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The Practical Herbalist

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

This time of year brings the question: What are frankincense and myrrh? The Christmas gifts of the Magi are well-known and understood - especially the value of gold. But the tremendous value of frankincense and myrrh may not be as clearly understood.

Frankincense and myrrh are both gum resins, similar to hard pine sap, secreted by two woody plants of the burseraceae family. The resins were very important commodities and were traded far beyond their growing region of Africa and the Middle East.

Commiphora, the plant that produces Myrrh, was brought from equatorial Africa to Egypt by Queen Hapshepsut around 1400 BCE to be added to the gardens around the temple. Myrrh was put to use as incense and perfume in religious ceremonies. Myrrh was also used in the creation of mummies. Frankincense is from the boswellia plant which is found throughout east Africa and Arabia. Both plants were recognized as a source of medicine and traded as a commodity. The resins were used as pain relievers and were found to reduce swelling and speed the healing of injuries. They remained the injury medicine of choice for centuries.

It is now known that these "herbs" have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. Being resinous, they do not dissolve well in water. But they do dissolve well in alcohol, which actually enhances the antiseptic and pain relieving qualities of the herbs. The herbs were commonly used internally as well as externally for injuries as well as to help women recover after childbirth. The antimicrobial and antifungal properties of Myrrh made it especially important in the preparation of bodies for mummification and burial.

There is documented evidence that the same well-known herbs of the Magi were traded as far as China over 1,500 years ago. Chinese herbalists formulated many classic medicinals using frankincense and myrrh, or "ru xiang" and "mo yao" as they were called in China. Many of these formulas are still used today. Used traditionally by martial artists, they are now commonly used by herbalists to treat pain due to sports and work injuries as well as arthritis.

The gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh was truly a gift worthy of a king. It was not only a gift of monetary value, but one of health and well-being.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066