Frankincense and Myrrh
Adams County Master Gardener
Most of us are familiar with the gifts the Wise Men brought the Christ child; gold, frankincense and myrrh. We all know what gold is, but what exactly is frankincense and myrrh? What are these gifts which were once some of the most prized substances
valued as highly as gold?
Frankincense is a gummy resin from the non- descript Boswellia Thurigera. The deciduous tree is a low twisted, thorny shrub without a central branch. Today, almost all frankincense comes from Somalia, where the trees grow along the coastline, without
soil, growing out of rocks. The young trees give the best gum while the older trees yields are less desirable. To harvest frankincense, a deep cut is made into the bark and a 5-inch strip is peeled off. A milk-like juice exudes and is hardened by exposure to air. In 3
months the resin hardens into "yellowish tears" which are then scraped off and harvested.
Frankincense is highly fragrant when burned; it was used in worship where it was used as a pleasant offering to God. Medicinally it is seldom used now, though formerly it was much sought after. It was thought to be an antidote to hemlock!
Myrrh is also a gummy resin. This pale yellow resin, which dries to brown even black, is from the Commiphora shrub. The Commiphora shrub is a large shrub or tree found in East Africa, Yemen and the Red Sea countries. The shrubs yielding the resin do
not grow more than 9 feet in height. The shrubs are sturdy with knotted branches that stand out at right angles. There are ducts in the bark, which fill with a granular secretion that drips when the bark is wounded or has natural fissures. The myrrh drips from the gray
bark, forming irregularly shaped grains of resin. Dried myrrh is hard and brittle with a bitter taste.
Myrrh was one of the ingredients of the holy anointing oil and also of incense. It served as a fumigant in the temple and was a burial spice. Myrrh was valued as a perfume as well as for its medicinal properties. It served as local anesthetic and was
given to both mother and child for postnatal care, perhaps one reason the Wise Men brought it to Jesus.
Why did these gummy resins make good presents? Along with gold, frankincense and myrrh were fairly rare and expensive. Both substances have symbolic and practical values. The Wise Men brought items that had great worth.
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