For millennia, frankincense and myrrh have intertwined themselves in the public imagination. Both essences come from related trees found in the Arabian region--frankincense from the Boswellia carteri and myrrh from the Commiphora myrrha. Both have served myriad purposes in both ancient and modern times, ranging from beauty and perfume ingredients to medicinal and embalming agents. Small wonder, then, that frankincense and myrrh once exceeded gold in value--or that they joined gold on that famous trip to Bethlehem.
Harvesters still use the ancient methods of harvesting frankincense and myrrh. Collectors deliberately scar the trees from which the precious essences reside, resulting in "tears" of resin collecting on the tree's exterior. Manufacturers further process some of the resin for perfume, but leave some in their true form.
Burn these "tears" to experience incense in its most natural form. Ancients used smoldering chunks of myrrh and frankincense to perfume homes, temples and even tombs. (To be safe, buy devices used to warm or burn resin and other forms of incense from a reputable dealer.) Of course, incense makers offer myrrh and frankincense in more modern variations--as sticks, cones or in powdered form.
Myrrh and frankincense fall into the same fragrance family of base notes, the woody/resin category. Perfumers use the essential oils of either myrrh or frankincense to extend the scent notes of other ingredients, as well as deepen and "fix" the perfume.
Opium by Yves St. Laurent and DNA by Bijan use myrhh as a base note. Frankincense anchors scents ranging from Chanel's Allure Sensuelle perfume to many colognes for men, including Old Spice and Prada's Infusion d'Homme. Both scents, of course, star in Czech & Speake's unisex fragrance Frankincense & Myrrh.
Whether as gums, powders or essential oils, myrrh and frankincense also act as fragrance bases to scent products for the home, including potpourri and sachets. Both, of course, can be made at home, as can pompadours--apples, kumquats, quince or oranges studded with cloves and rolled in powdered frankincense, myrrh and sandalwood essential oil.
Thousands of years ago Egyptian women used charred frankincense alone or in a mixture called kohl to line their eyes. While these preparations may no longer be used, myrrh and frankincense still have real usefulness as beauty aids.
Both frankincense and myrrh reportedly have beneficial properties for the treatment of the face and body. Several companies use one or both products in botanical skin care lines that treat everything from acne and eczema to wrinkles and dry skin.
Ongoing research is being conducted showing encouraging results using frankincense to treat skin and bladder cancers, and myrrh to treat breast cancers and lower cholesterol.
The University of Maryland also cites aromatherapy studies indicating that, during labor, women treated with frankincense, rose or lavender essential oils experienced less anxiety and needed less medication than those pregnant women not exposed to those scents.
Aromatherapist and herbalist Jeanne Rose recommends myrrh as inhalation therapy (the practice of adding several drops of an essential oil to a scent diffuser) to regulate thyroid function, control appetite and improve respiratory function.