Frankincense and Myrrh: Give the Gift of Health

Did the wise men give the gift of health?
Posted by: “Suzanne” suziesgoats
Date: Thu Dec 25, 2008 7:46 am ((PST))

Frankincense and Myrrh: Did Wise Men Give the Gift of Health?

Whatever your religious beliefs, you have probably heard the Christmas story of
the three wise men who traveled far to visit the newborn baby Jesus, bearing
precious gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. It’s obvious why gold was one of
their gifts. New research I have just seen sheds light on why myrrh and
frankincense may have been so coveted — for their health benefits.
With its rich, woodsy scent, frankincense is sometimes used for aromatherapy
massage, but a recent study found that it may also have pain relief properties.
The 90-day study was randomized with 75 patients who had osteoarthritis in the
knee. Two groups of patients took an extract of frankincense called Boswellia
serrata — one a low dose of 100 mg per day, one 250 mg — while a third group
took a placebo. Participants were examined before, during and after the study,
and were also evaluated for pain, stiffness and physical function at seven, 30
and 60 days, and at the end of the trial. Results: Those taking the frankincense
extract reported greater reductions in pain scores than the placebo group and
their exams showed they also had a significant decline in an enzyme, called MMP3
(matrix metalloproteinase-3), that breaks down protective cartilage in joints.
Reduction of MMP3 among those taking low-dose Boswellia averaged 31% and in the
high-dose group,  46%.
This was just one study, but it was striking enough for me to call Thom Rogers,
ND, of Kenmore, Washington, to ask about the use of Boswellia for arthritis
patients. He told me he prescribes it to his arthritis patients as an
anti-inflammatory, since it can be effective and also has the advantage of not
having the dangerous side effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Dr.
Rogers told me that Boswellia can also be helpful to patients with other kinds
of inflammatory syndromes as well, including fibromyalgia, asthma and chronic
headaches. He prescribes a professional formula available only to doctors for
his patients, but notes that this form of frankincense extract can also be
purchased over the counter as a dietary supplement. He suggests looking for a
joint formula that lists Boswellia as an ingredient. Brands vary greatly in
quality, so be sure to purchase the supplement from a reliable producer such as
Myrrh comes from the resin of the Commiphora molmol tree of Northern Africa, and
is used as the base of Fernet Branca, a bitter-tasting Italian aperitif, in
perfumes and incense, and, somewhat more prosaically, in toothpastes and
lotions. According to Chris D. Meletis, ND, former dean of Naturopathic Medicine
at the National College of Natural Medicine and currently executive director for
the Institute for Healthy Aging (, modern myrrh comes in multiple
forms — as a powder, an essential oil and in capsules, as well as in alcohol
extract tinctures. It is valued for its anti-microbial properties. Oral forms of
myrrh can help indigestion, colds and coughs, bronchial congestion and also can
be used to stimulate menstrual flow — a property that makes it off limits for
women who are pregnant or nursing. Myrrh is also believed to lower blood sugar.
Topical uses of myrrh include as a gargle for gingivitis and sore throats (five
to 10 drops of the tincture in a glass of water) and as a tincture to be dabbed
on mild mouth and throat irritations.
It is important to be aware that frankincense and myrrh are potent substances
and not without their dangers. Beyond the caution for pregnant women, Dr.
Meletis points out that these herbs should be avoided by people on
blood-thinning medication (for example, Coumadin) and/or those having surgery,
as both may cause bleeding. Also, they may interact with diabetes medications
and should therefore be used cautiously, if at all, by people with diabetes.
With so many powerful herbs in existence, it’s fascinating to speculate on why
the wise men chose these two. Dr. Meletis says it is wisest to use frankincense
and myrrh only under the direction of a naturopathic physician, herbalist or
botanist knowledgeable about their risks and benefits.

Thom Rogers, ND, formerly taught orthopedics at Bastyr University in Kenmore,
Washington, and is a primary care naturopathic physician at Whidbey Island
Naturopathic in Oak Harbor, Washington.
Chris Meletis, ND, executive director for the Institute for Healthy Aging
(, and coauthor of Clinical Natural Medicine Handbook (Mary Ann