Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why The "3 Wise Men" Had It Right: Frankincense & Myrrh, Anti-Inflammatory Wonders

"Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant?" ~ Song of Solomon, 3:6

Frankincense and myrrh. The words conjure up stories of the Bible, images of the "3 Wise Men," and visions of the Middle East. The two resins are almost always named together. As if they're inseparable.

Are they given importance due to their references in holy texts, or are they actually medicinal? It turns out, various cultures have employed the uses of these two substances for the myriad medicinal properties they offer. From Egypt to China...India to Tibet...the Middle East to Indonesia. These two powerful mendicants offer some of the most potent blood-vitalizing, anti-inflammatory compounds the world has known.

Why were they deemed important enough to be given to the baby Jesus? Why do we see them referenced so many times in various texts? Its because their value as medicine is unparalleled.

Lets explore some of the known, scientific benefits, and look more closely at what they offer. In Ayurvedic medicine they are considered to be the following: immune-enhancing; antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, and antiseptic; and wound-healing, with pronounced anti-inflammatory effects on the musculo-skeletal system.

Frankincense & Myrrh

Sound like substances that can benefit many people from all walks of life? From the athlete to the immuno-compromised, frankincense and myrrh, can offer hope for aching muscles, enhanced immunity, to the rheumatic and arthritic.

In addition, the two in combination, are seen time and time again in Shaolin Kung Fu sparring injury liniments, salves, poultices and internal formulas in Chinese medicine. These centuries old formulas are of great benefit to the modern athlete. They have the same properties of "moving Qi & blood" (READ: highly anti-inflammatory) as modern day pharmaceuticals, without the toxic and harsh side-effects. If you're an athlete in training, you know that anti-inflammatories are a must. They allow the body to recover faster, ease aches and pains, speed recovery and prevent DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). However, the modern medical establishment has yet to produce anti-inflammatories, without lecherous side-effects. These side-effects can derail an athlete, and prevent him/her from performing at one's best. From G.I. distress to headaches to muscle weakness, western pharmaceuticals and drugs have yet to rival frankincense and myrrh's potent anti-inflammatory nature, without toxicity or upset to the system.

Frankincense in the Dhofar region of Oman

Myrrh Tree In Somalia

Dr. Keith Stevens, DAOM, L.Ac., and myself sat down recently and decided to co-blog about these two "wonder resins." Why? We want to expose the myth that these are substances of the past. We both use them in our sports acupuncture orthopedic practices, and hope to encourage you to consider them as vital parts of your immune-boosting and high performance "medicine cabinet."

Dr. Stevens and I are both athletes. We're avid climbers, mountain bikers, runners, hikers (not to mention Keith being a certified skydive instructor and an alpinist of 35 years). We both utilize ancient martial arts formulas not only in our practices in Bend, OR. and Salt Lake City, UT. (two "hot spots" for world-renowned athletes), but on ourselves as well.

Dr. Stevens and I both enjoy utilizing frankincense and myrrh in different ways. We both share a love of herbal formulas, external liniments and internal herbal concoctions, but I have a love of therapeutic-grade essential oils as well. I utilize essential oils a great deal in my practice. I like to do what I call "Aroma-Puncture." This is where I may dip a one-time use, sterilized acupuncture needle in an oil, & then perform acupuncture with the essential oil saturated needle. This has a powerful effect of delivering the benefits of frankincense and myrrh into an inflamed muscle, quickly. Relief is felt almost immediately by my athlete patients.

In addition, I'm a fan of steam inhalations. The olfactory (smell) sense is the most primal of all the senses, traveling to the limbic (primal) part of the brain at the speed of thought. Ever smell something and have it invoke a memory connected with it? That is how primordial a smell can be. This can be used to our advantage, in the realm of healing. Utilizing frankincense and myrrh via steam is a safe, speedy way to imbibe their therapeutic properties into the lungs (immune system) within seconds. Here's how to perform a steam inhalation:

What You Need:
  • Filtered water

    Steam inhalations are helpful for headaches, sinus congestion, cold & flu symptoms
  • Tea kettle or pot
  • Glass or Ceramic bowl- medium to large
  • Essential oils (see chart below to help you chose)
  • A bath towel
  • Tissues
  • Washcloth
  1. Boil filtered or spring water in a tea kettle until it steams.
  2. Turn off the heat and remove the kettle using a potholder.
  3. Take care to slowly pour the steaming water into a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add a few drops of essential oil to the water.
  4. Place the towel over the top of your head so that it drapes over the sides of your head.
  5. Close your eyes, lean over the bowl allowing the sides of the towel to create a tent over the sides of the bowl.
  6. Inhale and exhale through your nose.
You will notice the scent fades in about 3-5 minutes. You can perform this treatment over again if you like.

Add essential oils to your steam for added benefits
As mucus loosens from steaming, clear your sinuses by gently blowing your nose into the tissues and discard them. As the water begins to cool down from hot to warm, place your washcloth in the water, ring it out and place it on your chest or the back of your neck. The warm compress will help release chest tightness and congestion, relaxes and loosens your neck muscles


Frankincense and Myrrh, also known as "Ru Xiang" and "MoYao" in Chinese medicine are classified as herbs that invigorate blood.Frankincense or Boswellia (botanical name), is acrid, bitter and warm.Myrrh is bitter and neutral. These two herbs promote blood circulation and alleviate pain through application of these qualities. Acrid materials disperse and stimulate body functions. Bitter materials reduce inflammation, cleanse the blood, are antibacterial and decrease pain. Both of these herbs help eliminate the spasms, rigidity, swelling and throbbing associated with acute injury. Their mechanism of action is relaxing tendons and sinews and relieving swelling. Frankincense also helps promote tissue repair for slow healing wounds, cuts and lacerations. This process is known as fibrosis or tissue formation. For these kinds of issues Frankincense can be applied topically. You may be familiar with Frankincense from reference to one of its active ingredients known as Boswellic acid.
These two herbs are found in acute injury formula prescriptions because acute injury always has three components: heat, pain and swelling. Tissue damage from acute injury involves the following inflammatory chemical mediators: histamine, prostaglandins andkinins. These inflammatory compounds affect the endothelial cells of the surrounding tissues. This process creates stiffness, limited range of motion,compromised blood circulation and bruising in its initial stage. These two herbs are used to enhance the body’s ability to recover by promoting blood circulation. The promotion of blood circulation allows blood to carry inflammatory compounds out of the injured region and bring fresh nutrients to the injury site. This process allows the body to recover and heal more quickly from the application of these herbal compounds. Of course diet and water are also major factors as fresh nutrients in this healing process. Water is the compound that allows this entire process to occur.
The elegance of herbal medicine lies in understanding how to combine their elements. I am happy to share this understanding with you. 

Best Wishes For Good Health,
Dr. Keith Stevens, DAOM LAC

Frankincense & Myrrh:  two ingredients of the martial arts injury liniment called "Dit Da Jow"

An Additional Informative Video On The Therapeutic/Medicinal Properties of Frankincense & Myrrh, by David Crow, L.Ac., founder of "Floracopiea"