Frankincense or Olibanum as it is also known, is traditionally associated with the Christmas season. I was listening to the radio on the way into work this morning and heard a news story regarding the uncertain future of this ancient resin, and so decided to have our last blog of 2011 researching the story.
Apparently the Boswellia papyifera tree species is under threat and the frankincense forests in general are in decline. The old trees are dying continuously and germination of the new saplings is notoriously difficult. Although the resin is obtained from cutting the bark, this in itself is not the whole reason for the decline – although constant tapping does affect the number of seeds a tree can produce. The bark and any new seedlings are favoured by marauding goats and the tree also finds itself under attack from the long horn beetle. The locals have realised that the land yields more profit when used for other purposes such as housing construction and agriculture, and therefore some dedication to the cultivation of the frankincense resin has been lost.
Each tree can produce around 3kg of resin per year, and research suggests that after tapping for 5 years, the tree should be rested for a similar period in order for it to recover.
Frankincense is collected by creating an incision into the tree bark. A sticky white sap is then produced intended by the plant to seal the wound in the same way our bodies would respond to a cut by creating a scab. The first flow from the tree is the most revered and has a yellow colour. As the tree continues to attempt to seal its wound, the resin gum becoms darker and darker. Collectors wait until the sap has hardened, and then chip off the reddish glass like masses.
Frankincense has a long and spiritual history. It is mentioned in the Bible many times as a result of being used in temple worship. Israelite law governed what could and couldnt be burned in the temple. Frankincense was one of the oils and resins that were deemed worthy enough to be included. Scholars have estimated that the temple in Jerusalem would have used in excess of 700 pounds of frankincense a year. The Boswellia trees do not pour out the resin gum freely and as a result it was an expensive commodity that only the wealthy could afford.
Incense making, like perfume making was an art and a science. The knowledge of how to make the incense was passed down from one generation to the next, and there was a lot of mystery surrounding its make up. For this reason the exact ingredients used in the ancient sacred incenses are unknown - although the ingredients allowed in the incense were laid down by law, the exact proportions were only known by Artisans. The oldest known temple recipe contained just 4 ingredients as follows….
Stacte (most probably Myrrh, but could also have been Balsam)
In olden times, frankincense was seen as a spiritual medicine – being burned to create a connection between life on earth and the spiritual realm. It was a healing herb for many conditions such as anxiety, depression, arthritis, the healing of infected wounds and also as a sedative. In fact, it was used to intoxicate criminals and put them into a state of relaxation before their execution. Frankincense was the ancient equivalent of Prozac, creating clarity of the mind and a long term relaxing calming state.
The Egyptians were also no strangers to frankincense, using it in temples, medicines and cosmetology. It was used in the embalming process of turning a Pharoah into a mummy and also left in the sarcophagus to ease the way from one realm to the next. Kohl was created by the egyptians by using the burnt ash from frankincense along with other fragrant substances and using this mix to dress up their eyes, making themselves feel more attractive.
As stated earlier, frankincense was used to calm a troubled mind, and maybe in the last minute run up to Christmas day I might borrow a little essential oil from the lab which can be used as a bath additive for a truly relaxing festive soak…..if it works, you’ll be the first to know
Our final note for Christmas and the New Year is a poem I found a couple of years ago that I would like to share with you…
Seek out a forgotten friend
Share some treasure
Give a soft answer
Keep a promise
Find the time
Apologise if you were wrong
Laugh a little
Laugh a little more
Express your gratitude
Welcome a stranger
Gladden the heart of a child
Take pleasure in the beauty
and wonder of the earth
Speak your love
Speak it again
Speak it still once again
All the best for the New Year from all at Carvansons.