Last week, we learned about the power of gold. This week, as promised, I found out about the second gift of the Magi—Frankincense.
Frankincense is actually a type of resin that “bleeds” from certain hardy trees found in the arid areas of the Middle East. It is harvested by making cuts in the bark—the first bits to ooze out are not the highest value, but the second and third cuts bear a better quality resin.
For over five thousand years, Frankincense, known simply as “incense” has been traded in and around the countries of the Mediterranean. Banned for many years by the Christian churches for its connection to Jewish spirituality, it later became called Frankincense when Frankish Crusaders brought it back to Europe from the Middle East.
The resin burns due to the natural oils present, and was used as an incense in the ancient world, where bathing was not exactly a daily habit. Its piney, lemony smell would cover the scent of your neighbor’s body odor, as well as acting as an insecticide. Good stuff, that, ‘cause if you ain’t bathing, odds are good you’ve got some sort of insect taking up residence on your body without a lease or any sort of permission.
Another benefit comes from the smoke from the burning resin—it is said to be good for clearing out germs from the air, thereby bringing good health to a home in which it was burned every day. The scent is quite calming and is used today in meditation as a way to center the mind and body.
Taken internally, the ancients would use the resin to aid in digestion, as well as for treating tumors, ulcers, and dysentery. Pliny the Elder (who we have to respect—after all, he is an elder) even claims that the resin could be used as a cure for hemlock poisoning. Too bad Socrates didn’t have some stashed in his robes, although from what I hear, it wouldn’t have done him any good with the Athenian people out for his blood.
But if he had tried to escape and had suffered superficial wounds, he could have used the oil of his handy-dandy hemlock to treat those wounds. Also good for acne, and when added to a bath, for the treatment of cramps. The ashes of the burned stuff were used to make kohl to line the eyes of Egyptian royalty and it was also used to mummify them at their deaths (one would hope they were dead, anyway).
For the treatment of acne and cramps alone, I’m thinking of picking up a bottle. For the baby Jesus, there were lots of reason why this yellowish/clear resin would make a good gift. It just would not do for the son of a deity to have zits or smell bad or have a tummy-ache.
Next week, assuming we all don’t meet our fiery ends on December 21st, I’ll talk about the properties of myrrh, which seems to be a close cousin to Frankincense.
By the way, if you would like to buy some, too, I found it for sale on Amazon, which is where I got the pretty piccie.