PAYSON -- When Young Living Essential Oils puts on its live Nativity scene this weekend, the precious oils given to the Christ child will be more than a prop.

Frankincense and myrrh, known from ancient times for their healing properties and aroma, are two of the most popular essential oils the company offers, said Paula Turner, the company's product specialist.The Nativity scene and Christmas story run continually Friday and Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. as part of the Payson Downtown Alliance Christmas Carol Festival (see related story).

In ancient times, frankincense was regarded in the Middle East as a "holy oil." It is the subject of further research today and is used therapeutically in European hospitals, Turner said.

Much of the research has been conducted by two French researchers, Pierre Franchomme and Dr. Daniel Penoel. Research literature distributed by the company says the oil prevents scarring and works as an antidepressant by stimulating the mind. Researchers also claim it aids healing by boosting the immune system.

"As a company we don't make health claims, but we send people the literature and then they treat themselves. The company doesn't diagnose, prescribe or make health claims," said Young Living Essential Oils spokesman Bill Fifield.

Myrrh has been used since before the time of Christ by Arabians as a health aid. Ancient Egyptians called frankincense and myrrh the "perfume of the gods," and the substances were prized by the Greeks and Romans for generations.

The French pair's research shows a strong indication that myrrh is anti-viral, kills parasites and is anti-inflammatory, Fifield said. Some research literature also claims it can be useful for dysentery, diarrhea, bronchitis and hyperthyroid conditions, he said. The oils are rubbed on, inhaled or ingested.

The essential oils are extracted from gums that are harvested from trees native to the Middle East through a steaming process. According to a Roman historian, security around the ancient processing of frankincense was tight.

Today, some companies extract the oil through a chemical process, Turner said. Company owner Gary Young, however, prefers the ancient steaming method and has developed methods unique to his company.

Myrrh is darker, richer and has an earthier than frankincense. It, too, was used as a perfume and incense and also as a preservative in the ancient Egyptian mummifying process. The liquid was a principal ingredient in the ancient Jewish anointing oil.

When the Magi came to the Christ child some 2,000 years ago, they brought three of the most precious items of that ancient world: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

"Myrrh was applied to the baby's umbilical cord when born and on the mother after giving birth to prevent infection," Young said. "Frankincense was placed on the baby's head to increase brain function and stimulate awareness. These are a few of the customs that were practiced during the period of Christ."

Today the aromas of those two oils are often used to recall that first Christmas as people decorate their homes for the season. The Payson company says the fragrances are very much in demand during the Christmas season.

Wholesale price for a 15-milliliter bottle of frankincense (about the size of a thumb) is $62. The same size bottle of myrrh has a wholesale price of $47.