This is part one of a two part series on Frankincense and myrrh. The two are closely associated with the upcoming Christmas season, although Frankincense and Myrrh have histories steeped in a number of religions. First century Rome is said to have consumed 2800 tons of frankincense and 550 tons of myrrh yearly. The warm, sweet, spicy aroma of frankincense is a balance to the musky and pungent odor of myrrh. Frankincense instills courage, helps the mind focus, and lifts the spirit. In the story of the Three Wise Men, Frankincense was offered to the Christ child to represent divinity. Myrrh clears the air, is used in divination, regenerates the spirit and restores clarity. Myrrh was given as a gift to the Christ child to alleviate suffering. Combined, the two bring much to us in ushering in a stressful yet wonderful holiday season and a new year. They may be common, but what they represent and are used for might be surprising. In this first article, we will focus our attention on frankincense.
Origin and History
Frankincense was discovered in the land now called Somalia, where it is very dry and bare. Also called olibanum, it is the resin of the Boswellia carterii tree. It was used in rituals where herbs were burned, and one of its common names was incense. Frankincense was indicated for ulcers, vomiting, tumors, dysentery and fevers around the 10th century. It was considered to be a powerful stimulant. Inhalation of frankincense oil was used for bronchitis and laryngitis. In China frankincense was used for leprosy, moved qi to quicken the blood, brought circulation to blocked meridians, and relieved pain.
Frankincense was used by the Egyptians to aid the release of the soul from the body in religious rituals. This facilitated the connection with Spirit, and raised the level of consciousness. In the process of release, frankincense brought strength and protection. It was used internally in preparations addressing weakness, both physical and spiritual. It was often combined in a recipe for anointment with cypress and cedar wood. The use of this combination is not specified, but cypress and cedar wood are both oils of preservation and used for transition into the afterlife. We may assume that Frankincense in this formula was for strength and protection. Frankincense was also used in the embalming process.
Present Day: Physical Healing
Frankincense is widely used externally as an essential oil. It is a lymphatic with immune stimulating properties, and is anti-inflammatory. I have found it to be quite useful for piles when combined with cypress and yarrow essential oils in a base of comfrey-infused oil. Frankincense is specifically used in preparations for skin inflammation, dry, mature or aging skin. It combines well with rose and vetiver in facial masks, sprays or lotions. The oil is a powerful stimulant that lifts depressed energy. Its antiseptic and expectorant qualities make it effective for colds, flu, and respiratory infections.
Frankincense has made a comeback as an herb to be used internally. In the last few years, it was found that boswellic acid, which makes up a large percentage of frankincense’s chemical structure, has a potent anti-inflammatory activity. Research has shown that boswellic acid blocks the system involved in the enzymatic pathways that produce inflammatory molecules. Drugs that inhibit these enzymes are used to treat arthritis, and in some cases asthma and ulcerative colitis. Research is also indicating that boswellic acid may have anti-tumor activity, just as observation taught doctors of the 10th century.
Tools for Spiritual Healing
As a shamanic practitioner as well as herbalist, I believe it is important to treat and recognize the spiritual dimension of healing. Holiday time and the New Year are a time for celebration, but also a time of great stress for many. It is a time that can remind us of old emotional pains and reopen old wounds thought healed. Then again, it is often this period that allows us to go outside our comfort zone of what we believe about healing, and try something new. It is important to recognize that the spiritual dimension can be a place where things hide from our conscious minds. Our society does not easily recognize that physical illness begins in the spiritual body.
Frankincense is a powerful plant ally. A body worker I used to work with asked me to formulate an essential-oil blend for a client of his. This client suffered from posttraumatic stress syndrome from his time in Vietnam. It was a simple formula, the main components being frankincense and myrrh. My friend claims that while he was working on his client with the formula, they both felt the moment his client’s spirit came back into his body. Following that session, the client used the formula through his daily life and in healing baths, and it supported him in finding perspective and peace. The formula did not do the work for him, but opened a safe place that allowed him to integrate what he’d learned in his healing process.
Creating a space for spiritual healing and clearing the energy field is an important first step for deep spiritual work. Any plant can do this, but I find frankincense to be specific for creating an opening when the 7th chakra has been denied from fear or extreme trauma. Chakra #7 is how we connect with Spirit. It is a chakra we send energy out from. Frankincense helps ignite a relationship between spiritual dimensions and the person. Additionally, it works well with the 6th chakra, or third eye, as the point where the mind, spirit and energy body meet with the physical and go on to touch every cell of our body. It is also the point where we are capable of receiving information. It is a charka that takes in energy. At this place our conscious self connects with our subconscious self, and we have the ability to use information from spiritual dimensions for healing. Frankincense takes us where we are ready and willing to go in this process. It protects us and gives us courage in our journey. A depressed spirit is one that cannot move. In this position we cannot do what we need to heal. Frankincense lifts the spirit and focuses the mind, allowing us to find perspective and get our direction straight. We begin to move forward instead of stagnate.
When we are overwhelmed during the holidays, our physical, emotional and spiritual bodies become stressed. Frankincense is fitting for this time of year, and the basis is not merely traditional. Frankincense gives us energy, stimulates our immune system, protects our respiratory tract and alleviates spiritual stress by keeping our energy field clear. As the cold deepens and the snow swirls, I suggest making a nice warming foot rub with frankincense, myrrh and clove. Stay tuned for part 2 to find out other ways myrrh compliments frankincense.