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Frankincense resin is a gum resin that is extracted from trees belonging to the genus Boswellia. Some 25 species of Boswellia trees are known to exist, and each one produces a water-soluble aromatic resin with its own unique medicinal properties and fragrance. Frankincense resin starts as a milk-white liquid, sticky to the touch, that the tree produces to heal its trunk when it is injured in some way. According to some archaeologists, this resin has been tapped and traded in the Middle East for at least 5,000 years. At one time, it was a commodity that was as valuable as gold.
Boswellia trees don’t start to produce frankincense resin until they are around eight to ten years old. Preferably, frankincense resin is harvested only a couple of times a year, roughly from August to October and then from January to March. Over this period of about three months, the harvesting process repeats itself. The trees are allowed to rest between harvesting periods, because this helps them produce a better quality of resin.
Using a special tool called a mengaff, an incision is made on a 5-inch (12.7-cm) section of the Boswellia tree. The tree produces a thin, milk-like juice or resin which, once it is exposed to air, begins to harden. About 14 days later, the harvester returns to scrape and collect the hardened frankincense resin, called tears, from the tree. After approximately 12 weeks of aging, the collected resins are hand-sorted, graded and taken to international markets. It is necessary to hand-sort and grade the frankincense resin because differences in both climate and soil affect the trees and cause variations in the color, properties and quality of the resin.
Frankincense resin is valued for its aromatic and medicinal uses. For use in modern aromatherapy, the resin is distilled, and an essential oil is extracted from it. The oil derived from the resin has been used to treat fungal and bacterial infections, to improve the healing of wounds and scars, to treat acne and to revitalize the skin. It is used in perfumes, cosmetics and soaps.
Research into the medicinal qualities of frankincense resin has indicated that it is useful as an anti-inflammatory to relieve the symptoms of conditions such as arthritis and ulcerative colitis. In traditional medicine, the resin is used to treat digestive problems, dysentery, ulcers and asthma. Frankincense, however, is not well-studied, and it is advisable for one to consult a doctor before using it.
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