Frankincense, Myrrh Making a Comeback

Last wild frankincense forests are in danger
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 24, 2016 9:24 AM CST
Frankincense, Myrrh Making a Comeback
Frankincense tapper Musse Ismail Hassan rests in a canyon near Gudmo, Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia.   (Jason Patinkin)

Wise men from the East short on gift ideas will be glad to hear that frankincense and myrrh are making a comeback just 20 miles away from Bethlehem. Israeli farmer Guy Ehrlich is growing trees that produce the fragrant resins as part of a project to revive ancient plants mentioned in the Bible. Frankincense—like gold—never went too far out of fashion, but myrrh all but vanished from the Holy Land for many centuries, the Washington Post reports. Ehrlich has planted the trees that produce myrrh, frankincense, and the rare species of myrrh that produces the "balm of Gilead," which he spent years searching for. Ehrlich believes the project has the power to unite people. "They are holy for Jews, Christians, and Muslims," he says of the resins, which were long used for medicine as well as for incense.

The rising global appetite for essential oils, however, has turned out to be bad news for the world's last wild frankincense forests, the AP reports. They are located in the Cal Madow mountains in the autonomous republic of Somaliland in the Horn of Africa, and they are under threat because of overharvesting. Environmentalists say trees are being destroyed because tappers are making too many cuts per tree to extract the resin, which has gone from $1 per kilo to up to $7 over the last six years. Frankincense is "something that is literally given by God to humanity, so if we don't preserve it, if we don't take care of it, if we don't look after it, we will lose that," says Somaliland's minister of environment and rural development. (More frankincense stories.)

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