Frankincense and myrrh both grow as small trees or shrubs. Their natural habitat is limited to the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula (The Dhofar region) and to northeast Africa (Ethiopia and Somalia). A different species of myrrh grows naturally in the Indian sub continent and frankincense is widely cultivated in parts of southern China.
Frankincense and Myrrh
Frankincense and myrrh are perhaps best known in the western world because of their association with the Christmas story, as recounted in the gospel according to Matthew in the New Testament. Matthew tells of three Magi from the East bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts for the baby Jesus. The Magi probably followed the established frankincense trade route, reaching Bethlehem from the Dhofar region, modern day Oman, through Yemen and turning north to follow the Red Sea coast to the Mediterranean. The gifts were all of great monetary value and all of local origin to the Magi.
Uses of Frankincense and Myrrh
- Frankincense and myrrh resin are collected as thick, aromatic yellow liquids from natural cracks or cuts in the bark of the trees, which dry into amber or reddish-brown coloured lumps.
- Frankincense and myrrh have been traded throughout the Middle East for at least 4,800 years.
- The ancient Egyptians used frankincense and myrrh resins for embalming, as these resins are bacteriostatic and do not decay.
- Frankincense is widely used in Arab homes to perfume clothes and purify the atmosphere. It continues to be used in traditional festivities such as weddings and religious celebrations.
- In about the 4th century AD, frankincense and myrrh reached India and then China where they were and are used to make incense. The Chinese use frankincense and myrrh in herbal medicine for treating a variety of complaints including traumatic injury.
- Surprisingly, the bitter flavour of frankincense is used today in a variety of gums, mouthwashes and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.