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The aroma of the holiday season: frankincense and myrrh

Nov 17, 2018

The aroma of the holiday season: frankincense and myrrh

By Sandra White

The holiday season is upon us, and as we ponder our traditions and holiday memories of the past, it is a time for reflection. Our sense of smell is connected directly to our memory; therefore, it may not be surprising that certain smells are more prevalent during this season. Of course, the smell of cookies baking and pine trees for decorating often come to mind, but in addition, there are two scents that have a long history associated with the Christmas season. The two scents I refer to are frankincense and myrrh.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of baby Jesus. As the story goes, the gifts from the three wise kings to the baby Jesus were frankincense, myrrh and gold. Gold, at that time, was the least valuable of the three. It is not surprising that frankincense and myrrh are associated with this celebrated holiday. But why was it valued so highly at this time?

History

The history of these two aromatic resins dates back past 1000 B.C. Frankincense was the source of great wealth and valued more than gold. The Frankincense Trail was the trade route linking the places that produced frankincense such as present day Oman, Yemen and northern Somalia. Some archeologists believe that the domestication of the camel was due to the Frankincense Trade because they could travel further on much less water than donkeys.

Both frankincense and myrrh were traded in the Middle East and North Africa for thousands of years. It is thought the ancient Egyptians used the resins for not only embalming practices but for incense, insect repellent, perfume and wound healing salves. According to Cohen, sacks of frankincense and potted saplings of myrrh-producing trees appear in murals of the walls of a temple dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt for almost two decades. In the Hebrew Bible, it was noted that frankincense and myrrh were used in incense that was burned in Jerusalem’s sacred temples.

Both oils were used for both spiritual practice and healing practices on a daily basis.

What are Frankincense and Myrrh?

Both oils of frankincense and myrrh are resins. The trees they come from must be cut to extract the resin and distilled. In general, multiple trees are used to extract the resin.

 Frankincense (Boswellia carterri), otherwise known as Olibanium oil, is found in Somalia. It is steam distilled and is rich in terpenes and esters.

Frankincense is used for everything from meditation to skin care. Diffused, frankincense helps to deepen breathing and relaxation, which is one reason it is still used in meditation and prayer practices. It is relatively safe to use and with many indications including:

  • Swollen joints
  • Asthma
  • Mature skin
  • Inflamed skin
  • Wound healing
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Nightmares

It is to be avoided in pregnancy because some of the chemical constituents are unknown. Frankincense has been connected to the seventh chakra. It is no wonder that the wise men brought frankincense as one of the three valued gifts.

Myrrh (Commiphor myrrha) has some of the same characteristics as frankincense and some that are very different. The preferred oil comes from Somalia and Arabian countries. Most commercially traded myrrh oil is a mixture of varieties of trees; therefore, chemical composition and toxicity vary. Always be sure you are purchasing from a reputable dealer.

Myrrh provides several valuable actions:

  • Analgesic
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiviral
  • Astringent
  • Expectorant
  • Relieves anxiety
  • Asthma, bronchitis
  • Stimulates thyroid
  • Ringworm

Avoid using on damaged or sensitive skin. In large doses it can be toxic; however, in low doses it is nonirritant. It is recommended to avoid in pregnancy due to the unknown chemical constituents. Myrrh is connected to the first two chakras, which is balancing when used with frankincense.

Conclusion

The monetary value of frankincense and myrrh no longer exceeds that of gold in today’s economic market. However, when we review the healing qualities of these special oils, we can see why during the time of Jesus they were held in such high regard.

Christmas is a time of year for joy, sharing and celebrating. It can also be a stressful time of year for many and sometimes, sad, when remembering those we have lost. Take the lead from the three wise men so many years ago, and stop and smell the frankincense and myrrh for a relaxing spiritual boot in the root!

Sandy earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in Science with an emphasis in plant physiology. Working with plants and plant chemistry has been a passion for many years, which in turn led to her interest in essential oils, teas and herbs. Sandy received her certificate in herbology from the Oakwell Institute and an international certification in aromatherapy from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. 

In 2013, her business, Botanical Indulgence, rebranded to The Natural Boutique. In 2017, the boutique moved to downtown Neenah. The new location offers more space and a large classroom for educating customers and clients on natural alternative products. It is the goal of The Natural Boutique to meet customer’s needs through unique product selection and education. For more information, visit the store at 125 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Neenah or call 920-725-1380. Visit them online at www.thenaturalboutique.com.

Visit Website: https://naturespathways.com/northeast-wisconsin-edition/the-aroma-of-the-holiday-season-frankincense-and-myrrh/

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