The two essential oils of frankincense and myrrh hold a little more mystery than any other oils used in aromatherapy today. The truth is they have profound healing potential, with “folklore” being supported by piling scientific reports. What are these oils all about? Where do they come from and how are they used? Here's a look at these great aromatics, and how you too can use their important therapeutic properties.
The first unique thing about both these essential oils is their source: they're both distilled from dried resin — essentially the collected sap of trees. Frankincense and myrrh are the proper terms for the dried resin from each tree (or shrub) itself, while the actual plants are called by different names. The resin is collected by catching it as it exudes from wounds in the trees — the resin's production is actually a healing activity of the plant, sealing its wounds. Collection of the resin is considered not harmful, and can go on throughout the life of the tree. The dried resin forms into little balls, sometimes called “tears” or “pearls”.
The trees are native to the deserts of North Africa and surrounding regions. Myrrh is extracted from the Commiphora myrrha (also called C. ‘molmol') or Commiphora gileadensis trees; Frankincense from the Olibanum trees Boswellia carteri, Boswellia seratta and Boswellia sacra. To the untrained eye, the trees are remarkably similar, with knurled branches and tiny leaves — both looking tough and native to their very arid regions.
The resins have been held in very high regard for many thousands of years. Their uses weave together the spiritual and medicinal. The smoke of burning frankincense has been a purifying agent for many religious rituals — and indeed the smoke has antimicrobial properties, and its aroma invokes a stillness of the mind. Its name is derived from the Old French term “frank”, meaning pure or free. Myrrh as an incense has an ancient history as well, being one of the earliest recorded aromatics, used over four thousand years ago.
The essential oils are the steam distillates of the resins. The resin is placed in a chamber and steam passed through — the steam is collected and the oil and water separated. More recently, these oils are both available as CO2 extracts, where pressurized liquid carbon dioxide is used in place of water. The result is an oil more closely resembling the original resin, both aromatically and medicinally. So when selecting an essential oil of Myrrh or Frankincense, choose any for aromatic purposes — steam or CO2 distilled — whichever you prefer. For medicinal properties of a chemical nature, the CO2's are preferred, and for medicinal properties of a vibrational nature, the steam distillates may be the best choice — let your intuition guide you here!
The healing properties of frankincense and myrrh essential oils overlap in some places, and are quite unique in others. Both oils are high in sesquiterpenes, large molecules thought to stimulate the pineal gland — a part of our brains associated with spiritual insight — also called the “third eye”. Applying a drop of either of the oils to the center of the forehead is a common practice for those using essential oils to support meditation. Both oils are used in anti-aging skin care preparations as well. Frankincense has some scientific backing for wrinkle reduction, and myrrh was used for this purpose as far back as the ancient Egyptians. Either oil can be included in daily skin care formulas at concentrations between .5 and 1 percent of the total mixture.
In modern natural health practices, myrrh is typically used as an antiseptic, most specifically for sores in the mouth and for tooth infections. Powdered resin is made into a paste by mixing with powdered slippery elm bark, along with a few drops of another antiseptic essential oil. This paste is useful for toothaches, being held in place on the gum at the base of the affected tooth. This preparation is known to “draw” the infection to the surface, easing the pain of inflammation and encouraging quick healing. Myrrh resin can be tinctured in alcohol, and is also found in mouthwashes.
The primary medicinal uses of frankincense essential oil surround its anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and immune system stimulating effects. The oil and resin have been the subject of scientific inquiry into their potentials as cancer treatments — with positive results. Frankincense is able to eradicate cancerous cells, while leaving other cells unharmed. The oil is also considered to be an immune system tonic, enhancing its action in overcoming illness.
Frankincense is also the source of boswellic acids, which have been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory activity. For this use, frankincense essential oil can be included in arthritis, joint care, and pain relieving blends at concentrations up to 5%. It will synergize well with other anti-inflammatory essential oils such as ginger and German chamomile.
You'll find more on both these ancient healing materials in many aromatherapy guides, natural healing texts and around the internet. They're both wonderful to have around — the resins are fairly inexpensive; the essential oils a little more costly, but a little goes a long way. If you haven't tried them yet, you may find them an absolutely wonderful addition to your health, wellness, and possibly more esoteric programs.
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