AskDefine | Define frankincense

Dictionary Definition

frankincense n : an aromatic gum resin obtained from various Arabian or East African trees; formerly valued for worship and for embalming and fumigation [syn: olibanum, gum olibanum, thus]

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

  1. a type of incense obtained from the Boswellia thurifera tree

Translations

incense
  • Hebrew:

Quotations

    • 1916: The glories of Mary held his soul captive : spikenard and myrrh and frankincense, symbolising the preciousness of God's gifts to her soul, rich garments, symbolising her royal lineage, her emblems, the lateflowering plant and lateblossoming tree, symbolising the agelong gradual growth of her cultus among men. - James Joyce, ''Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Macmillan Press Ltd, paperback, 98)

Extensive Definition

Frankincense or olibanum (Arabic language: لبٌان, lubbān) is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly Boswellia sacra (syn. B. carteri, B. thurifera) (Burseraceae). It is used in incense as well as in perfumes.
Frankincense is tapped from the very scraggly but hardy Boswellia tree through slashing the bark and allowing the exuded resins to bleed out and harden. These hardened resins are called tears. There are numerous species and varieties of frankincense trees, each producing a slightly different type of resin. Differences in soil and climate create even more diversity in the resin, even within the same species. These trees are also considered unusual for their ability to grow in environments so unforgiving that the trees sometimes grow directly out of solid stone, which the tree attaches to by means of a sucker-like appendage. The deep roots and its sucker like appendage prevent the tree from being torn away from the stone during the violent storms that frequent this region; the tears from these hardy survivors are considered superior due to their more fragrant aroma. The aroma from these tears are more valuable for their presumed healing abilities and are also said to have superior qualities for religious ritual. Tapping is done 2 to 3 times a year with the final taps producing the best tears due to their higher aromatic terpene, sesquiterpene and diterpene content. High quality resin can be visually discerned through its level of opacity. Omani frankincense is said to be the best in the world, although quality resin is also produced in Yemen, and along the north coast of Somalia. Recent studies have indicated that frankincense tree populations are declining due to over-exploitation. Heavily tapped trees have been found to produce seeds that germinate at only 16% while seeds of trees that had not been tapped germinate at more than 80%.

History

Frankincense was reintroduced to Europe by Frankish Crusaders. Although it is better known as "frankincense" to westerners, the resin is also known as olibanum, which is derived from the Arabic al-lubān (roughly translated: "that which results from milking"), a reference to the milky sap tapped from the Boswellia tree. Some have also postulated that the name comes from the Arabic term for "Oil of Lebanon" since Lebanon was the place where the resin was sold and traded with Europeans. Compare with Exodus 30:34, where it is clearly named levonah, meaning either "white" or "Lebanese" in Hebrew.
The lost city of Ubar, sometimes identified with Irem in what is now the town of Shisr in Oman, is believed to have been a centre of the frankincense trade along the recently rediscovered "Incense Road". Ubar was rediscovered in the early 1990s and is now under archaeological excavation.
The Greek historian Herodotus was familiar with Frankincense and knew it was harvested from trees in southern Arabia. He reports, however, that the gum was dangerous to harvest because of poisonous snakes that lived in the trees. He goes on to describe the method used by the Arabians to get around this problem, that being the burning of the gum of the styrax tree whose smoke would drive the snakes away. The resin is also mentioned by Theophrastus and by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia.

Use

Frankincense is used in perfumery and aromatherapy. Olibanum essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of the dry resin. The smell of the olibanum smoke is due to the products of pyrolysis.
Frankincense was lavishly used in religious rites. In the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, it was an ingredient for incense (Ex 30:34) ; according to the Gospel of Matthew 2:11, gold, frankincense and myrrh were among the gifts to Jesus by the Biblical Magi "from out of the east." The Egyptians ground the charred resin into a powder called kohl. Kohl was used to make the distinctive black eyeliner seen on so many figures in Egyptian art. The aroma of frankincense is said to represent life and the Judaic, Christian and Islamic faiths have often used frankincense mixed with oils to anoint newborn infants and individuals considered to be moving into a new phase in their spiritual lives.
The growth of Christianity, with an initial deritualisation of religion later to be reverted, depressed the market for frankincense during the 4th century AD. Desertification made the caravan routes across the Rub al Khali or "Empty Quarter" of Arabia more difficult. Additionally, increased raiding by the nomadic Parthians in the Near East caused the frankincense trade to dry up after about AD 300.
Frankincense is edible and often used in various traditional medicines in Asia for digestion and healthy skin. Edible frankincense must be pure for internal consumption, meaning it should be translucent, with no black or brown impurities. It is often light yellow with a (very) slight greenish tint. it is often chewed like gum, but it is stickier because it is a resin.
Frankincense comes in many grades, and its quality is based on color, purity, aroma, and age.
Frankincense is also used to generate smoke effects in the film industry.

Medical Research

As of May 2008 FASBE Journal announced that Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have determined that frankincense smoke is a psycho-active drug that relieves depression and anxiety in mice. The researchers found that the chemical compound incensole acetate is responsible for the effects.

See also

Notes

References

  • The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands — Clapp Nicholas, 1999. ISBN 0-395-95786-9.
  • Frankincense & Myrrh: A Study of the Arabian Incense Trade — Groom, Nigel, 1981. ISBN 0-86685-593-9.
  • Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh: An Introduction to Eastern Christian Spirituality — Maloney George A, 1997. ISBN 0-8245-1616-8.
  • Tapped-out trees threaten frankincense, Foxnews.com science (citing a study co-authored by botanists and ecologists from the Netherlands and Eritrea and published in The Journal of Applied Ecology, Dec. 2006.)

External links

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frankincense in Contenese: 乳香
frankincense in Arabic: لبان
frankincense in Breton: Frankezañs
frankincense in Bulgarian: Тамян
frankincense in Danish: Røgelse
frankincense in German: Weihrauch
frankincense in Spanish: Olíbano
frankincense in Esperanto: Olibano
frankincense in Persian: صمغ کندر
frankincense in French: Encens
frankincense in Korean: 유향
frankincense in Italian: Franchincenso
frankincense in Hebrew: לבונה
frankincense in Swahili (macrolanguage): Uvumba
frankincense in Maltese: Frankinċens
frankincense in Dutch: Olibanum
frankincense in Japanese: 乳香
frankincense in Norwegian: Røkelse
frankincense in Norwegian Nynorsk: Virak
frankincense in Portuguese: Olíbano
frankincense in Russian: Ладан
frankincense in Sicilian: Franchincenzu
frankincense in Serbian: Тамјан
frankincense in Swedish: Frankincense
frankincense in Ukrainian: Ладан
frankincense in Chinese: 乳香
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