of the Three Wise Men, frankincense has been highly regarded for thousands of years.
It was traditionally used as an incense (the word actually is derived from the French franc ensens, which literally means “quality incense”), not only for its earthy, fragrant aroma, but also because of the belief that its scent heightens intuition and spiritual connection (hence its usage in Church Masses and earlier religious ceremonies).
Ayurvedic medicine, which refers to frankincense as dhoop, has used it for millennia to treat arthritis, heal wounds, and balance the hormones, among many other therapeutic applications. By the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties of this fragrant sap were already well-known. Even Hippocrates—often referred to as the father of modern medicine—highly recommended frankincense for numerous medicinal applications.
According to the Roman historian and botanist Pliny the Elder, the sale of frankincense and similar resins (like myrrh) to these flourishing ancient nations made the Southern Arabians the richest people in the world.
Now modern medical researchers have (re)discovered a plethora of benefits associated with frankincense and frankincense essential oil.
Antiseptic and immune-boosting. Frankincense works wonders against harmful bacteria and other microbes, including viruses. And unlike antibiotics and other conventional defenses against colds and flus, it does so without harming beneficial bacteria (in fact, it balances microbiome activity and strengthens the immune system).
Next time you feel a cold or flu coming on, try putting a couple drops of high-quality frankincense essential oil in a cloth and inhaling the vapor deeply.
House cleaning. These same antiseptic and astringent properties make frankincense an excellent natural replacement for chemical cleaning products. It even works as a deodorizer at the same time. Just add a few drops of frankincense essential oil to water (or vinegar, for heavy duty cleaning jobs).
Stress and anxiety relief. Inhaling the aroma of frankincense essential oil has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, calm anxiety, and even ameliorate depression. Add a couple drops of the oil to a hot bath next time you need to shed your anxiety and balance your emotions.
Hormone balance. Studies have shown that frankincense also is profoundly balancing for the endocrine and reproductive systems. It can be especially helpful for women seeking hormonal balance—it calms the symptoms of menstruation and menopause by regulating estrogen production, and can even relieve cramps, nausea, constipation, headaches, and other unpleasant symptoms of endocrine imbalance.
Heals inflammatory conditions. Frankincense inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body, and thus helps heal a wide variety of conditions associated with chronic inflammation, like arthritis, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune dysfunctions, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.
And this only scratches the surface of this remarkable substance’s benefits.
When trying out these applications of frankincense, just remember that a little goes a long way. It’s immensely powerful medicine and should be treated as such. Don’t take more than a few drops at a time internally, and stick with inhaling or infusing it unless absolutely necessary. Always seek out 100% pure essential oil, and vet your soures.
Taking this advice to heart, you can safely enjoy the many of benefits of frankincense, and experience why this resin has captivated civilization for thousands of years.