WANATAH — People have heard the Christmas carol "We Three Kings," or may have read about the Gift of the Magi.

Others may be familiar with the story of how the three wise men brought the newborn baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Northwest Indiana Trading Co. does not sell gold but it does retail and wholesale frankincense, myrrh and other resins as well as essential oils, bone necklaces, arrowhead necklaces, ginseng and other products imported from across the world. Among its featured items is top-of-the-line Royal Hojari frankincense from Oman.

Ryan Bambrick runs the Wanatah-based import and export firm, which has seen steady sales of the resin myrrh over the years and a recent surge in interest in frankincense because of its purported anti-inflammatory and health benefits.

"After some research came out, a lot more people are interested in frankincense," Bambrick said. "It's been used as a chewing gum in Oman and Saudi for thousands of years."

Bambrick said Americans are just now discovering how it's used for inflammation and arthritis. 

The Northwest Indiana Trading Co. and its sister website frankincense.net, do not promote or advertise any health benefits for their products, but Bambrick has found more consumers are seeking out frankincense, an aromatic tree resin traditionally used in incense and perfume, as a form of alternative medicine.

The natural health website DrAxe.com for instance claims frankincense helps reduce stress, boost immune system function, heal skin, prevent signs of aging, balance hormone levels, kill germs and bacteria and even fight cancer. However, many experts including Robert Tisserand, founder of the Tisserand Institute, an organization dedicated to aromatherapy research and education, have suggested clinical studies don't support that conclusion.

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City reports growing use of Indian frankincense to treat asthma and osteoarthritis despite mixed or inconclusive studies, and to relieve menstrual cramps though "no scientific evidence supports this use." Clinical trials have, however, shown the resin can reduce inflammatory conditions and potentially treat colitis.

One of Bambrick's customers supports the idea that the resin provides health benefits.    

"I am buying it for the benefits of using it as incense and as an essential oil," said Joseph Camerieri, a Florida resident who described himself as a regular customer of Northwest Indiana Trading Co. "This gives me a great feeling in the morning when I use it in my room before I go to bed." 

Northwest Indiana Trading Co. once primarily sold frankincense to Orthodox and Catholic churches for incense or anointing oil used during services. But more and more people now seek it for personal use, and have told Bambrick they use it to relieve aching muscles, sore joints and mosquito bites and to calm down or relieve depression.

Bambrick recently began grinding down frankincense resin into a fine powder so it can be used in balms and to infuse either coconut or olive oils. Northwest Indiana Trading Co. for instance started selling a Hojari frankincense infused oil, a skin moisturizer.

"Because of a lot more articles about frankincense online, more people have been using it as a supplement," Bambrick said. "I've been able to make new products."

Bambrick is gearing up for a busy season after Christmas, when he'll arrange to ship all-natural frankincense from the Al Hajar Mountains in Oman and myrrh from Somaliland in Somali all over the world. People often use tithing money to buy their churches resins for incense or ceremonial oil around the start of the new year, Bambrick said.

"The business has grown in different ways," he said. "I've found in the past couple years more monasteries are wanting to purchase frankincense for their incense blends."

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Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.