Interest in frankincense and myrrh rises during Christmas and the Holiday season, given their historic, biblical connections; frankincense and myrrh were two of three gifts (the other being gold) that were gifted to the baby Jesus, upon his birth, by three wise men. The symbolism of gold as a precious metal, and consequently of great value, is probably the most understood of these gifts; so why were frankincense and myrrh chosen as gifts suitable for such an occasion? Here’s a closer look at the “value” of both frankincense and myrrh.
The Use of Frankincense for its Therapeutic Properties
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) is a small tree, with pale pink or white flowers and pinnate leaves, which is native to the Red Sea region. It is found growing wild in abundance throughout north-east Africa. The tree omits a white gum resin which congeals into the more familiar amber/orange/red tear shaped frankincense. Small cuts are made in the bark of the tree to obtain the resin.
Frankincense was prized highly in the ancient world; it was used in perfumes, cosmetics, as a religious incense, and it had medicinal value. Frankincense was also used as an embalming agent. The Egyptians spent large sums of money importing frankincense from the Phoenicians;Egyptian women used frankincense in face masks to rejuvenate their skin. Frankincense was used extensively in meditation and prayer due to its sedative and grounding properties.
Frankincense has historically been used to treat respiratory infections, rheumatism, digestive problems and skin disease. In addition, frankincense was burned in sick rooms to “banish evil spirits.”
Frankincense essential oil, that is extracted from the plant, is anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiseptic, emmenagogue, expectorant, sedative, and carminative. It is used for mature skin, dry skin, colds, flu, wrinkles, asthma, bronchitis, dysmenorrhea, anxiety and stress.
Frankincense essential oil is chemically composed of a number of chemical components, the most predominant being monoterpenes.
Note that today the Boswellia carteri species is considered endangered so other species of frankincense are sometimes used in place of Boswellia carteri.
The Use of Myrrh for its Therapeutic Properties
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) is a resin that is extracted from a small, spiny tree or shrub of the Burseraceae plant family; myrrh resin occurs naturally in the cracks of the tree and forms hard, brown-red lumps. Today myrrh is collected from the tree through man made cuts in the cultivation of the tree for commercial purposes.
Myrrh was considered a valuable commodity in ancient Egypt and was used as a perfume and incense; it was also regarded as a sacred oil and was used for embalming and religious ceremonies. Myrrh also had much medicinal value and is listed in the Ebers Papyrus of ancient Egypt. Myrrh was used by the Arabs to treat cracked skin and wrinkles; ancient Greek soldiers carried myrrh to treat battle wounds. The Chinese used myrrh to treat arthritis and for menstrual problems.
Myrrh essential oil, extracted from the plant, is ant-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, balsamic, expectorant, emmenagogue, sedative, and ant-microbial. It is used for a number of problems including eczema, dry skin, wrinkles, wounds, asthma, colds, amenorrhea, flatulence, hemorrhoids, and bronchitis.
Myrrh essential oil is chemically composed of sesquiterpenes, alcohols, ketones, phenols, and aldehydes; principal chemical components are alcohols and sesquiterpenes.
Frankincense and Myrrh as Valuable Gifts
It can be seen that both frankincense and myrrh were highly prized in ancient times for their therapeutic value and were held with a similar regard to a commodity such as gold. Although we cannot know with certainty why frankincense and myrrh were chosen as gifts, both plants (and their use as oils) hold great value to therapists today.
Learn More About Essential Oils with Sedona Aromatherapie
If you would like to learn more about essential oils, such as frankincense and myrrh, consider the Sedona Aromatherapie Certification in Professional Aromatherapy Course!
Caddy, Rosemary, 1997, Essential Oils in Colour, UK: Amberwood Publishing Ltd
Davis, Patricia 1999 Aromatherapy An A-Z UK: Vermilion
Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons
Author is a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author and editor in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.