From Middle East till Europe: History of Frankincense

What is frankincense? How did he appear? Why is it used all over the Middle East and also in Europe? Is it true that frankincense scares away evil spirits? We gathered interesting facts about frankincense, information about its history and application, trying to answer all common questions about it.

Using frankincense is associated with many myths and superstitions. Most of them are not justified. Traditional medicine is full of recipes. It is believed that a piece of incense can heal from a number of diseases. How justified is the use of frankincense for medical purposes?


We have known about it since biblical times. The gifts that the Baby Jesus received from the Magi are gold, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense is an aromatic resin obtained from a special kind of tree - Boswellia. One of them is called incense tree, and they grow on the Arabian Peninsula, as well as in East Africa. Incense essential oil is obtained by distillation of the resin. This oil has a brighter, crisper and cleaner smell than tar incense. Therefore, people who endow incense with healing properties often use frankincense essential oil. For a human nose, its smell is more pleasant.


The chemical composition of incense is quite complicated. It has aromatic substances, thanks to which incense has such a rich smell. More than half of the composition (56%) is a resin from free boswellic acid. About 30% of incense is gum. The rest of the composition is various essential oils.


The ancient Phoenicians were trading incense. Caravans followed the valuable tar by orders of the pharaohs. Incense among the Egyptians was used in pagan rites. The Egyptians often mixed incense with cinnamon oil and rubbed this mixture to relieve pain in the limbs, and also included incense in the composition of anti-ageing masks, and the Chinese considered it an effective remedy for scrofula and leprosy.


Incense resin is obtained in remote regions of the Arabian Peninsula, Africa and India. On the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa, frankincense was worth its weight in gold, so the gifts of the Magi were quite valuable. The collection of incense resin has been and remains a very laborious process to this day, so the aromatic substance is valued so highly. In February or March, a person who produces tar makes an incision on the bark of a tree that grows on limestone rocks in the desert. It will take two or three months until the juice flows out of the section and then hardens in the form of white drops, similar to tears. Then the resin miner returns to the same tree to collect the resin crystals of the frankincense tree. He also collects tar, which flows onto specially folded leaves below. The hardened resin can be processed to obtain incense essential oil. It can also be crushed to use as incense.


In Europe, frankincense appeared as Frankish incense, as it was believed that the Franks (union of ancient Germanic tribes) brought it there. It was indispensable for cosmetic purposes and many natural perfumes are still produced using incense. The quality of incense can be estimated by its aroma. Connoisseurs can determine the perfect or ordinary incense in front of them by listening to its aroma.


Only 400 grams of resin can be collected from one tree. At the same time, several thousand tons of incense are produced per year.



Interesting Facts:



- In 1922, the tomb of Tutankhamun was opened. Incense was stored in special sealed containers. Thousands of years later, it still retained its aroma, which astounded archaeologists who made this amazing discovery.

- Incense is mentioned in historical documents dating back to 2500 BC.


- If you inhale incense vapours for a long time indoors, you may get a headache.


- The famous doctor from the past, Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna) wrote about the healing properties of frankincense. Abuse of inhalation of incense vapours can cause similar drug dependence. Frankincense is capable of causing hallucinations. People are allergic to frankincense.


- On Mount Athos, they also make ceremonial incense. Incense is made in the monastery of Vatoped, it is called the “Vatopedi” incense. Incense can be of different colours - black, yellow, purple, depending on the chemical composition and aromatic oils used in its preparation.






The price of Frankincense today:

Solid frankincense resin can be sold at up to 41 Euro per kilo, according to the International Centre for Research in Dry Areas. Dutch ecologists studying populations of Boswellia in Ethiopia have warned that numbers of the frankincense-producing tree could halve in the next 15 years and eventually cease altogether if factors such as fire, grazing and insect attack go unchecked. An extinction of Boswellia would put an end to a millennia-old trade in the aromatic resin, which peaked under the Roman Empire and still provides materials for the perfume and aromatherapy industries today.

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