The Definition of Frankincense

Frankincense is an ancient scent and resin, however, depending on who you speak to its definition varies. In this article, our experts will break down the jargon, thus giving you some insight into the true definition of Frankincense and how you can best apply it to your daily life.

frankincense resin

The Definition of Frankincense

Frankincense is defined as "a fragrant gum or 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. However, there is so much more to this sacred, aromatic resin...
Frankincense is a highly valuable and sought-after substance, primarily for its incredible scent and healing benefits. For millennia, humans have burned Frankincense to attain connections with other spiritual realms; it was deemed especially useful during religious ceremonies and rites.
Additionally, Frankincense is one of the most prominent 'natural healers' documented throughout medicinal history. Its use as medicine dates back to numerous ancient civilizations. And, 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 trees are one of the most valuable in the world - this is because they produce resin, essential oil, and many other aromatic and healing Frankincense products. These products are also sometimes referred to as 'Olibanum'.
The Latin name for Frankincense trees is 'Boswellia Papyrifera', of the genus Boswellia. Boswellia Papyrifera trees grow well in harsh deserts and dry soils, thus why they are native to tropical areas of Africa, Yemen, 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. But what made it such a popular substance?
 Commonly, Frankincense was used 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 recognised by modern medicine. As well as burial ceremonies, this early civilization also burned incense in their homes, usually with Frankincense being 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 sacred 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 extremely dry, arid climate of the South Arabian peninsula. The harsh landscape allows the wild trees to grow and flourish, also explaining why the divine resin is still harvested today. After thousands of years, Frankincense is still highly prized for its earthly fragrance and spiritual powers.
Arabia and Africa are the birthplaces of modern civilization. Some of humanity's earliest recorded events transpired in Southern Arabia with plenty of references to Frankincense within their 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 bark of the Frankincense tree. With air exposure, the resin hardens and crystallises, whilst maintaining its pleasant aroma and healing properties.
To use it, simply:
  • Place the resin onto an oil warmer (to prevent the resin from sticking, first add a small, tight fitted sheet of tinfoil to the top bowl-like surface)
  • Carefully fill 1/2 of the top bowl-like surface with water
  • Light the tea light candle placed on the surface below
  • Enjoy!!!

Frankincense Essential Oil

Frankincense essential oil comes from the process of steam distillation. This technique involves heating the resin using hot steam, which then separates the oil from the rest of the substance. 
To use it, simply:
  • Carefully fill 2/3s of the top bowl-like surface of your oil warmer with water
  • Add the recommended amount of oil to the water
  • Light the tea light candle placed on the surface below
  • Enjoy!!!

Frankincense Incense Sticks, Cones and Coils

Frankincense incense comes in many forms, though our preferred forms are pure resin and essential oil. On occasion, we also love to burn natural Frankincense incense sticks, cones, and coils. However, they are mostly more robust in fragrance and sometimes deemed harmful.
To burn frankincense incense sticks, cones, or coils, simply place them in a heatproof bowl and light the tip, allowing the incense to burn through. This usually takes between 30 minutes and 1 hour.
Ensure there is adequate ventilation.

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!
Not only this, Frankincense is also commonly used in healing cosmetics. It has natural skin-restoring and anti-inflammatory properties perfect for easing acne, scarring, burns, and other skin imperfections.

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, and to others a source of a spiritual connection. But to most people today, Frankincense is a beautiful, rich fragrance, 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 a 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 tools, traditional medicine, rituals and as a spiritual tool. So it's safe to say this humble botanical isn't going anywhere soon.

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