The three wise men brought it as gifts, and aromatherapy advocates love to use it, but finding out what is frankincense used for can take a little bit of time if you're trying to search on your own. Whether treating cysts or for relaxation, frankincense has a surprising number of uses.
Frankincense, the Royal Spice
Frankincense is one of the oldest aromatics known to history. Frankincense was actually found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen (King Tut), the ancient Egyptian pharaoh whose intact tomb included other treasures. Egyptian, Greek, and Arabian peoples enjoyed the aroma of frankincense and used it in cosmetics as well as to scent and fumigate their homes. It's even mentioned in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, as well as the Book of Matthew as one of the gifts the magi brought to the infant Jesus.
The spice or herb itself comes from the bark of the Boswellia sacra tree. The ancients were probably first attracted to the tree by its seemingly magical ability to grow anywhere, especially in the harsh desert climate of the Middle East. It's not uncommon to find a Boswellia sacra tree growing out of the rocky outcrops in the desert.
When trees reach about three years old, the bark is tapped for the rich aromatic resin that becomes frankincense. The chips are called tears. Many who harvest frankincense believe that the tears of the Boswellia are best after the tree has been tapped several times, possibly because it gives the tree time to create additional sap, and the sap is what makes frankincense.
What Is Frankincense Used For
Modern people continue to enjoy frankincense in much the same way as people in olden times did: as an aromatic herb. Chips of ground frankincense tears are burned, creating an aromatic smoke, or ground up into a powder and incorporated into various incense mixtures. Many religious traditions, from Roman Catholics to Eastern Orthodox Christians, use frankincense as part of their incense mixtures during religious ceremonies.
Frankincense is used frequently in aromatherapy mixtures. It is said to have an elevating, soothing quality that calms the nervous system. It is often used in conjunction with benzoin as an aromatherapy treatment. In ancient China, smoke from frankincense was used to fumigate the sick room to ward off diseases. Today, many people still burn frankincense incense when they feel ill. The vapors and odor can help clear a stuffy head.
Frankincense is also recommended as a topical treatment particularly for cysts. It has an astringent quality and may help to reduce the incidence of painful ganglion cysts.
Many herbal skin care products, creams and lotions contain frankincense, both as a fragrance oil and for its properties. Frankincense has an astringent quality, and is often recommended for acne conditions. Many herbalists recommend frankincense to rebuild and repair skin problems such as scars. Stretch marks, or scars caused by rapid gains or losses in weight such as those experienced by women during pregnancy, may also be helped or reduced through the use of a frankincense-based cream. Some wrinkle creams also include frankincense for the same reason. As an astringent, it tends to tighten the skin, thus reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
An infusion of frankincense, like other astringent herbs, can clear a stuffy head. It opens up mucous membranes and nasal passages. Many herbalists advise a few drops of frankincense oil in a steam inhalation to loosen mucous.
Although herbalists of old made preparations of frankincense to be taken internally, use care and caution. While new and exciting research into the properties of frankincense may yield medical discoveries about the internal use of this herb, the safest use of frankincense is an external oil or as an aromatherapy product. If pregnant or nursing, avoid using frankincense.