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Magi turn to myrrh as frankincense struggles and gold stays high

December 23, 2011 | 12:24 pm

Frankincense
If their trek to visit the baby Jesus had happened this year, the biblical Magi might have been in for a surprise.

The market for the gifts offered by the Three Kings -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- is much changed since the first Christmas thousands of years ago.

Frankincense, used in perfumes and incense, is faltering. Fifty Christmases from now, production of the fragrant resin could be down by 90% due to threats from fire, grazing and destructive beetles, according to the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology this week.

Within 15 years, frankincense yield from the Boswellia tree species, which researchers studied in Ethiopia, is expected be half the amount it is now.

Myrrh is also produced as a resin from the Commiphora tree, native to Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia.
A pound of granular myrrh for incense sold by a vendor called New Age on Amazon runs $13.95. A pound of frankincense resin from xtremek costs $7.95.

For $55, beauty aficionados hoping for “a radiant, smoothed and beautifully healthy complexion” can get Ren’s Frankincense Revitalising Night Cream from Sephora. The resin is also used as an insect repellent, medicine and even toothpaste, according to the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.

Gold, however, is going to cost quite a bit more. The spot price of the precious metal neared $1,900 an ounce earlier this year and is currently hovering around $1,600.

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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A man walks past frankincense trees growing in a wadi near Salalah, Oman. Credit: Drusilla Menaker 

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