Come April and there is an aroma of fresh frankincense in most parts of Dhofar. Reason for this fresh aroma is not too far to seek, as April marks the beginning of frankincense harvesting season that continues till the advent of Khareef season.
Salalah derives its adjective of ‘perfume capital of Arabia’ from frankincense which is associated with this place from ancient times and still holds an important place in current society and culture.
It is amazing to watch how frankincense, which is known locally as Luban, is extracted from medium size Luban trees spread mainly over the foothills of the mountains in and around Salalah.
To witness the process of harvesting, Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara has organised a trip for travellers to enjoy ‘kick-off’ of the frankincense season.
Frankincense is a resin extracted from the Boswellia Sacra tree. Much like diamonds, frankincense has varying grades. Quality is based on purity, aroma, age, shape and colour. The silvery clear colour native to Salalah is recognised as the best. It was worth more than gold in ancient times.
Commenting on the importance of the trip, an Anantara representative said, “Being hospitality major, this becomes our responsibility to showcase the best of Salalah to the travellers. Frankincense has a meaningful historical significance to this area of Oman. It was even considered as one of the most important exports from Salalah centuries ago.
Ruins of ancient trading ports – designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites – along with the remains of the various trails leading through the rugged terrain and unforgiving desert vividly tell the story of frankincense in Salalah. One can envision the caravans of camels and traders peddling this precious commodity en route to neighbouring Middle Eastern countries for distribution.”
“Frankincense is really what we are known for here,” said Hussain Balhalf, a native of Salalah and known as ‘Salalah Guru’. “I provide bespoke excursions for our guests and on almost every tour they request to see and buy frankincense, and learn about its history and unique uses.”
One of the most significant frankincense sites is Wadi Dawkah, where thousands of frankincense trees make it the largest concentration of Boswellia sacra in the southern Dhofar province. However, the trees thrive in areas all around Salalah and blend perfectly with the spectacular scenery.
According to Balhalf, the most popular time to harvest frankincense starts in April through July when the monsoon season begins. Using a special cutting tool, the outer layer of tree bark is delicately slashed allowing the sap-like resin to ooze out. In a few weeks, the sap hardens and is ready to be collected in the form of small stones. The stones are washed and then used for burning or to produce various products with interesting and surprising health and beauty benefits.
Frankincense is full of utility. Local people burn it to get unmistakable sweet and woody aroma. They apply it due its proven qualities of a powerful healer and used in a myriad of health and beauty products, such as oils, soaps, balms, lotions and creams. The spa at Al Baleed Resort offers the frankincense ritual treatment which frankincense oil is used to nourish the skin and relieve anxiety while reducing pain and inflammation.
For local people frankincense is also a natural antiseptic, which is used in oral health. Since ancient times, locals have chewed the resin to improve the health of teeth and gums and prevent infections. Nowadays you can buy frankincense gum, toothpaste and mouthwash. Also, certain types of frankincense are edible and good for digestion and regulating gastrointestinal functions.
A private guided tour thus is an opportunity for those travellers who want to understand why frankincense is so culturally engrained in the Omani society.