On BBC 2 at 8pm tonight, TV presenter Kate Humble explores the ancient trade route that took the valuable resin frankincense across the world, in a programme called The Frankincense Trail.
Frankincense has been burnt as fragrant smoke in magic and religious offering for thousands of years before Christianity, as well as being used in perfume, medicine and cosmetics. It is mentioned as an ingredient for incense in the Bible's Old Testament, as well as being one of the gifts of the Magi to Christ. Symbolically, it represents the essence of life.
The ancient Egyptians not only used it for incense, but applied the powdered residue of burnt frankincense as kohl - an eye make-up.
Traditional Asian healers prescribe edible frankincense for treating ailments including arthritis, and the smoke repels mosquitoes.
The resin is obtained from the Boswellia tree, which grows in extremely harsh environments in the Middle East, and that is the part of the world Kate Humble explores in the TV series.
She starts in the hills of southern Oman, where frankincense was first produced, travels across the Empty Quarter Desert and visits a frankincense trade centre. She also watches frankincense being used in a modern blessing of an infant.
Frankincense is widely used today, in aromatherapy, complementary medicine, perfume and incense. It is a common ingredient of incenses used in Wiccan and other pagan rituals as well as being used in churches and temples of many religions - as it has been for thousands of years.
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