Frankincense has been traded in the Middle East and North Africa for upwards of 5,000 years. It is believed that the Babylonians and Assyrians burned it during religious ceremonies. The ancient Egyptians bought entire boatloads of the resin from the Phoenicians, using it in incense, insect repellent, perfume, cosmetics and salves for wounds and sores; as well as in the embalming process.
The ancient Greeks and Romans also imported massive amounts, which they burned as incense, used during cremations and took for a wide variety of ailments. By this time, medical practitioners had recognized and documented the substances’ antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Frankincense has been used by both the West and the East for centuries to treat a number of conditions, including rheumatism, skin disease, nervous complaints, digestive problems, and respiratory infections.
At the time Jesus is thought to have been born, frankincense and myrrh may have been worth more than their weight in the third gift presented by the wise men: gold.