The true frankincense, a resinous dried sap that was used in making the Ketoret (incense) which was burned daily at the Temple (Boswellia sacra), is the primary tree in the genus Boswellia.
This tree in danger of extinction, and one of the few places in the world where it is being cultivated commercially is the Balm Of Gilead Farm, owned by Guy Erlich. The farm is located some six miles from the Dead Sea, where it was growing three thousand years age – a native of the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia in northeastern Africa.
Location, Location, Location, in Erlich’s case, adds a touch of frustration and sadness to what otherwise is yet another story of Israeli ingenuity offering amazing goods to the world. That’s because so many of them are on the wrong side of the 1949 armistice line, a.k.a. the green line.
His business focuses on the US, where it is illegal to boycott Israeli products from the liberated territories. The Balm Of Gilead Farm—like several other successful Israeli projects—is located in Judea, a short distance from Jericho, and so the European Union prohibits settlement products to say “Made in Israel,” which cuts into their sales. Erlich told AP he had lost an investor who was alarmed by the possibility of a European boycott on the farm’s products.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature In Somalia, Yemen, and Oman, were the Boswellia sacra grows in the wild, it is nearing extinction due to excessive harvesting. High quality frankincense sells for hundreds of dollars a pound, but the way local villagers cut the Boswellia trees to extract the resin causes the trees to harden.
Erlich’s Boswellia trees are too young to produce frankincense—it take 10 years before their resin can be harvested—so meanwhile he has been selling single-source honey from the little flowers, selling the honey at about $500 a pound. According to the Associated Press, his initial 9 pounds sold out in less than a month, and there’s a waiting list.
Erlich told AP he’d love to involve nearby Arabs in his business – he wants Balm Of Gilead to eventually become a research center for indigenous medicinal plants. But Jericho’s governor, Majid Fityani, told AP he had no interest in cooperating: “This settler has stolen Palestinian land and if he is honest he would have left our land and returned to his country, Israel,” he insisted.