This is certainly a random topic. I recently had to complete a paper on oils of the Bible for my course at Vintage Remedies. I chose Frankincense and I'm posting the contents of my paper because I think you might find some of it interesting. I mean, how many times have you heard about the three Wise Men carrying Frankincense and thought, "What the heck is Frankincense and why is it a gift?"
Frankincense appears 21 times in 21 verses in the Bible (ESV) beginning in Exodus and ending in Revelation. Most people skim over the word noting it as a fragrance or gift and move on. But, if it’s in the Bible and it’s listed not just once, but 21 times, then there must be something more than just a fragrance … and there is.
The word frankincense is taken from the French word for “true incense.” In Hebrew, the word refers to “whiteness” and it symbolizes divinity. This resin is in fact white and it comes from the Boswellia tree, which resembles a Bonsai with a small and knotted appearance. These trees originated in Africa and the Middle East and are native to the Red Sea region. They are considered unusual for their ability to grow in unforgiving environments, sometimes growing directly out of solid rock.
In ancient days and throughout the Middle-Ages, it was used by the Christian church as a holy anointing oil. It was a healing oil more precious than gold, extremely valuable. Thus, it was not commonly used except by the rich. To symbolize and accompany prayer, it was often used as incense. In Exodus 30:34, God told Moses to make an incense with it and proclaimed it holy for the Lord. He also instructed that it NOT be used for yourselves or as a personal perfume, for it was holy and for the Lord. In Leviticus 2:1-2, frankincense was mixed with fine flour for the priests to burn as a memorial on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Not every offering contained the oil, however. In Leviticus 5:11 and Numbers 5:15, God gave clear instructions to leave out the oil when making a grain offering of jealousy or a sin offering. In Isaiah 43:23, God gives us clues that frankincense is tiresome to retrieve and in Isaiah 60:6 and Jeremiah 6:20, he tells us where it is found; in the kingdom of Sheba (Arabia). Perhaps, the most noted verse of frankincense is Matthew 2:11 where it is brought as a treasured gift by the Magi or Wise Men at the birth of Jesus. Some theologians make note here that the oil was commonly used for burial purposes especially in ancient Egypt, offering a clue into the purpose of His birth.
Thus far, we know frankincense was considered holy, a symbol of the divine Lord often used in offerings and burned in temples for its sweet and calming aroma. In order to understand the real significance of frankincense, we must dig a little deeper starting with how it is harvested. The trees do not start producing this resin until they are 8-10 years old and the trees are frequently home to venomous snakes, making collection a dangerous task. When the trees are ready, collectors incise the tree trunks forming wounds that bleed the white resin. The resin dries for about three months in the hot desert sun and forms hardened masses called “tears.” The tears are then collected and sold in markets. Remember also that these trees have an unusual ability to grow in environments so unforgiving. Do you see what I see yet?
The sweet smelling resin comes as the result of the trees’ woundedness. This sweet aroma produces a calming influence and aids in meditation and prayer and thus worship, making our breaths deeper, longer, and stronger. Like this pleasing aroma, our worship is to be pleasing to God. When we can worship in the midst of sorrow and pain, then it’s a sweet smelling offering to our Lord. Most people think of worship as celebration with jumping and shouting, but tears, like frankincense resin, flowing out of our broken hearts and hurts are also especially pleasing in worship-a sweet smelling sacrifice just as in ancient days.
Even today, there are still modern day beneficial properties of frankincense. Its primary effects are anti septic, disinfectant, astringent, sedative, tonic, and anti-inflammatory. It is frequently used in aromatherapy to soothe and calm the mind, relieving anxiety and depression. The respiratory properties of frankincense help to clean the lungs and relieve shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and colds. It helps rejuvenate aging skin and is effective with sores, wounds, scars, and even arthritis. It is non-toxic and non-irritant and can be used by most people.
One drawback, a recent study in 2006 indicated a declining in the tree. Tapping or harvesting is typically done 2-3 times a year. Heavily tapped trees have been found to produce seeds that germinate at only 16% compared to seeds that germinate at more than 80% from untapped trees. To make matters worse, humans are clearing these trees for farmland and allowing goats to feed on sapling leaves depleting chances for regeneration. As stewards of this Earth, it is important that we make conscious choices that are ecologically ethical. Many valuable resources are being depleted at alarming rates due to over-exploitation . It is our duty to keep sustainability in mind when searching to buy items like essential oils and only buy from reputable sources. It's also important to stay informed about what is happening in the world of plants. One website Cropwatch is dedicated to posting updated information about threatened species and helping us make sure that we don’t wipe out such a sacred part of history like frankincense.