Frankincense and Myrrh: Spiritual and Physical Healing
Posted on September 29 2015
This is part one of a two part series on Frankincense and myrrh. The two are closely associated with the upcoming Christmas season, although Frankincense and Myrrh have histories steeped in a number of religions. First century Rome is said to have consumed 2800 tons of frankincense and 550 tons of myrrh yearly. The warm, sweet, spicy aroma of frankincense is a balance to the musky and pungent odor of myrrh. Frankincense instills courage, helps the mind focus, and lifts the spirit. In the story of the Three Wise Men, Frankincense was offered to the Christ child to represent divinity. Myrrh clears the air, is used in divination, regenerates the spirit and restores clarity. Myrrh was given as a gift to the Christ child to alleviate suffering. Combined, the two bring much to us in ushering in a stressful yet wonderful holiday season and a new year. They may be common, but what they represent and are used for might be surprising. In this first article, we will focus our attention on frankincense.
Origin and History
Frankincense was discovered in the land now called Somalia, where it is very dry and bare. Also called olibanum, it is the resin of the Boswellia carterii tree. It was used in rituals where herbs were burned, and one of its common names was incense. Frankincense was indicated for ulcers, vomiting, tumors, dysentery and fevers around the 10th century. It was considered to be a powerful stimulant. Inhalation of frankincense oil was used for bronchitis and laryngitis. In China frankincense was used for leprosy, moved qi to quicken the blood, brought circulation to blocked meridians, and relieved pain.
Frankincense was used by the Egyptians to aid the release of the soul from the body in religious rituals. This facilitated the connection with Spirit, and raised the level of consciousness. In the process of release, frankincense brought strength and protection. It was used internally in preparations addressing weakness, both physical and spiritual. It was often combined in a recipe for anointment with cypress and cedar wood. The use of this combination is not specified, but cypress and cedar wood are both oils of preservation and used for transition into the afterlife. We may assume that Frankincense in this formula was for strength and protection. Frankincense was also used in the embalming process.
Present Day: Physical Healing
Frankincense is widely used externally as an essential oil. It is a lymphatic with immune stimulating properties, and is anti-inflammatory. I have found it to be quite useful for piles when combined with cypress and yarrow essential oils in a base of comfrey-infused oil. Frankincense is specifically used in preparations for skin inflammation, dry, mature or aging skin. It combines well with rose and vetiver in facial masks, sprays or lotions. The oil is a powerful stimulant that lifts depressed energy. Its antiseptic and expectorant qualities make it effective for colds, flu, and respiratory infections.
Frankincense has made a comeback as an herb to be used internally. In the last few years, it was found that boswellic acid, which makes up a large percentage of frankincense’s chemical structure, has a potent anti-inflammatory activity. Research has shown that boswellic acid blocks the system involved in the enzymatic pathways that produce inflammatory molecules. Drugs that inhibit these enzymes are used to treat arthritis, and in some cases asthma and ulcerative colitis. Research is also indicating that boswellic acid may have anti-tumor activity, just as observation taught doctors of the 10th century.
Tools for Spiritual Healing
As a shamanic practitioner as well as herbalist, I believe it is important to treat and recognize the spiritual dimension of healing. Holiday time and the New Year are a time for celebration, but also a time of great stress for many. It is a time that can remind us of old emotional pains and reopen old wounds thought healed. Then again, it is often this period that allows us to go outside our comfort zone of what we believe about healing, and try something new. It is important to recognize that the spiritual dimension can be a place where things hide from our conscious minds. Our society does not easily recognize that physical illness begins in the spiritual body.
Frankincense is a powerful plant ally. A body worker I used to work with asked me to formulate an essential-oil blend for a client of his. This client suffered from posttraumatic stress syndrome from his time in Vietnam. It was a simple formula, the main components being frankincense and myrrh. My friend claims that while he was working on his client with the formula, they both felt the moment his client’s spirit came back into his body. Following that session, the client used the formula through his daily life and in healing baths, and it supported him in finding perspective and peace. The formula did not do the work for him, but opened a safe place that allowed him to integrate what he’d learned in his healing process.
Creating a space for spiritual healing and clearing the energy field is an important first step for deep spiritual work. Any plant can do this, but I find frankincense to be specific for creating an opening when the 7th chakra has been denied from fear or extreme trauma. Chakra #7 is how we connect with Spirit. It is a chakra we send energy out from. Frankincense helps ignite a relationship between spiritual dimensions and the person. Additionally, it works well with the 6th chakra, or third eye, as the point where the mind, spirit and energy body meet with the physical and go on to touch every cell of our body. It is also the point where we are capable of receiving information. It is a charka that takes in energy. At this place our conscious self connects with our subconscious self, and we have the ability to use information from spiritual dimensions for healing. Frankincense takes us where we are ready and willing to go in this process. It protects us and gives us courage in our journey. A depressed spirit is one that cannot move. In this position we cannot do what we need to heal. Frankincense lifts the spirit and focuses the mind, allowing us to find perspective and get our direction straight. We begin to move forward instead of stagnate.
When we are overwhelmed during the holidays, our physical, emotional and spiritual bodies become stressed. Frankincense is fitting for this time of year, and the basis is not merely traditional. Frankincense gives us energy, stimulates our immune system, protects our respiratory tract and alleviates spiritual stress by keeping our energy field clear. As the cold deepens and the snow swirls, I suggest making a nice warming foot rub with frankincense, myrrh and clove. Stay tuned for part 2 to find out other ways myrrh compliments frankincense.
Origin and History
Myrrh resin is collected from the bush named Commiphora myrrha. It, like frankincense, thrives in the dry lands of Somalia. Historically myrrh was seen as an astringent tonic for wounds in the mouth, spongy gums, ulcerated throat, and served as an expectorant. It was used as an emmenagogue, and to stimulate the flow of gastric juices. Myrrh was used in the East Indies for leprosy, rheumatism and syphilis. In China, myrrh served to dissipate stasis to quicken the blood, disperse swelling and relieve pain.
Myrrh was to the Ancient Egyptians a panacea of sorts indicated in preparations for everything from serpent bites to asthma. It was the resin burned at noon for its restorative properties, reviving the mind and refortifying the spirit – thus imparting that myrrh was used in cases of fatigue. The Egyptians embalmed their deceased kings in myrrh, and it is said that myrrh is one of the oils that assisted their royal dead in their next life. Myrrh aided regeneration of the soul, and played an important part in the preservation of the spirit, anointing the soul immortal. Myrrh was also used topically and in cosmetic preparations to maintain youthfulness. And so, myrrh was employed by the Ancient Egyptians seeking of immortality in life as well as death, for the mind and the body, soul and spirit.
Present Day: Physical Healing
Myrrh essential oil is also an excellent choice for dermal inflammation, mature and aging skin. It has a tendency to be a bit drying, and is best used in combination with rose or lavender for balance. Myrrh reduces inflammation as an astringent, meaning it tones the structure by contracting the cell walls, condensing the tissue and halting unwanted discharge while also clearing congestion.
Myrrh works internally as a tincture to clear congestion. Ulcerations and inflammations of the lungs, mouth, and intestinal tract all benefit from myrrh. Myrrh is antiseptic and stimulates white blood cells. Use tincture of myrrh as a mouthwash with tinctures of clove, bloodroot and yerba mansa for gums and throat infections, including strep throat and laryngitis.
Myrrh is anti-fungal. Systemic fungal infections, candidiasis, recurring and chronic sinus problems or little coughs that just won’t go away and are with us year round may respond very well to myrrh tincture. When the problem is low grade and persists throughout the year, after consulting with a client and ruling out other issues, an anti-fungal protocol may be recommended. In this case, tinctures of myrrh, cardamom, yellow root, usnea and black walnut can be an excellent combination. It is important when treating a known systemic fungal/yeast infection that the goal be more that eradicate the fungus. That is germ warfare approach. We must also bring the body back to balance and work to eliminate what caused the imbalance to begin with. The trigger may be physical, like a food allergy, emotional, or spiritual. One needs a good bitter to stimulate the liver. Bile from the liver is food for good bacteria. Another is to find an appropriate adaptogen to support adrenal function, as well as nervine to aid our nervous system. It is wise to sleep more and decrease stress, as with any chronic or acute infection. This gives the body a better chance to heal.
Tools for Spiritual Healing
Myrrh can be of great spiritual support for it has the capacity to ground and center the spirit creating a solid foundation for healing and growth. It preserves the spirit through life experiences that may be difficult. Myrrh brings understanding and compassion, expands awareness and calms fears of the uncertain future in times of chaos. It is a tonic to the nervous system. It clears the air of mucked up energy that is difficult to see through and revitalizes. Just as the tincture has been traditionally used for laryngitis, essential oil of myrrh is used for the 5th chakra, located at the throat, to help one find and speak their voice. It also vibrates the 6th chakra; in that once we find our voice we can be more capable of receiving information from a spiritual source, as done in divination. Myrrh calms fears of uncertainty in our reception of information from other dimensions. Perhaps we don’t even have to be consciously aware of information received to feel calm. Perhaps we just have to be open to the possibility.
Myrrh surprised me one day. I typically taught the 4th grade Waldorf class Suzuki violin. On this occasion, I was teaching them herbal preparations and essential oil use of the Ancient Egyptians. We took a moment to smell mint and each child described where it went in their body and the effects…ranging from color, to visual and physical description. We moved on to myrrh. I told them that one use for myrrh was divination. I instructed them to smell myrrh, and ask the spirit of the plant a question. It is an exercise I had done many times myself in meditations and with dream work for clients. They did as told, and one by one revealed their questions and answers. And each one received excellent information in answer to their questions. One boy asked myrrh when his aunt would die. It was known that she was suffering from an advanced stage of cancer. He wanted her to be at peace, and myrrh told him 7 days from that day she would pass. I was taken aback. In reply I said that time from the spirit world was not always in sync with our dimension. He was not upset by myrrh’s reply. He was pleased. And on the 7th day, his aunt passed.
Myrrh reveals to us the presence that plants can have in our lives. That when we need something, if we ask, in some way or another a delivery is made. The answer may come in the form of a message, such as the one this young boy received. Sometimes it comes in the form of a dream, and sometimes in the form of deep healing. Myrrh can help us open our channels to hear what we need.
Myrrh’s power to clear the air, open our 6th chakra, clarify our voice and center our thoughts lends itself well to frankincense ability to lift the spirit, help us connect with higher powers and protect the immune system. The two plants together are powerful forces that motivate us to move forward in our lives, and inspire us to ask important questions about what we need to heal.
Part I closed with the introduction of a warming foot rub for winter that combines clove, frankincense and myrrh. The addition of sweet orange makes this foot rub ever more wonderful