Frankincense was one of the three gifts given to the infant Jesus by the Wise Men. It is still used in religious ceremonies by the Parsees, cultural descendants of the Wise Men. The Three Wise Men (or Magi) were very likely Zoroastrians from Persia. As part of their religion, the Magi paid particular attention to the stars, and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time a highly regarded science – hence their ability to follow the Star of Bethlehem.
Frankincense is the resin produced by various trees in the genus Boswellia. The trees grow in the dry areas of north-eastern Africa and southern Arabia. The resin is harvested by nomadic tribes, who visit the trees periodically. They make small cuts in the bark and return to collect the ‘tears’ of solidified whitish resin a few weeks later.
Frankincense has long been valued for the sweet-smelling fumes it produces when burnt. Ancient Egyptians used the resin in religious rites, in anointing the mummified bodies of their kings, and to treat wounds and sores. Incense containing frankincense was found in Tutankhamun's tomb. It was often added to wine to give a calming effect which would numb the senses. Strangely enough in a new study appearing online in The FASEB Journal, an international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, have found that burning frankincense can alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.