Myrrh and frankincense are resins produced by two related shrubs in the family Burseraceae.
Today, most of the internationally-traded myrrh and frankincense are produced in the southern Arabian peninsula (Oman, Yemen) and in northeast Africa (Somalia).
The primary species relied upon today are Commiphora myrrha for myrrh and Boswellia caraterii for frankincense.
Myrrh is used for indigestion, ulcers, colds, cough, asthma, lung congestion, arthritis pain, cancer, leprosy, spasms, and syphilis. It is also used as a stimulant and to increase menstrual flow.
Myrrh is applied directly to the mouth for soreness and swelling, inflamed gums (gingivitis), loose teeth, canker sores, bad breath, and chapped lips. It is also used topically for hemorrhoids, bedsores, wounds, abrasions, and boils.
In foods and beverages, myrrh is used as a flavoring component.
Frankincense is used for colic and intestinal gas (flatulence). It is sometimes applied to the skin in hand cream.
The essential oil of frankincense is used on the skin and by inhalation as a pain-killer.
Safety & Precautions:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of frankincense during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Myrrh and frankincense have had spiritual significance since ancient times and they also were adopted as medicines for physical ailments.
When referring to this pair of herbs, Westerners might immediately think of their historic importance in religion. The herbs are best known through the story of the Three Wise Men (Magi) delivering gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the baby Jesus; myrrh was also used to anoint Jesus' body after the crucifixion.
These herbs, valued like gold, were mentioned repeatedly in the Old Testament, in instructions to Moses about making incense and anointing oil, and in the Song of Solomon.
The origins of myrrh and frankincense are traced to the Arabian Peninsula.
According to Herodotus (5th century BC): "Arabia is the only country which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia and cinnamon...the trees bearing the frankincense are guarded by winged serpents of small size and various colors."
Diodorus Siculus writes, in the second half of the first century BC, that "all of Arabia exudes a most delicate fragrance; even the seamen passing by Arabia can smell the strong fragrance that gives health and vigor."
Myrrh and frankincense, traded throughout the Middle East at least since 1500 B.C., eventually came to China. As in the Middle East, myrrh and frankincense were used in China for making incense, and are so used even today.
But, in characteristic Chinese fashion of finding a medicinal use for virtually everything, these herbs were soon employed as medicines.
In modern Chinese Materia Medica, these two resins are classified as herbs for vitalizing circulation of blood and are utilized for treating traumatic injury, painful swellings, masses, and other disorders related to stasis syndromes.
Their source remains the Middle East, though frankincense trees have been cultivated in southern China.