Travel and a bit of shopping

Frankincense – and myrrh – make sense

First published in October 2017 on

I’ve always found frankincense and myrrh intriguing. I’ve always found the Silk Route intriguing. Whilst living in Saudi Arabia (photographs used were taken in Saudi Arabia) I was fascinated by how these were used as perfume or incense. Even as beard perfume! 

This is not a foodie article per se but I thought foodies might find the uses of the essential oils of interest. 

Centuries ago frankincense and myrrh – together with gold – were gifts given to honour kings or deities. Gold was given because it is a precious metal, frankincense was used as perfume or incense and myrrh as anointing oil. No wonder then that the three magi presented these gifts to Jesus according to the gospel of Matthew. Speaking of which, the Bible mentions myrrh 152 times.

So what is frankincense and myrrh exactly? Frankincense is resin from the sap of a tree from the Boswellia species, that grows in the Middle East and North Africa; myrrh is a red resin from the Commiphora tree species, especially from Commiphora myrrha.

In ancient times frankincense and myrrh were used for personal, religious and medicinal reasons. Back in the day people used the sweet smoke of frankincense and myrrh to enhance their smell in lieu of a bath, in Egypt women mixed the ash of frankincense into their eye shadow; frankincense was burned during prayer ceremonies – the whirling of the smoke symbolised prayers rising to the heavens – and both were also used to treat wounds and to prepare human mummies for embalming. It was also rumoured to cure hemlock poisoning, leprosy, plague, scurvy and baldness!

To this day many men in various parts of the Middle East perfume their beards with the smoke of frankincense.

Traditional healers used frankincense and myrrh for its anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic abilities. Ayurvedic medicine used myrrh for wound healing and for digestive health.

These days frankincense essential oil is often used as an overall health tonic especially because it helps the body to optimally absorb nutrients. It has antiseptic and disinfectant properties and can be applied to minor wounds such as cuts and grazes to protect against infections. Some believe that frankincense essential oil boosts the immune system. It is also said that frankincense oil opens your airways and helps to reduce blood pressure.

Frankincense contains something called boswellic acid and researchers believe that it is this particular acid that fights against and reduces inflammation. New research is trying to establish whether frankincense does not just reduce inflammation but whether it also directly attacks cancer cells.

Myrrh essential oil has antimicrobial benefits and fungicidal properties; it acts as a potent antioxidant; and it helps with wound healing, indigestion and oral health in general. Like frankincense it also helps to ease respiratory ailments.

Researchers are currently looking into the potential of myrrh to treat cancer.

If frankincense essential oil and myrrh essential oil are used together a synergy seems to form that aids the fight against harmful bacterial infections. Thus a combination of the two oils is used to treat inflammatory diseases and to relieve swelling and pain.

Mini Teapot Incense Burner

On a lighter note, the fragrance of frankincense is said to enhance romance. So how about adding a few drops of frankincense to the melted wax of a candle – or use an oil diffuser – to liven up your next Saturday evening?

Interesting fact: The Land of Frankincense is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Oman. The ruins of Khor Rori, a small fortified town, the remains of a camel caravan oasis and frankincense trees can be seen here.

More about frankincense and myrrh essential oils

  • Frankincense essential oil is widely available online and at reputable pharmacies and natural health stores. Prices range from R139 to R429, depending on quality. The oil is used by either inhaling or absorbing it through the skin (usually mixed with a carrier oil). Alternatively one to two drops of oil are added to some water or a tablespoon of honey and ingested.
  • Myrrh essential oil might be slightly more difficult to find than frankincense oil but is also available online and at some reputable pharmacies and natural health stores. Prices range from R149 upwards, depending on quality. Myrrh essential oil can be inhaled (add 4-5 drops to a bowl of steaming water) or it can be absorbed through the skin (usually mixed with a carrier oil. Alternatively 1-2 drops can be added to your toothpaste as part of your oral hygiene routine.

2 comments on “Frankincense – and myrrh – make sense

  1. esotericjenavi
    September 30, 2018

    frankincense is also a fantastic pain reliever! I no longer use OTC painkillers…I just burn the incense, or the resin when I can find it. You can put the frankincense oil in a burner too. I don’t have any experience with myrrh, but I totally believe in, and use frequently, frankincense for pain.

    • ilsez
      October 1, 2018

      Very interesting! I learned a lot while writing this – I didn’t know very much before I started research for this article. Thanks for your comment.

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This entry was posted on September 30, 2018 by in English foodies and tagged .
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