Friday, December 19, 2008

What are frankincense and myrrh?

The Bible says wise men travelled from afar to visit the young Jesus, and they brought him gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

Frankincense and myrrh are both sweet smelling gum resins -- dried tree sap -- that come from trees of the genus Boswellia (frankincense) and Commiphora (myrhh), at the time of Christ, grew in Arabia, India, Somalia and Ethiopia.

The way that people collect the sap is similar to the way people collect rubber-tree sap or pine-tree sap. Cutting the tree's bark causes the sap to ooze out of the cut. The sap used to create both frankincense and myrrh comes slowly and is allowed to dry on the tree. The hardened sap is collected and used as frankincense and myrrh.

Tradition says that frankincense was presented to the Christ Child by Balthasar, a black king from Ethiopia or Saba. The frankincense trade was at its height during the days of the Roman Empire. At that time this resin was considered as valuable as gems or precious metals. The Romans burned frankincense on their altars and at cremations.

Both in the time of the wise men and today, frankincense and myrrh are commonly used to create incense. You mix frankincense with things like spices, seeds and roots to create different aromas. Traditionally, you burn the powdered incense with charcoal in a censer or on a small stand.

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