June 7, 2021 by D.Fathia
Updated June 7, 2021
What is olibanum?
Olibanum has a long-standing history in Tunisian folklore and traditions. I grew up seeing this substance everywhere around me. At first, I didn’t pay much attention and I thought it was just another object among hundreds of objects around the house that I don’t know what the use of them.
Watching my family members, especially women, chewing frankincense all the time I got curious. I wondered what is olibanum? Finally, I ventured into trying it. I have to admit that I didn’t like it at first, but as I kept chewing some every now and then, I started to like it and even adore it in a few years.
So, here is the story of this unique substance from the depths of Tunisian folklore.
What is olibanum?
The label comes from Late Latin libanus, and Greek libanos. It is a gum discovered in Middle Eastern and some Asian countries. This gum has different names across cultures and languages. The Arabic label resonates with the Latin and Greek ones. However, the most frequently asked question is: is olibanum the same as frankincense? Definitely yes!
Olibanum and frankincense are two labels for the same product. The latter is a more common name in the western world.
It has been traded in the Arabian Peninsula for centuries. It held a special place in the lives of ancient people. It was used in incense and perfumes. People also used it as medicine for several conditions.
I might not know when exactly Tunisian traders did start importing frankincense, but I am certain that it has been around for too long.
This gum is a pillar of all households. You would find some of it almost at every house, especially those of old people. Our grandmothers consider it a treasure; a treasure that can be gifted to guests and bestowed upon loved ones.
Chewing olibanum is a routine that most women do unconsciously. Even kids are allowed to chew it unlike other types of commercial gums.
It enjoys special honor in weddings. It is one ingredient of the basket that is to be gifted to the bride. It is an obligatory practice. It would be offered to guests along with other sweets and candies; while the rest is for the bride to carry with her. This wedding frankincense is usually revered more than all others. Probably, it is all linked to superstitions, but if it is a bride’s frankincense then it is definitely better.
Olibanum scent and taste
For someone who is not a huge fan of this gum, it might be difficult to detect and identify all scents and tastes of frankincense. From my personal experience, there are different types of this resin and each type has a distinctive smell and flavor.
Generally, there are three main flavors: bitter, sweet, and neutral. You might want to start with the sweet or neutral types because you might not tolerate the bitterness. It might be too heavy for some people. Personally, if I chew bitter frankincense, I will throw it away after a few minutes. However, it is almost common knowledge that the bitter type is good for the stomach; if you suffer from severe stomach pain you can try chewing or soaking olibanum in water for some time and then drink the water.
If used as incense it has a very strong smell as well. It usually smells woody and peppery. Because it is such smoky incense, it is usually used with other types of resins.
Uses of frankincense:
Frankincense has been used in ancient medicine for centuries. It is actually still used as such even today.
It is also used as incense, though not by all people who are familiar with this substance. It is also made into perfumes. It can be found mixed with other ingredients like myrrh. Several fragrances can be found in the market.
The most precious byproduct, however, is olibanum oil. This essential oil is used for different purposes. Aromatherapy, health-related practices, skincare, and the perfume industry rely heavily on this extract.
Traditional medicine attributes several benefits to this oil. Alternative medicine, today, chose the path of investigating and researching such claims. Surprisingly, many attributes have been proved to be authentic.
Olibanum oil has anti-inflammatory properties. A 2014 study suggested that it can be helpful for arthritis. Though the study was performed on animals, experts suggested that it can be used with humans and that this essential oil has great potential for treating pain and inflammations.
It has also antimicrobial properties. Laboratory studies revealed that it can be helpful with wounds. It can be used as an antiseptic, but it has to be diluted with a carrier oil.
Dermatologists have been stressing the benefits of olibanum oil for the skin. Sonya Dakar, an iconic celebrity aesthetician, declared that “Frankincense benefits include the ability to strengthen skin and improve its tone, elasticity, and defense mechanisms against bacteria or blemishes.”
Studies suggest that frankincense has “tissue remodeling” properties. That’s why it is excessively used in anti-aging and skincare products.
So, to ask what is olibanum is no longer the question. What matters is to ask about the ways you can use this resin and how can you reap its benefits.