What really are these original gifts of Christmas that the Wise Men brought?
Both are from tree sap.
Frankincense comes several species of the Boswaellia tree. Different species have different grades of sap. The tree can tapped 2 or 3 times a year. Unlike the sap from maple trees it is thicker and oozes out as tear drops or resin.
Frankincense is also known as olibanum.
This tree can be used to predict rain by observing the swelling of the nodes along the branches. It reacts to changes in barometric pressure. The Greek historian Herodotus warned it was dangerous to harvest because of venomous snakes that lived in the trees.
Botanist have found it difficult to study the Boswaellia tree. It has an unusual growing cycle, sprouting one year and not the next for 6 to 10 years.
These trees are at risk as a result of habitat fragmentation and poor levels of rejuvenation, and invasion of a long-horn beetle. Most Boswellia grow in harsh, arid regions beset by poverty and conflict. Harvesting and selling the tree's resin is one of the only sources of income for the inhabitants, resulting in overtapping.
The smell of the resin is described as sweet and citrusy.
It has been traded for 6000 years.
It has a long list of purported uses: perfumes, salves, embalming, insect repellent, eyeliner.
This resin hardens and is burnt as incense and continues to be used in religious events. The smoke is regarded to connect men to the divine.
The word Frankincense means high quality incense.
Frankincense is described as the King of Incense and Myrrh is described as the Queen of Incense.
These two trees are botanically related and both native to the Arabian Peninsula and regions of northeast Africa. Boswellia has also been cultivated in southern China. Attempts to grow the trees in Israel have not been successful. Myrrh does not grow well outside its native habitat.
Myrrh is a very thorny small Commiphora tree, growing on rocky soil.
Its sap is red and is described as piney and bitter smelling.
Myrrh also has a long list of uses - rejuvenating facial treatment, toothpaste, deals with the symptoms of hay fever, stops bleeding. It is regarded as an antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic. I wonder how it does with the Covid-19 virus!!
This History.com web site describes more of the purported healing properties A Wise Man’s Cure: Frankincense and Myrrh
There is much written as to why these specific items were the gifts to the baby Jesus. Generally, Frankincense and Myrrh were as valuable, if not more so, than gold. These gifts are also symbolic and prophetic of the birth of someone great, someone destined to priesthood. It was never written what the Jesus’s family did with the gifts but it is conjectured that they financed their trip to Egypt.
The use of all incense fell with the falling of the Roman Empire. The trade routes were obliterated. For a time, incense was expressly forbidden because of its associations with pagan worship. The burning of frankincense, myrrh, and other aromatic items into specific rites of many denominations has resumed a long time ago. Islam scriptures also make mention of these products “Fumigate your houses with mugwort, myrrh and thyme”.
Are you curious? You can order a gift box on Ebay
You can find lots of Frankincense essential oils too!