Olibanum, better known as frankincense in the west, is actually a resin produced from the abraded bark from over five hundred different species of trees in the family Burseraceae, each producing slightly different “gum resins” called tears. The resins are allowed to collect for three months before they are harvested, and tears from younger trees have higher potency. Endemic to the middle latitudes of Africa, the Middle East, India, and the Americas, these resin-producing trees grow in harsh and rocky zones.

The millennia-spanning history of olibanum includes many references in ancient texts and continues to the present.  In ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder claimed olibanum was an antidote to hemlock.  In ancient Egypt, it was an ingredient in Kohl, the distinctive black eyeliner. Of olibanum’s uses, the best known is undoubtedly its inclusion in incense. Safe to eat and with no observed negative effects, tears from these hardy trees are still used in ceremonies and are a popular food in many parts of the world.


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Ashley Latimer

November, 2008