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frankincense essential oil-biological name : Boswellia Sacra
The traditional applications of Frankincense are very diverse - ranging from dental disease to skin conditions, to respiratory complaints and digestive troubles - to name but a few. Throughout the ancient world, from Egypt to China and from India to Rome - not to mention the Arabian countries where Frankincense was grown, used not only the oleoresin, but practically every part of the tree: root and bark, bud, flower and fruit - as well as the resin and the essential oil all had their various uses.
The powdered bark was made up into an astringent paste which was used as a soothing ointment as a remedy for swelling (oedema). As a treatment for mastitis the dried or fresh gum was boiled in milk from the patient, to form a thick paste which was applied to the affected part.
The bark was brewed into a stimulating and cleansing tea, while the white inner root of young plants was chewed to treat stomach problems. The singed, powdered bark was commonly stored as a first aid remedy for wounds. Mixed with water it was applied as a 'ready to use' dressing for wounds and burns, though if available, the fresh bark was also used for this purpose- particularly as an antiseptic wash to clean dirty or infected wounds. The resin's antiseptic properties have been utilized as in ingredient for eye-washes to treat various ophthalmic diseases, while in Ethiopia the soot of the resin is thought to be beneficial for the eyes and sore or tired eyes are fumigated with the smoke.
The bark also found application in the setting of broken bones. Two pieces of the wood were used as splints, with strips of Frankincense bark wrapped around them along with bandage soaked in soft resin, which upon drying helped to provide firm support for the mending bone.
The resin was chewed to stimulate the gums and treat dental infections and sore gums and to generally strengthen the teeth. Buds and fruit provided a cleansing tonic for the digestive system. Brewed into a decoction with Cinnamon and Cardamom the resin was used to treat stomach aches. Burnt as incense it was not only thought to keep off the demons of disease and reduce pain, but it was also thought to act as an expectorant and was used to clear phlegm from the head and chest in cases of colds, flu and conditions of the upper respiratory tract.
Frankincense was thought to improve memory and dispel lethargy. As an admixture to white wine and the lungs of a hare it was also used as a remedy for epilepsy, while the smoke of the smouldering resin was used to treat severe and persistent headaches.
The smoke is also a powerful insect deterrent and thus served as a prophylactic to prevent the bites of malaria carrying mosquitoes.
In Dhofar the bark was made into an ointment to treat severe muscle pain, but only in India was the oleoresin noted as a remedy for rheumatism - one of the foremost conditions for which Frankincense has been rediscovered in recent times.
The bark's astringent properties have been incorporated in ointments to treat skin sores and chapped skin, while Emperor Nero utilized a pomade made from the gum mixed with wax to disguise the tell-tale bags beneath his eyes that appeared after a night of debauchery.
Frankincense also played a role in women's medicine - the bark was chewed for morning sickness and a potion made from the resin dissolved in wine with snakeskin was thought to ease difficult labour.