7 forest wonders: 6 Frankincense

Boswellia sacra

© Scott Zona CC

The wise men seem to have lived up to their name, for frankincense – one of the three gifts they brought to the infant Jesus, along with gold and myrrh – is proving to be even more useful and valuable than ever. An aromatic resin from the deciduous Boswellia sacra tree of the desert woodlands of Ethiopia, northern Somalia, southern Yemen, and the foggy mountainous regions of southern Oman, it has been harvested for thousands of years. It has long been known to rejuvenate skin, aid digestion and relieve muscle pain and arthritis, and scientists have recently discovered that it contains an agent that causes cancer cells to shut down. But the Boswellia sacra is declining due to overgrazing and changes in land use, and now features on the IUCN Red List as a near-threatened species.

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