References to oil spices and fragrances are all throughout the Bible. Therefore, it arouses my curiosity; it’s intriguing to see, feel, touch and smell the ones that are still in popular use today. The focus in this article will be on Frankincense and Myrrh. There will be many more articles on other oils, spices and fragrances in the months to come.
FRANKINCENSE FOR SPIRITUAL USE
Frankincense has always been synonymous with spirituality; like myrrh, it was a prized possession in the ancient world, equal in value to many precious gems and metals. It was used in ancient times in rituals and temple offerings across religions, both historic and modern day, which attest to its powerful spiritual attributes.
By now, we’ve all probably heard something about Frankincense. And for many you might just know the Christmas as at least one place where frankincense is mentioned in the Bible. As the story goes the Christ child was given gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But it played a much more prominent role in the Bible stories and was the oil and fragrance every tribe/group seemed to have. Frankincense is mentioned countless times throughout the Bible. This is not meant to be a Bible lesson so we won’t add specific verses but it suffices to say there are references to Frankincense in Exodus, Numbers, I Chronicles Nehemiah, Song of Soloman, Matthew and Revelation. Frankincense is mentioned 22 times directly and 59 times indirectly throughout the Bible. Frankincense is mentioned as part of incense for a priestly rite and as an indication of wealth and prosperity in the spice trade. According to the Hebrew Bible, frankincense and myrrh were components of the holy incense ritually burned in Jerusalem’s sacred temples during ancient times.
FRANKINCENSE AS A FRAGRANCE
Quite often Frankincense is referred to together with Myrrh, Both frankincense and myrrh are derived from the gummy sap that oozes out of the Boswellia and Commiphora trees, respectively, when their bark is cut. The leaking resin is allowed to harden and scraped off the trunk in tear-shaped droplets; it may then be used in its dried form or steamed to yield essential oils. Both substances are edible and often chewed like gum. They are also extremely fragrant, particularly when burned, with frankincense giving off a sweet, citrusy scent and myrrh producing a piney, bitter odor. I love the fragrance but became even more interest when I learned of the medicinal value of Frankincense and Myrrh.
FRANKINCENSE AS MEDICINE
The truth is, the magi gave the Christ child gold, frankincense, and myrrh resins. Essential healing oils as we knowthem didn’t exist back then. Simply put, the essential healing oils of the Bible that we all love and use today require highly advanced distillation techniques that weren’t yet invented. They did however have their own ways of extracting the oils.
What made frankincense so precious that the wise men bestowed it upon the infant Jesus? Scientists at Cardiff University in Wales have an answer that might have been missed by the three kings of the Bible. Frankincense is thought to help relieve and alleviate the painful symptoms of arthritis, which affects millions of people around the world.
Frankincense and the other plant-derived treasures given to the newborn Jesus in the New Testament have a long history dating back thousands of years. Although perhaps best known for their use in incense and ancient rituals, these substances, both of which boast proven antiseptic and inflammatory properties, were once considered effective remedies for everything from toothaches to leprosy. The ancient Greeks and Romans imported massive amounts of the resins, which they burned as incense. It was used during cremations and was taken for a wide variety of ailments.
This was confirmed by Alain Touwaide, a historian of medicine at the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions and the Smithsonian Institution. Today, researchers like the Cardiff team are drawing on this centuries-old knowledge to develop modern treatments for a variety of disorders.
Ancient Uses and Values
Because frankincense and myrrh can be collected from multiple Boswellia and Commiphora species, several varieties are available are still available.
Both frankincense and myrrh have been traded in the Middle East and North Africa for upwards of 5,000 years. The Babylonians and Assyrians are said to have burned them during religious ceremonies. The ancient Egyptians bought entire boatloads of the resins from the Phoenicians, using them in incense and perfume and salves for wounds and sores. They were also used as key ingredients in the embalming process. Myrrh oil served as a rejuvenating facial treatment, while sometimes frankincense was charred and ground into a power to make the heavy kohl eyeliner worn by Egyptian women. Sacks of frankincense and potted saplings of myrrh-producing trees even appear in murals on the walls of a temple dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt for roughly two decades.
The ancient Greeks and Romans also imported massive amounts of the resins, which they burned as incense, used during cremations and took for a wide variety of ailments. By this time, medical practitioners had recognized and documented the substances’ antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, prescribing them for everything from indigestion and chronic coughs to hemorrhoids and halitosis. According to Touwaide, myrrh appears with more frequency than any other plant substance in the writings of the Greek physician Hippocrates, who revolutionized the field of medicine in the fourth and third centuries B.C. The Roman historian and botanist Pliny the Elder, who recommended frankincense as an antidote to hemlock poisoning, wrote in the first century A.D. that the pricey dried sap had made the southern Arabians the richest people on earth.
At the time Jesus is thought to have been born, frankincense and myrrh may have been worth more than their weight in the third gift presented by the wise men: gold But despite their significance in the New Testament, the substances fell out of favor in Europe with the rise of Christianity and fall of the Roman Empire, which essentially obliterated the thriving trade routes that had developed over many centuries. In the early years of Christianity, incense was expressly forbidden because of its associations with pagan worship; later, however, some denominations, including the Catholic Church, would incorporate the burning of frankincense, myrrh and other aromatic items into specific rites.
Frankincense and myrrh today
While the advent of modern medicine dealt another blow to the market for frankincense and myrrh, some communities and alternative practitioners continue to prize the resins for their healing properties. For instance, both are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and aromatherapy. Many popular natural toothpastes contain myrrh, which has proven beneficial to dental and gum health since ancient times.
In a series of clinical and laboratory studies over the last two decades, frankincense and myrrh have shown promise in addressing a number of common disorders. For example, a 1996 paper reported that myrrh blunts pain in mice, while a 2009 study suggested that it might help lower cholesterol. Frankincense has been investigated as a possible treatment for some cancers, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, anxiety and asthma, among other conditions. If these ancient remedies can indeed provide relief for the many patients who suffer from these potentially devastating illnesses, the great incense roads of antiquity may flourish once again.
Until next time, I wish you good health!
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