Mother Earth Living

Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses: Frankincense

A brief history of frankincense.
By James A. Duke, Ph.D.
December/January 2009
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Frankincense is an important ingredient in incense.
Peggy Kessler Duke


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Boswellia sacra or B. carteri
—Matthew 2:10–11
Used for: Dysentery, gonorrhea, fever, polyps

The magi brought the newborn Jesus three gifts: gold to recognize his kingship; frankincense to acknowledge his holiness or divinity; and myrrh to symbolize the hardship and suffering that he would endure.

Frankincense is an important ingredient in incense. Literally, frank means “free” and incense means “lighting.” The Arabic word for frankincense, luban, means “milk of the Arabs.” The aromatic gum was used for incense, perfume, holy ointments and as a fumigant. Not native to Israel, frankincense was imported by caravan from Arabia and East Africa.

The gum is obtained by cutting incisions into the bark of the frankincense shrub. The milky juice that exudes hardens into “tears” within a few weeks. These tears are favored in Lebanon primarily as incense and secondarily as a medicine or cosmetic. Essential oil of frankincense, or oil of olibanum, is used in high-grade perfumes, especially in oriental and floral types.


Click here for the original article, Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses.

James A. Duke, Ph.D., is one of the world’s foremost authorities on botanical medicine. He is author of   The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 1997) and Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary (CRC, 1994). 

Adapted with permission from Herbs of the Bible: 2,000 Years of Plant Medicine by James A. Duke, Ph.D. 








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