Humans are so wonderfully fanciful. Take two scarce resins, add a dollop of imagination and the gods are sweating Frankincense and weeping Myrrh. Resins are the semi-solid secretion of trees and plants and have been used for incense, perfumes, embalming, sacrificial offerings, medicine, a thickener in food dishes and for glue. When wounded, that is when the bark is scored through, these ingenious trees exude the resins to heal themselves. These two particular resins have been harvested and traded for more than 5,000 years. Murals in the Egyptian tomb of the only female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut, depict sacks of exotic trade goods, including Frankincense and Myrrh.
Almost all Frankincense originates in Oman, Yemen and Somalia, a product of the Boswellia scara tree, one of the scrufftiest, scrabbiest examples of desert botany that ever photosynthesized. The Commiphora myrrha tree would not win a beauty contest either with spikey thorns that could have inspired the mace club. Myrrh is native to Yemen, Somalia and eastern Ethiopia. Both resins were worth more than their weight in gold, though neither was considered a luxury. Rather, given their ritualistic roles and their ability to delay the onset of decomposition while covering the odors of death, they were thought of as a necessity. The charred remains of a knob of Frankincense burned as incense was ground up by the Egyptians to become the distinctive black kohl eyeliner. The flagrantly excessive Nero, before he let Rome burn, lit a year’s worth myrrh on the funeral pyre of his wife, in remorse for killing her and their unborn child with a kick to her belly.
In its purest forms, Frankincense was chewed like gum to aid digestion and promote healthy skin. Its medicinal use has expanded and it is currently used to treat depression, cancer, respiratory infections and inflammations, as well as to stimulate the immune system. The BBC reported in 2010 that studies in progress have noted the resin’s ability to arrest and possibly cure cancers by causing the cancerous cells to close down on themselves.
Myrryh has been a staple of Chinese medicine for at least four centuries. As such it has been prized for its ability to “move blood”, to purge stagnant blood from the uterus and to relieve rheumatic, arthritic and circulatory issues. Myrrh has been shown in recent tests to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and to increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
I fear I have no recipes to offer using Frankincense or Myrrh. But in the spirit of the season, while pumpkins can still be had we offer Pumpkin Soup as an appeasement along with a few of the holiday recipes to be found on the web site.