In keeping with the season, I thought I’d talk about frankincense, one of the gifts that the wise men brought to the child Jesus. They also brought gold and myrrh. All very expensive gifts, out of the reach of ordinary people. Fortunately, while gold is still expensive, both of these herbs are relatively affordable and readily available in this modern age.
Frankincense and myrrh are both resins, similar to the pine resin (gum) we discussed last week. These resins are produced to heal damaged bark on the trees and protect the tree from infection and further damage. Frankincense is a resin from trees in the Boswellia genus, typically Boswellia sacra (or B. careri). Another species, Boswellia serrata is used in Ayurvedic medicine and is called boswellia instead of frankincense. Both species have similar constituents and uses, so although I'm focusing on boswellia resin and frankincense essential oil in this article, what I write about one will probably be true of the other.
In Ayurvedic medicine, boswellia is known as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent and expectorant. It is used both internally and topically.
There’s a good body of research showing boswellia is helpful for reducing pain and morning stiffness, as well as aiding, joint mobility in both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. It can also be helpful for tendonitis, bursitis and other injuries.
Boswellia is also helpful for inflammatory bowel disorders, especially ulcerative colitis. It has immune-modulating activity and antitumor activity. It helps to induce apoptosis in cancer cells. It may also be helpful for neurodegenerative disorders. It seems to have a powerful effect on the mind in preventing inflammatory damage and promoting clear cognitive abilities.
Boswellia combines well with other anti-inflammatory and analgesic herbs to help reduce inflammation, ease pain, and speed healing after injuries or surgery. For example, I had a tooth pulled last week and I took a formula containing boswellia, andrographis, mangosteen pericarp, turmeric and willow bark after the extraction. After the surgery, which took place in the morning, I took four capsules every 2-4 hours, taking a total of sixteen capsules by the time I went to bed. I took four more the next morning.
I experienced very little pain the first day and all the pain was gone during the second day. That’s quite impressive, considering the dentist gave me a prescription for eight capsules of an opioid. Which I fortunately was able to forgo.
Frankincense Essential Oil
You can use frankincense resin in a similar manner to boswellia resin, but most people use frankincense as an essential oil. Like the resin, frankincense oil has an anti-inflammatory and expectorant action. It can be applied neat (undiluted) and doesn't irritate the skin, but it should not be used internally.
It has been applied topically to ease pain from arthritis and other inflammatory conditions of structural tissues. It is also used topically for eczema, prevention of scars and oily skin. It has also been applied topically to help shrink tumors or lumps, especially in the breasts. It has also been massaged over the ovaries to ease ovarian inflammation and pain during menses. It acts as a uterine tonic when massaged into the lower abdomen.
When inhaled it can help to clear the lungs and aid deep breathing. It also has strong effects on the mind and emotions, which may explain why it has long been considered an aid to spirituality.
The idea of incense, burning things to purify the environment both physically and spiritually, is an ancient one and is found in many cultures. Frankincense is one of these things, it even has "incense" in the name. It burns readily and is considered purifying. It was part of the mixture of spices used in Hebrew temples as incense. Native Americans also burned herbs to purify the environment as part of their spiritual practices. The Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches still use incense, which I believe contains frankincense, as part of their liturgical services.
If you consult with people, you may occasionally have a client that leaves a dark or negative feeling behind when they leave. When this has happened, I’ve diffused a little frankincense and found it really helped to clear the air.
I've also found that both myrrh and frankincense were helpful for the thymus energy in my emotional healing model. The thymus regulates the immune system on the physical level and helps cultivate a positive, but balanced self-image. The thymus also helps you resist negative people and influences and frankincense helps people with poor self-esteem to establish better emotional boundaries and feel less vulnerable.
Frankincense can help calm and focus the mind for prayer and meditation. It also helps to relax the body and slow and deepen the breath. This helps to create an inner stillness where you can hear your inner voice, a voice that is typically drowned out by our busy, noisy, and fast-paced lives.
Years ago I learned a valuable principle. Prayer is talking to God, but meditation is listening to God. You have to do both to have a relationship. Many people pray, but few take the time to calm their mind and listen for the answer. With the stress, tension, and conflict currently facing the world, perhaps the gift of a little frankincense is still appropriate this Christmas season. It’s something you can give as a gift for yourself to help restore your sense of inner calm and rediscover inner peace this season.
If you'd like to learn more about the different species of Boswellia trees and their uses, I found this very interesting article: Frankincense Types: Medicinal, Psychoactive, Cognitive, Scent Properties & More.