With Christmas only a handful of advent calendar windows away and the present buying frenzy in full flow, we trace our thoughts to the original gift bearers of the season and their precious offerings of old, frankincense and Myrrh.
From our first nativity play at infant school, we are told the story of how the three wise men from the East brought gifts of gold, frankincense and Myrrh to the newborn king. Whilst gold remains a symbol of indulgence and treasure, frankincense and Myrrh have been abandoned alongside the pile of old tea towels tied to our little heads and left to the story books.
Not within the world of aromatherapy, however. Still considered to hold prized qualities befitting a king, these ancient oils are not only used in aromatherapy. Also used in skincare and fragrance, they remain as popular today as in the days of old.
Frankincense comes from the term “franc encens,” meaning quality incense in old French. It originates from the Middle East and Africa and is one of the most famous of the ‘oleo-resins’. This is a pale gum that oozes from the bark of the Boswellia shrub.
Ground to a powder, the resin has a sweet, warm, balsamic aroma and is a crucial ingredient in incense. The essential oil is steam distilled from frankincense resin and smells sweeter, cleaner and fresher than the resin.
It was considered a pathway between the earthly and divine worlds in ancient times. In aromatherapy today, it is used to promote relaxation, bringing inner peace and calm.
Whereas frankincense has become a popular ingredient in wellbeing, skincare and fragrance products, less is known of its humble sidekick. However, Myrrh is by no means the poorer cousin of the two.
Myrrh is an essential oil with a comprehensive and fascinating history. This modest shrub has appeared in numerous historical records, dating back nearly 4,000 years. Famous throughout ancient Egypt, Myrrh was an expensive spice. It was used in an array of cosmetic and medicinal processes, from embalming mummies to preparing skincare treatments for affluent women.
The Greeks also revelled in Myrrh’s cooling and healing properties. They used it in fragrance blends and applied it to wounds to help inflammation and prevent infection.
To distil the essential oil used today, the bark of the myrrh shrub, also known as Commiphora myrrha, is pierced causing a fragrant gum to seep from its branches. This gum is steam distilled, creating a wonderfully versatile and beneficial oil.
In modern aromatherapy, Myrrh can be used to treat a host of physical and emotional ailments. When applied in a compress, the oil is known to help draw out infection from a wound. Blended with floral oils or frankincense in a diffuser, Myrrh is said to relax the mind, calm the spirit and dissolve negative feelings.
It transpires those wise men of long ago certainly knew how to pick the perfect Christmas present. Luckily, you don’t have to be a king or a wise man nowadays to appreciate the benefits of these precious oils. You don’t even have to wait until Christmas.