Probably best known from the Nativity story, Frankincense is derived from the gum of a tree called Boswellia. It has an interesting history. In Hebrew, its name is levonah, meaning "white;" in Arabic, a closely-related language, it is 'al-luban, a term referring to milk; the name of the modern country of Lebanon is derived from both. However, it came to be known as "frankincense" when crusaders - many of whom were French or "Frankish" - introduced it as incense to Europe during the Middle Ages.
Frankincense is an aromatic herb hardened from exuded gums obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia (Burseraceae family). The gum has been used in incense, medicine, food, and fumigants, as well as a fixative in perfumes. Aroma from frankincense is valued for its superior qualities for religious rituals since before the time of ancient Egyptians.
Frankincense is derived from the gummy sap that oozes out of the Boswellia frankincense trees. When their bark is cut or naturally secretes, the leaking gum is allowed to harden and then is scraped off the trunk. Some of the secreting gum form tear-shaped droplets giving the name to the herb called frankincense tears.
Frankincense gummy sap drying on a tree.
Frankincense used for centuries in cosmetics, medicine, food, and religious ritual.