By Natalie Augustin
Oman has a distinctive olfactory signature, and it’s everywhere.
It perforates the busy Omani souqs, sanctifies their mosques, perfumes boutique hotels, and lingers in your clothes, and is a staple in pretty much every Omani home. I should have prepared myself. I mean, what else can you expect from a place that produces the finest frankincense in the world?
As characteristic as it is iconic, frankincense embodies a rich and storied past, weaving together religion, trade, and culture into one fragrant tale. Native to Oman, frankincense comes from the boswellia sacara tree. The tree exudes a natural aromatic gum resin which is collected from an incision made in the bark, and then used as incense of perfume. Aside from its distinctly Arabian roots, frankincense is so commonplace in Oman because one of its districts – the Dhofar region – is home to some of the finest boswellia sacara trees in the world. Go figure.
To the unsuspecting nose, frankincense can seem like an assault on your senses. It’s woody, musky, and fruity at the same time, each note competing equally for your attention. If you’ve never smelt it, you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. There isn’t an olfactory reference point that I can use to help you understand its fragrance. The easiest way to describe frankincense would be say that it smells like….frankincense, or, if you’re Catholic, it smells like mass.
Yup, mass. Think long robes, clanging bells, and the smoky, musky smell of burning incense, and you’re on the right track.
Its religious alliance aside, our relationship with frankincense is based on more than just a beguiling smell. It’s based on our past.
Derived from the from Old French “franc encens” (i.e., high quality incense), frankincense can be found peppered throughout history. It appears on the timelines of all the great civilizations – Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire – where it quickly became known as the perfume of kings. It grew so valued that it was one of the first gifts presented by the Three Kings to baby Jesus.
Luckily, you don’t have to be royalty or a Magi to appreciate the multifaceted uses of frankincense today. Because it’s a resin, it’s a bit more expensive than other natural substances like spices or extracts, but the cost is well worth the benefits.
In the Middle East, Africa and Asia the resin has been used in traditional healing practices medicines for centuries, and boasts a seemingly inexhaustible list of health benefits associated with frequent use.
My introduction to frankincense began in Oman and involved me chewing the resin, which seemed a bit (read, very!) peculiar. The vendor who suggested I try it parroted off a convincing list of benefits that awaited me – improved digestion, relieved sore throat, a strengthened respiratory function, fresher breath. I continued chewing.
It took me a few tries to get accustomed to the sudden infusion of frankincense into my life, but incorporating it has definitely given me little insight into its status as the product of choice of emperors, kings, sultans and Egyptian pharaohs.
How wonderful it is that today, despite our lowly plebeian lineage, we can all benefit from these small aromatic morsels of our olfactory history.
Here are a handful of the numerous miraculous benefits of using frankincense
Frankincense has been credited for balancing and regulating estrogen production in women. It is used for PMS and improving uterine health
To improve circulation and lower symptoms of joint pain or muscle pain related to conditions like arthritis, try massaging frankincense oil to the painful area or diffusing it in your home
COLD / RESPIRATORY DISORDERS
Frankincense used as an essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties, making breathing easier, even for those with allergies or asthma
Ingested frankincense oil relieves gastrointestinal discomfort caused by gas, constipation, stomach aches, irritable bowel syndrome, PMS or cramps
Frankincense essential oil helps protect skin cells and revitalizes the skin. It used to lift and tighten skin slowing down the aging process naturally
Used as an aroma therapeutic oil it is shown to reduce the heart rate and high blood pressure. It has anti-anxiety and depression reducing abilities. Creating a feeling of peace and relaxation
ACNE, SCAR, & STRETCH MARK THERAPY
When applied directly to the skin frankincense oil can help with wound healing and may decrease the appearance of scars
Frankincense oil has been shown regulate and boost the immune system. A study even found that a chemical compound found in frankincense called AKBA is successful at killing cancer cells that have become resistant to chemotherapy, which may make it a potential natural cancer treatment
Since my return from Oman, frankincense has become an important aromatic addition to my daily routine. I start my day with a frankincense infused shower gel, and moisturize with a blend of jojoba and frankincense oil. During the day, I burn the resin around the house, to create a peaceful and relaxing mood.
It might just all be a phase, but for now, and for however long it does last, I am relishing this magical ancient resin befitting any king.