Ethiopia is one of the countries well endowed with various species of Acacia, Boswellia and Commiphora that are known to produce gum arabic, frankincense and myrrh, respectively. Over 60 gum and resin bearing species are found in the country. The total area of oleo-gum resin bearing woodlands cover about 2.9 million hectors of land in the country, with over 300,000 metric tons of natural gum production potential. Boswellia papyrifera is a chief gum resin producing tree species in Ethiopia. The total area covered by the species is estimated to be more than 1.5 million hectors. Frankincense and myrrh are used in medicines, beverages and liqueurs, cosmetics, detergents, creams and perfumery, paints, adhesives and dyes manufacturing. Gum Arabic is used as stabilizing, in food and drink industries; in pharmaceuticals, in printing and textile industries.
While large market demand still exist for the export of these products, substantial quantities of gum and resins are also traded in domestic markets and used locally in households and religious institutions. The demand for incense exceeds the supply and the present supply satisfies less than 15% of the domestic demand (Tilahun, 1997; Demel and Mulugeta, 2005).
These species are the source of aromatic gum resins, frankincense and myrrh. They are widely used as raw materials in several industries such as pharmacology, food, beverage, flavouring, liqueurs, cosmetics, deter- gents, creams and perfumery, paints, adhesive and dye manufacturing, etc. (Mulugeta et al., 2003; Getachew and Wubalem, 2004).
Both myrrh and frankincense are highly valued for their aromatic fragrances and are common ingredients in incense, perfume and potpourris, soaps, detergents, creams and lotions, and are often included in meditation blends, as it strengthens the psyche and aids in deepening the meditative state (FAO, 1995).
Frankincense and myrrh products have wide-ranges of other industrial uses in areas such as food industry, beverages, candies, chewing gums, confectioneries, gelatin, nut products, puddings and canned vegetables (FAO, 1995). Typical applications include: adhesive thickeners, thickeners, stabilizers, flavoring, fixatives and emulsifying agents in food products, clarification in beverages, and release agents for rubber products. In Middle east, particularly in Saudi Arabia, approximately 500 tonnes of Somali type olibanum are imported for chewing gum manufacturing, while similar quantity are also used in these countries for burning at home (FAO, 1995).
The applications of fragrant oleo-gum resins known as frankincense and myrrh for medicinal values are among man’s oldest therapies. The Papyrus Ebers of about 1500 BC is perhaps the oldest list of prescription; in which the priests who supervised funerals, mummification and cremations described the value of both resins in each of these procedures, as well as in the treatment of wounds and skin sores (Michie and Cooper, 1991). Frankincense and myrrh are still widely used therapeutically in regions raging from North Africa to China (Krieglstein et al., 2001), and especially in the traditional Ayurvedic medicines of India, Arabia and China as well as in Ethiopia and Somalia (Farah, 1994; Mulugeta et al., 2003).
Several folklore claims about natural drugs have continued to be verified on modern scientific grounds. Similarly, both frankincense and myrrh have found modern pharmacological applications for several disease treatments most of them as predicted by the traditional therapies. Particularly, their unique chemical compositions, pharmacological activities and non-toxicity tend to support the safe use of these popular traditional drugs in modern therapies (Michie and Cooper, 1991).
Author: Raqib Zaman