The Three Kings famously presented frankincense as one of the gifts to Baby Jesus: THAT’s how far back frankincense goes. (The other gifts were of course myrrh – another fragrance ingredient – and gold.)
Also known as olibanum, frankincense is actually a resin from the Boswellia sacra tree, which grows in the Dhofar area of Oman, as well as Yemen. (There are also forests of it in northern Ethiopia – although ecologists report that production of this resin could decline by half, over the next 15 years, as those forests are systematically cut down to make way for agriculture.)
Once exclusively reserved for kings and queens, frankincense has been used in religious ceremonies, burial rituals and for embalming – including for mummification. (It clearly has extraordinary preservative powers, able to preserve skin for millennia.) It’s burned today in Catholic churches and Anglican high church ceremonies – and perhaps as a result, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it ingredient, depending on whether you were forced to sit through endless sermons and hymns on Sundays.
Frankincense is incredibly powerful as an ingredient – so it’s only generally used in teensy doses (except in perfumes designed to conjure up the smell of actual incense). But it also works brilliantly as a fixative: around 13% of all perfumes apparently contain at least a trace of frankincense.
Smell frankincense in: