These were the gifts given by the Magi to the baby Jesus at Nazareth, according the gospel of St Mathew. Why did they bring these particular gifts? There are many possible reasons. One is that these were amongst the most expensive substances available at the time, and therefore fit to be given to a new king. But why were these substances so valuable?
Gold was, and is, valuable because it is a rare metal that has some remarkable properties. Perhaps the most important at that time was that it does not react with water or atmospheric gases, so does not tarnish and remains forever bright. It was therefore regarded as eternal and therefore fit for gods, pharaohs and kings.
The other two substances, however, are simply resins from trees. Why were they so valuable? Mainly it was because of their remarkable healing properties? Many tree resins have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal actions, because they are the tree’s first line of defence if it is damaged in some way. The resin seeps out and seals the hole, at the same time as fighting off any invading bacteria or fungal spores.
Frankincense (Boswellia serata or B. sacra) has been used since ancient times in ceremonies by many religions. It is so called because it was introduced into Europe by Frankish crusaders (Frank-incense) from the east where it has been used for at least 5,000 years. It is often burned and gives off a pleasantly scented smoke that causes those inhaling it to breathe more deeply and to relax, entering a state more conducive to prayer or meditation. Taken internally* it also has anti-inflammatory action, which has potential in the treatment of arthritis and many inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The smoke also is an antidepressant and is often used to treat bereavement or other losses such as job or relationship. It also has applications in perfumery and aromatherapy*. No wonder then that Frankincense has been highly prized for thousands of years!
Myrrh (Commiphora molmol) has also been in use for millennia. It has a strong antiseptic action against many bacteria, including E. coli and anti-fungal action against Candida albicans. Myrrh is an anti-inflammatory, an astringent and it also encourages healing of the skin. Taken internally* it also has antispasmodic and expectorant actions. Myrrh mouthwash* is used to treat gingivitis, ulcers and other mouth infections. It can also be used to treat sinusitis, tonsillitis, catarrh and colds. In a clinical trial, extracts of Myrrh were shown to clear worms from more than 90% of 207 patients suffering from an infestation. Because of its actions it was often used in the mummification process to preserve the body.
And what about gold? Yes, today gold has a medicinal use as well. Gold is given in the form of a sodium aurothiomalate injection for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis where it can help to modify the body’s immune reaction and thus treat this autoimmune disease.
* Some caution is needed however, because although natural substances, both Myrrh and Frankincense can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. Anyone who is suffering from persistent, unusual or severe symptoms should seek medical help without delay. Any woman who is pregnant should not use these herbs. They may interact with pharmaceutical and other drugs, so self-medication with herbs is not recommended. A professional medical herbalist will ensure safe and appropriate treatment, taking into account any medication already taken, and medical history.