Wisemen traversed from afar,
Guided by a radiant star.
Bearing costly gifts, we’re told,
Frankincense, and myrrh, and gold
By Sandra Graham at Christart
So what is this wondrous substance that we have known so well for more than five thousand years, and why is it still considered to be so valuable? In Egypt it was used in the embalming of mummies, aiding the deceased in his or her journey to the afterlife; Christians have used it to cleanse holy spaces of evil spirits, and in ancient Arabia it was valued as highly as gold for its incredible fragrance. In India it has been used to treat stiff joints and general health for millennia – particularly by the Ayurvedic school of medicine who maintain that burning it in the home provides health benefits for all the family.
In the Middle East, Frankincense is chewed in its resinous form, which exploits its antimicrobial properties and greatly assists the maintenance of healthy teeth and gums. One can only imagine that in those days, long before we understood the underlying causes of tooth decay and periodontitis, poor oral health must have been a major cause of suffering. By trial and error and observation, people learned that Frankincense could help – and so it became a part of folk lore and natural medicine.
Known Benefits of Frankincense
Frankincense improves circulation and blood flow through blood vessels suffering from inflammation, which also helps joints that suffer from arthritis. Frankincense’s powerful anti-inflammatory effect also helps with Crohn’s disease and cysts. Some studies have shown that the frankincense may help in the treatment of several types of cancer – malignant melanoma, bladder cancer and brain tumor.
Other studies have confirmed that extract of frankincense, incensole acetate, has the ability to reduce neurological damage, ease depression, and to prevent vascular disease.
In aromatherapy, frankincense is used primarily for relieving stress, tension, anxiety and depression. Using Frankincense for a bath or massage can also help with menstrual pain and inflammation of the bladder.
Aromatherapy with frankincense oil has a beneficial effect on the respiratory system and helps with bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis, colds and allergies.
What Western Medicine has Uncovered
Western medicine has now discovered the composition of Frankincense and identified the components responsible for its anti-inflammatory properties. These constituents are:
- sesquiterpene hydrocarbon
- boswellic acid
Here’s a brief description of each of these important elements:-
Sesquiterpenes – These substances found in plants are defensive mechanisms – deterring some species from eating the plant. In mammals, they have been shown to delete bad information in cellular memory. In varying quantities, they are present in almost all essential oils. They are very viscous (less volatile) so they are often used as fixatives in the perfume industry. Viscous oils have a longer half-life and blend well with lighter, more volatile oils.
Some oils have a far higher concentration of Sesquiterpenes than others- particularly Cedarwood, Sandalwood and Myrrh.
monoterpenes – Monoterpenes – are present in almost all essential oils. their action is to inhibit the accumulation of toxins. Monoterpenes also enhance the therapeutic values of other components and are the balancing portion of the oil; they restore the correct information in the DNA of the cell once the sesquiterpenes have done their job. Grapefruit, Orange, and Balsam Fir contain high amounts of monoterpenes.
Diterpenes Therapeutically, diterpenes have the same properties as sesquiterpenes, but they also act as anti-fungal agents, expectorants, hormonal balancers, and are useful in treating hypertension. Research has also shown that diterpenes may provide some protection against colorectal cancer, although more research is needed.
Boswellic Acid Boswellic acid is a terpene, and is the most powerful ingredient of frankincense. It has a strong anti-inflammatory effect and effectively relieves pain caused by arthritis with no known side-effects. Like many other terpenes, boswellic acid appears in the resin of the plant that exudes it; it is estimated that it makes up 30% of the resin of the frankincense tree, Boswellia serrata.