All of us have some sort of spices tucked away in our kitchen. Some may be more common than others, depending upon the degree of the homeowner's abilities! Others may not be well known except by name, such as Frankincense and Myrrh (and not used in cooking...). These, along with gold, are mentioned in the Bible, as gifts presented to the Christ child by the Magi (Three Wise Men). So here is just a brief bit o' bits about Frankincense and Myrrh.
Spices and herbs have played a dramatic role in the development of Western civilization. Spices today are plentiful and are used mostly as flavorings. However, in ancient and medieval times, they were rare and precious products, used for medicine, perfume, incense, and flavoring.
Myrrh was used as an embalming ointment and was used, up until about the 15th century, as a penitential incense in funerals and cremations. The "holy oil" traditionally used by the Eastern Orthodox Church for performing the sacraments of chrismation and unction is traditionally scented with myrrh, and receiving either of these sacraments is commonly referred to as "receiving the Myrrh".Psalm 45 mentions myrrh as a kingly fragrance in a passage interpreted by some as referring to the future Messiah:
beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant
with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
In the New Testament, myrrh was one of the gifts of the Magi to the infant Jesus according to Matthew, is cited in Mark as an intoxicant that was offered to Jesus during the crucifixion, and in John was one of the spices used to prepare Jesus' body for burial
Frankincense has been traded on the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa for more than 5000 years. Frankincense was found in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamen, who died in 1323 BC, i.e. about 3332 years ago.
Frankincense is tapped from the very scraggly but hardy Boswellia tree by scraping 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 of the resin, even within the same species
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.
The Egyptians ground the charred resin into a powder called kohl (the world's first eyeliner...) 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.