Frankincense And Myrrh
Frankincense And Myrrh, aromatic resins formed from the sap of trees, may have medicinal properties.
Spicy-smelling frankincense and myrrh have been intimately intertwined with humanity throughout recorded history, from the frankincense pellets found in the ancient tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun to the myrrh-infused brandy concoction used to preserve the body of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, a 19th-century British war hero. The substances’ musky plumes of smoke are most often associated with embalming, perfumes, and religious rituals around the world, including ceremonies in the ancient temples of Jerusalem and modern Roman Catholic liturgies. Beyond those uses, frankincense and myrrh may also have medicinal and psychoactive components.
Both of the earthy entities are gum resins, which are viscous secretions from trees. Frankincense, also known as olibanum, comes from select trees in the Boswellia genus, and myrrh usually comes from Commiphora trees. The plants belong to the same botanical family and commonly grow on the Arabian Peninsula, in India, and in northeastern Africa. “Both trees are usually gnarled and look stunted, without very many leaves,” describes Kerry Hughes, an ethnobotanist and founder of EthnoPharm, a consulting company specializing in plant products.
To access the aromatic resins, locals slice gashes into frankincense and myrrh trees at harvest times and collect the milky resins that ooze from their bark, Hughes says. Once exposed to air and sun, myrrh dries and hardens to reddish-brown pea-sized chunks, whereas frankincense dries to pale yellow, tear-shaped droplets about half that size.
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2008 American Chemical Society