Frankincense at risk of extinction

Frankincense resin is tapped from a tree on a kibbutz in Israel (CNS/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

One of three gifts given to the newborn child Jesus may be extinct in the next 50 years, according to a US-based scientist. Source: CNS.

The Gospel of Matthew makes it clear the Magi from the East travelled to pay homage to “the newborn king of the Jews” and “offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh”.

Both myrrh and frankincense have exceptional medicinal qualities, which would have made them a very useful and thoughtful gift for the Holy Family, says Anjanette DeCarlo, chief sustainability scientist for the US-based Aromatic Plant Research Centre.

What is not healthy, however, is the future of frankincense.

An aromatic resin, frankincense is harvested from the “tears” that seep from cuts made to a variety of boswellia tree species, which grow in the harsh, dry climates of Yemen and Oman in the Arabian Peninsula, of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan in East Africa, and in northwestern India.

These trees are in severe decline and one species in particular — the boswellia papyrifera, which grows in conflict-rife regions of Ethiopia and Sudan — risks going extinct in the next 50 years, said Ms DeCarlo, who also heads the Save Frankincense project.

The Catholic Church is a major consumer of frankincense since incense has an important place in its liturgies.

Stephen Johnson, an organismal biologist and frankincense researcher, said “religions have a very important role to play” in helping not just to preserve, but to regenerate frankincense sources and support harvesters.


Frankincense’s future: Ancient gift endangered, risks depletion (By Carol Glatz, CNS

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