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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Frankincense essential oil, like myrrh, has been a valuable and precious oil since ancient times; today, Frankincense has a number of uses in aromatherapy.
The Valuable Properties of Frankincense
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) was a more precious commodity than Gold in the time of Christ; the name frankincense is taken from the French word for true incense. In the Middle East, it has been used for religious purposes for centuries and is known as the holy anointing oil. Frankincense receives a mention in the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian record of the use of plants for medicinal and aromatic purposes.
How the Ancient Egyptians Used Frankincense
The Egyptian queen Hathsepia (15th century B.C.) had an inscription carved on her tomb which refers to frankincense; in fact, the ancient Egyptians spent a substantial amount of money importing frankincense from the Phoenicians because of its perceived value. It was burned in religious temples. Frankincense was also used in perfumes, medicines and cosmetics. It was used to fragrance clothing too.
The Egyptians had a number of other uses for frankincense. They used it as an incense, as a kohl eyeliner (from the charred resin of frankincense), as an embalming agent for the dead and for the treatment of wounds and skin ulcers. Egyptian women used frankincense as a beauty aid and added it to face masks to protect and rejuvenate their skin.
Other Historical Uses of Frankincense
Frankincense has been used by both the West and the East for centuries to treat a number of conditions, including rheumatism, skin disease, nervous complaints, digestive problems, respiratory infections and syphilis. Nero is said to have burned a year's production of frankincense at the funeral of his wife, Poppaea. It was also reputedly used in sick rooms to banish evil spirits.
Frankincense has been burned as an incense by many countries for religious reasons including Israel, India, China and throughout the Catholic Church. Today, frankincense is still used in many Christian, Jewish and Hindu ceremonies; it produces a calming influence and is an aid to meditation and prayer.
Extraction of Frankincense Oil
Frankincense belongs to the Burseraceae plant family, the same as myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), with which it shares similar aromatic properties. It is a small tree or shrub with pale pink or white flowers and pinnate leaves. Frankincense is native to the Red Sea region and it grows wild throughout north-east Africa. The oil was originally distilled in Europe and India but the gum is now produced mainly in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Arabia and China.
The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation from oleo gum resin, bled from small cuts made in the bark of the tree; the tree releases a white gum resin which congeals into amber to orange-brown to red or white 'tear' shapes. There are other species of Boswellia which produce an olibanum gum such as the Indian variety of Boswellia serrata.
Uses of Frankincense Essential Oil in Aromatherapy
Frankincense is an anti-depressant, anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, anti-septic and a skin healer. It has a strong meditative power (helping to slow and deepen breathing) and is often used to heal grief and depression. Frankincense can help reduce the spread of disease when it is used in a vaporizer; combine frankincense with lavender (lavandula angustifolia) to heal scar tissue.
Davis, Patricia 1999 Aromatherapy An A-Z UK: Vermilion
Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons
This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Frankincense Essential Oil
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