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Frankincense is an aromatic resin derived from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly B. sacra (B. carterii, Hojary or Beeyo), B. frereana (Coptic resin or Maydi), B. papyrifera (Sudanese Frankincense) and B. serrata (B. thurifera, Indian Frankincense or Salai). Somalia accounts for most of the commercial production, but the resin is also harvested in other African countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan. The milky sap naturally exudes from the bark and hardens into clear yellow teardrop shaped lumps known as tears, but this can be forced by making incisions in the bark and tapping the resin.
Frankincense resin is available in various grades based on its age, aroma, purity, shape and colour, but it is usually sold as a light yellow powder (siftings) or in yellow pea-size lumps. Generally, the more opaque resins are viewed as being better quality, with Hojari and Silver considered to be the highest grades. The resin is edible and can be chewed like gum, but feels stickier. Translucent Frankincense with no brown or black impurities is preferred for internal consumption. When burnt, the resin emits a fragrant odour described as a balsamic-spicy, slightly lemon scent, with a pine undertone. Steam distillation of the African Frankincense produces an essential oil with a balsamic-sweet fragrance, while the Indian Frankincense oil has a fresher scent.
Frankincense has traditionally been consumed to promote healthy skin and digestion. It has also been used to heal wounds, treat arthritis and boost the female hormone system. Frankincense oil has been used to relieve stings (e.g. scorpion stings), and some medical studies have indicated it may help to suppress cancer cells.
Frankincense is used by many churches as incense or an ingredient in anointing oil for religious ceremonies, sometimes in conjunction with Myrrh. It is also an ingredient in fumigating powders and some cultures believe burning it can help purify the air and encourage good health.
In the Personal Care industry, Frankincense is used as an ingredient in perfumes because of its fragrance and fixative properties, but is also included in some skincare and aromatherapy products.