olibanum n : an aromatic gum resin obtained from various Arabian or East African trees; formerly valued for worship and for embalming and fumigation [syn: frankincense, gum olibanum, thus]
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%.
HistoryFrankincense 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.
UseFrankincense 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.
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.
- 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.)
- Atlantis of the Sands — Archaeology Magazine May–June 1997
- Spices Exotic Flavors and Medicines — UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library Spice Exhibit Frankincense and Myrrh 2002
- http://www.thinkgene.com/incense-is-psychoactive-scientists-identify-the-biology-behind-the-ceremony/ - Incense is psychoactive: Scientists identify the biology behind the ceremony. May 2008
- Frankincense, The Catholic Guide. [404, not working]
- UNESCO Frankincense Trail Dhofar Province, Oman.
- Trade Between Arabia and the Empires of Rome and Asia, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Lost City of Arabia Interview with Dr. Juris Zarins, Nova, September 1996.
- Pictures of Ubar, NASA, August 3 1995.
- Aroma of Frankincense, Scent Directory.
- Frankincense and Oman, Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center.
- Short review of recent studies about incense as medicine now and in ancient times, Short review of recent studies about incense as medicine now and in ancient times.
olibanum in Contenese: 乳香
olibanum in Arabic: لبان
olibanum in Breton: Frankezañs
olibanum in Bulgarian: Тамян
olibanum in Danish: Røgelse
olibanum in German: Weihrauch
olibanum in Spanish: Olíbano
olibanum in Esperanto: Olibano
olibanum in Persian: صمغ کندر
olibanum in French: Encens
olibanum in Korean: 유향
olibanum in Italian: Franchincenso
olibanum in Hebrew: לבונה
olibanum in Swahili (macrolanguage): Uvumba
olibanum in Maltese: Frankinċens
olibanum in Dutch: Olibanum
olibanum in Japanese: 乳香
olibanum in Norwegian: Røkelse
olibanum in Norwegian Nynorsk: Virak
olibanum in Portuguese: Olíbano
olibanum in Russian: Ладан
olibanum in Sicilian: Franchincenzu
olibanum in Serbian: Тамјан
olibanum in Swedish: Frankincense
olibanum in Ukrainian: Ладан
olibanum in Chinese: 乳香