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Frankincense - A Natural Health Wonder from Ancient Times

Aug 15, 2008
The Frankincense tree has perhaps the greatest historical association with spiritual practice of any plant on earth. In many great ancient cultures, it has played a significant role in religious and domestic life. Frankincense resin has been sought after by kings, and offered as a gift at the birth of one of history's most revered prophets, along with gold and the resin of a similar tree, Myrrh. In the modern world, the essential oil distilled from tree resin is gaining popularity with spiritual seekers and natural healers alike - what's so unique about this resin and oil with it's complex, earthy aroma, and how might we use it for our own benefit?

The Frankincense tree upon first glance may seem rather unremarkable. It appears as a giant shrub, with many knurled branches topped with abundant slender leaves and occasionally, small white flowers. A native to northern Africa, it even looks like it belongs in the desert, growing in some of the world's harshest conditions. It is not the tree itself, however, but rather its sap that has such profound lore surrounding it. When the tree's bark is pierced with a 'mingaf' knife, a milky-white resin is exuded and collected; thought the tree is not harmed. The resin forms droplets known as tears or pearls, which harden in to the orange-brown gum known itself as Frankincense. The English name of this natural incense is derived from the medieval French 'franc', meaning 'pure' or 'free', and from the Latin 'incensium', meaning 'to smoke'.

For many thousands of years, the resin has been burned in temples the world over, where it's smoke has purified the air and carried prayers to the heavens. It's use is still met today by many in Catholic mass. The highly antiseptic smoke is also thought to bring calm to the mind, allowing one's spiritual practice and awareness to deepen. Modern science has confirmed the affect of Frankincense on the pineal gland, or 'third eye', which is thought by some to be the center of awareness for the unseen world. The oil distilled from the resin is considered a holy anointing oil; it has been known as 'the oil of Lebanon', and was well known at Christ's time for it's anointing and healing powers.

Frankincense resin is thought to have a bounty of health properties - it was an ingredient in a rejuvenating face mask in ancient Egypt, and is still considered very useful for rejuvenating older skin. At one time, Frankincense was held in such high esteem as to be "used to treat every conceivable ill to man". In Ayurvedic medicine it has been used for centuries to treat many conditions, including arthritis. Modern science has isolated the active compounds, called boswellic acids, which have been found to have anti-arthritic properties. These include anti-inflammatory actions, the improvement of local blood supply, and the possible prevention of further cartilage breakdown. To try these for yourself, create your own joint support massage blend by diluting Frankincense to 5% in a carrier oil like Sweet Almond and apply regularly. Other essential oils which may compliment the action are Ginger which warms and brings more blood flow, Wintergreen, an analgesic, and Helichrysum, a very powerful (yet sweet smelling) anti-inflammate.

Modern natural medicine and aromatherapy have taken to the use of the essential oil of Frankincense. The oil, having a warm, woody, sweet aroma with a hint of citrus, is steam or CO2 distilled from the resin. It is used for respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, catarrh and asthma; for wrinkles, wounds and dry skin, and in cases of rheumatism, cystitis and leucorrhea. Frankincense oil is currently being investigated in unversity studies for anti-cancer effects. During a recent presentation before a regional meeting of the American Cancer Society in Roanoke, Va., Dr. John Robertson, director of the college's Center for Comparative Oncology, said he's found the oil has fairly selective anti-tumor activity and doesn't appear to disrupt normal cells. "I think this research on frankincense oil suggests that this ancient medicine may have significant modern uses for chemotherapy of non-resectable malignancies," said Robertson. The oil has been noted specifically for effects skin tumors (melanoma) and breast cancer.

It is important to note that the CO2 distillation is more likely to contain the same healthful compounds as the resin, as the steam distilled variety may not be able to extract these 'polar' compounds. Kurt Schnaubelt, America's leading medical aromatherapist notes, regarding the production of essential oil from the resin, "It could be that the (health-related) substances in question are too polar and too large a molecular size to appear in steam distillates - their presence would be more likely in CO2 extracts."

The most immediate and pronounced effect of the essential oil can be on the emotional and mental state for many people.. Frankincense oil contains sesquiterpenes, which stimulate the limbic system, the hypothalamus, the pineal and the pituitary glands, and may increase human growth hormone production. This overall tonic action to the mind also seems to be directly affecting the immune system for some individuals, bringing additional strength and reserve along with peace of mind.

Direct application to the temples and third eye will quiet the mind, deepen the breath, and promote meditative states. It is often combined with one or more of these essential oils with similar woody aromas and calming properties: Sandalwood, Myrrh and Cedarwood. Because these oils combine so nicely, it is easy to find a ratio of each oil in a blend to suit your taste.

For simple incense use in the way that has been used for thousands of years, frankincense resin is widely available at reasonable costs. Most is wild-crafted; thankfully, the resource is abundant, as the trees easily survive harvesting of the pearls. The small chunks of resin can simply be lit by themselves in a dish or similar container, and will burn like any other incense, slowly releasing its aromatic smoke.

For aromatic use of the essential oil, a diffuser or warming lamp can be used to disperse the aroma throughout a space. The oil is also found in aromatherapy candles, where it is released from the heated oil beneath the burning wick. Frankincense oil can be applied directly to the forehead where you can both capture the aroma and absorb the oil directly.

The wonderful gift of the Frankincense tree is available in many ways, and has come highly recommended for many thousands of years. Try adding a little Frankincense to your life, and see what the mystery is all about!
About the Author
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