Frankincense and Myrrh
(The following is a special release from University of Illinois Extension.) Just what are frankincense and myrrh? Certainly, they are part of many Christmas stories, but do you know what those products are and why they were so valuable? Here is more information on both of these plant-based products.
Frankincense and myrrh are both resins — dried tree sap — that come from trees of the genus Boswellia (frankincense) and Commiphora (myrrh), which are common to Somalia and Ethiopia.
The value of these products comes partly from their use, but also from their labor-intensive harvesting methods. The sap is collected by cutting the tree’s bark, causing the sap to ooze from the cut. The sap used to create both frankincense and myrrh comes slowly and is allowed to dry on the tree for several months. The hardened sap is collected and used as frankincense and myrrh.
Frankincense is used mainly for its lovely fragrance, although historically it also had medicinal uses. Frankincense is a leafy tree that grows without soil along the rocky shores of Somalia. The young trees furnish the most valuable gum – a milky white ooze that hardens to a translucent golden hue.
Myrrh is collected from a small five to 15-foot tall tree about one foot in diameter called the dindin tree. The tree looks like a short flat-topped hawthorn tree with gnarly branches. The whitish-green flowers appear before the leaves in the spring. The plant looks scrubby and desolate among the rocks and sands of the desert.
True myrrh is crumbly and dark red inside. The exterior is white and powdery. The best myrrh has little odor and no oily texture. High-quality myrrh demanded the best prices in the Roman Empire, but it did not ship well.
The most common use for frankincense and myrrh û past and present û is as incense. Myrrh is also used medicinally, as an embalmer, in cosmetics, and today myrrh is found in some flavorings.
Today, you can find frankincense and myrrh for sale at stores and on the Internet. Beware that the product you purchase may be resin from another Middle Eastern tree and not the real stuff.