The Definition of Frankincense

Frankincense can be defined in many ways, depending on who your speak to. In this article, our experts will break down the jargon and give you some insight into the definition of frankincense and how you can best apply it to your daily life.

frankincense resin

What is the Definition of Frankincense?

Frankincense is defined as "a fragrant gum resin from trees of a genus (Boswellia of the family Burseraceae) of Somalia and southern coastal Arabia that is an important incense resin and has been used in religious rites, perfumery, and embalming" by the Merriam Webster Dictionary.
But there is so much more to this aromatic resin than that. Frankincense is a highly valuable and sought-after botanical, primarily for its incredible scent. For millennia, humans have burned frankincense to attain connections with the spiritual realm through religious ceremonies and rites.
Additionally, frankincense is one of the most prominent natural medicines documented throughout natural history. It's use as a healing botanical dates back to numerous ancient civilizations.
But it wasn't just a powerful medicinal tool in the ancient world. There is more and more medical research coming out to suggest that frankincense has the potential to be used in modern medicine too.

The Frankincense Tree and Origins

frankincense tree branch

The frankincense tree is one of the most valuable plants in the world. This is because it produces frankincense resin, essential oils, and the many other aromatic and healing frankincense products. These products are also sometimes 'Olibanum'.
The Latin name for frankincense trees is 'Boswellia Papyrifera' , of the genus Boswellia. These Boswellia Papyrifera trees grow well in harsh deserts so they grow primarily in Africa and Southern Arabia, particularly near the Indian Ocean coasts

The History of Frankincense

Frankincense in Ancient Egypt

The Ancient Egyptians were well-known for harvesting frankincense. The main reason? For cleansing the body cavities during the mummification process. This owes greatly to this powerful resin's deeply cleansing capabilities, which are slowly becoming more and more recognized by modern medicine.
As well as burial ceremonies, this early civilization also burned incense in their homes too, usually with frankincense being the first in the morning, and myrrh later in the day.

Frankincense in the Bible

We've all heard the tale of the three wise men, who brought three gifts to baby Jesus on that first Christmas day: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
But that iconic moment isn't the only time frankincense features in Christian holy texts. Specifically, Exodus, 30:34-36, Leviticus 2:1-2 and Song of Solomon 3:6, all reference frankincense for its use in incense, sacrifice, and perfumes respectively.
This gives us an incredible glimpse into the importance of resins like frankincense in the first century BC.

Frankincense in Southern Arabia

Boswellia Sacra, or the Frankincense tree, is most at home in the extreme dry, arid climate of the South Arabian peninsula. This harsh landscape allows the wild trees to grow and flourish. And this also explains why the potent resin is still harvested today, after thousands of years, and is highly prized for its earthy fragrances and spiritual power.
And, because Arabia and Africa are the birthplaces of modern civilization, some of humanity's earliest recorded events transpired in Southern Arabia, with plenty of references in frankincense within the ancient texts.

The Incense Road

The incense trade route, or incense road, was an ancient network of trade routes, connecting the Mediterranean in the West with Africa, Arabia and India in the East.
An offshoot of the famous 'Silk Road', stretching from Western Europe to East Asia, the Incense Road was a path bustling with traders and merchants looking to sell their precious incense. However, the goods didn't stop at incense. The merchants' other commodities included perfume, spices, fragrance, and even wine.

How to Use Frankincense

Pure Frankincense Resin

Resin is the pure, raw form of frankincense, taken directly from the frankincense tree in the form of sap, which crystalizes into a resin when left in the open air.
To use it, simply place it onto a oil warmer and ignite the heat source. This produces a gentle aroma and little to no smoke.
Alternatively, try placing it on a hot charcoal disc. This will produce a stronger scent accompanied by some smoke.

Frankincense Essential Oils

Frankincense essential oil comes from steam distillation of frankincense resins, which heats the resin using steam and collects the fragrance molecules in the form of an oil.
To use frankincense essential oils, you can use an oil warmer as described above. Otherwise, you can place a few drops in an essential oil diffuser, which will emit the fragrance along with water vapour.

Frankincense Incense Sticks, Cones and Coils

Frankincense incense comes in many forms. Our preferred forms are pure resin and essential oil. However, we also love natural frankincense incense sticks, cones and coils.
The burn frankincense incense sticks, cones or coils, simply place in a heatproof bowl and light the tip, allowing the incense to burn through. This usually takes between 30 minutes and 1 hour.

Other uses of Frankincense

Frankincense is becoming a major feature of medical research, with scientists appearing to have a lot of faith in the potential benefits. Up to now, scientists have discovered the following incredible benefits of frankincense:
However, research is still in its early days so watch this space for more breakthroughs!

The Final Word

So, unlike many words in the English dictionary, the definition of frankincense is broad and varied, depending on the user and the use. To some, frankincense is medicine. To others a source a spiritual connection. But to most people today, frankincense is a beautiful, rich fragrance for the home, with some bonus therapeutic benefits thrown in. And that's why we love it.

People Also Ask

What does frankincense smell like?
Frankincense is an aromatic gum resin. And like many other resins, has an earthy yet spicy aroma with subtle citrus and pine notes. It is often featured in perfumery as a base note, meaning it has lasting fragrance.

What is frankincense used for?
Global frankincense production is on the rise. And the reason is its sheer versatility. Its most popular uses include: perfumery, incense, aromatherapy and meditation tool, traditional medicine, rituals and as a spirituality tool. So it's safe to say this humble botanical isn't going anywhere soon.

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