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Synonyms: Balsamodendron Myrrha. Commiphora Myrrha, var. Molmol. Mirra. Morr. Didin. Didthin. Bowl.
Part Used ; The oleo-gum-resin from the stem.
Common Name :Myrrh (which is actually the aromatic resin of a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora, which is an essential oil termed an oleoresin. Myrrh resin is a natural gum. It can also be ingested by mixing it with wine.)
Habitat : Myrrh grows as a shrub in desert regions, particularly in northeastern Africa and the Middle East. The resin obtained from the stems is used in medicinal preparations.
The bushes yielding the resin do not grow more than 9 feet in height, but they are of sturdy build, with knotted branches, and branchlets that stand out at right-angles, ending in a sharp spine. The trifoliate leaves are scanty, small and very unequal, oval and entire. It was first recognized about 1822 at Ghizan on the Red Sea coast, a district so bare and dry that it is called ‘Tehama,’ meaning ‘hell.’
Botanically, there is still uncertainty about the origin and identity of the various species.
There are ducts in the bark, and the tissue between them breaks down, forming large cavities, which, with the remaining ducts, becomes filled with a granular secretion which is freely discharged when the bark is wounded, or from natural fissures. It flows as a pale yellow liquid, but hardens to a reddish-brown mass, being found in commerce in tears of many sizes, the average being that of a walnut. The surface is rough and powdered, and the pieces are brittle, with a granular fracture, semi-transparent, oily, and often show whitish marks. The odour and taste are aromatic, the latter also acrid and bitter. It is inflammable, but burns feebly.
Several species are recognized in commerce. It is usually imported in chests weighing 1 or 2 cwts., and wherever produced comes chiefly from the East Indies. Adulterations are not easily detected in the powder, so that it is better purchased in mass, when small stones, senegal gum, chestnuts, pieces of bdellium, or of a brownish resin called ‘false myrrh,’ may be sorted out with little difficulty.
It has been used from remote ages as an ingredient in incense, perfumes, etc., in the holy oil of the Jews and the Kyphi of the Egyptians for embalming and fumigations.
Little appears to be definitely known about the collection of myrrh. It seems probable that the best drug comes from Somaliland, is bought at the fairs of Berbera by the Banians of India, shipped to Bombay, and there sorted, the best coming to Europe and the worst being sent to China. The true myrrh is known in the markets as karam, formerly called Turkey myrrh, and the opaque bdellium as meena harma.
The gum makes a good mucilage and the insoluble residue from the tincture can be used in this way.
When a tree wound penetrates through the bark and into the sapwood, the tree bleeds a resin. Myrrh gum, like frankincense, is such a resin. When people harvest myrrh, they wound the trees repeatedly to bleed them of the gum. Myrrh gum is waxy, and coagulates quickly. After the harvest, the gum becomes hard and glossy. The gum is yellowish, and may be either clear or opaque. It darkens deeply as it ages, and white streaks emerge.
Myrrh gum is commonly harvested from the species Commiphora myrrha, which is native to Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea and eastern Ethiopia. Another farmed species is Commiphora momol. The related Commiphora gileadensis, native to Eastern Mediterranean and particularly the Arabian Peninsula, is the biblically referenced Balm of Gilead, also known as Balsam of Mecca. Several other species yield bdellium and Indian myrrh.
The oleo gum resins of a number of other Commiphora species are also used as perfumes, medicines (such as aromatic wound dressings), and incense ingredients. A lesser quality myrrh is bled from the tree Commiphora erythraea. Commiphora gileadensis oleo gum resin is known as opobalsamum, a name it shares with the gum resin bled from a species of parsnip, Opopanax opopanax.
Fragrant “myrrh beads” are made from the crushed seeds of Detarium microcarpum, an unrelated West African tree. These beads are traditionally worn by married women in Mali as multiple strands around the hips.
The name “myrrh” is also applied to the potherb Myrrhis odorata, otherwise known as “cicely” or “sweet cicely”.
Volatile oil, resin (myrrhin), gum, ash, salts, sulphates, benzoates, malates, and acetates of potassa.
It is partially soluble in water, alcohol, and ether. It may be tested by a characteristic violet reaction if nitric acid diluted with an equal volume of water is brought into contact with the residue resulting from the boiling of 0.1 gramme of coarsely powdered myrrh with 2 c.c. of 90 per cent alcohol, evaporated in a porcelain dish so as to leave a thin film.
The oil is thick, pale yellow, and contains myrrholic acid and heerabolene, a sesquiterpenene.
Traditional Chinese medicine:-
In traditional Chinese medicine, myrrh is classified as bitter and spicy, with a neutral temperature. It is said to have special efficacy on the heart, liver, and spleen meridians, as well as “blood-moving” powers to purge stagnant blood from the uterus. It is therefore recommended for rheumatic, arthritic, and circulatory problems, and for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menopause, and uterine tumors.
Myrrh’s uses are similar to those of frankincense, with which it is often combined in decoctions, liniments, and incense. When used in concert, myrrh is “blood-moving” while frankincense moves the Qi, making it more useful for arthritic conditions.
It is combined with such herbs as notoginseng, safflower petals, angelica sinensis, cinnamon, and salvia miltiorrhiza, usually in alcohol, and used both internally and externally.
Myrrh is used more frequently in Ayurveda and Unani medicine, which ascribe tonic and rejuvenative properties to the resin. It (daindhava) is utilized in many specially processed rasayana formulas in Ayurveda. However, non-rasayana myrrh is contraindicated when kidney dysfunction or stomach pain is apparent, or for women who are pregnant or have excessive uterine bleeding.
A related species, called guggul in Ayurvedic medicine, is considered one of the best substances for the treatment of circulatory problems, nervous system disorders and rheumatic complaints.
In pharmacy, myrrh is used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes, gargles, and toothpastes for prevention and treatment of gum disease.[ Myrrh is currently used in some liniments and healing salves that may be applied to abrasions and other minor skin ailments. Myrrh has also been recommended as an analgesic for toothaches, and can be used in liniment for bruises, aches, and sprains.
Myrrh is a common ingredient of toothpowders, and is used with borax in tincture, with other ingredients, as a mouth-wash. The Compound Tincture, or Horse Tincture, is used in veterinary practice for healing wounds. Meetiga, the trade-name of Arabian Myrrh, is more brittle and gummy than that of Somalia and does not have the latter’s white markings. The liquid Myrrh, or Stacte, spoken of by Pliny, and an ingredient of Jewish holy incense, was formerly obtainable and greatly valued, but cannot now be identified in today markets. Myrrh gum is used for indigestion, ulcers, colds, cough, asthma, lung congestion, arthritis pain, and cancer. ( Al Faraj S. Antagonism of the anticoagulant effect of warfarin caused by the use of Commiphora molmol as a herbal medication: a case report. Ann Trop Med Parasitol 2005;99:219-20). I would like to single out Cancer because of the significance of this disease but more importanly the information my partner found.
“As part of a larger search for anticancer compounds from plants, the researchers obtained extracts from a particular species of myrrh plant (Commiphora myrrha) and tested it against a human breast tumor cell line (MCF-7) known to be resistant to anticancer drugs. Research data indicated that the extract killed all of the cancer cells in laboratory dishes.”
American Chemical Society (2001, December 5). “Gift Of The Magi” Bears Anti-Cancer Agents, Researchers Suggest. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2001/12/011205070038.htm. Under “Mechanisms of Action” I added this: In studies done on mice, Myrrh has been shown to have significant inhibiting effects on certain types of cancer. The active constituents of Myrrh being accredited with this property are Sesquiterpenes. These tests were done using the Myrrh species Commiiphora molmol, and were also found to inhibit tumor growth.
Mechanisms of action:
In an attempt to determine the cause of its effectiveness, researchers examined the individual ingredients of a herbal formula used traditionally by Kuwaiti diabetics to lower blood glucose. Myrrh and aloe gums effectively improved glucose tolerance in both normal and diabetic rats.
Myrrh was shown to produce analgesic effects on mice which were subjected to pain. Researchers at the University of Florence showed that furanoeudesma-1,3-diene and another terpene in the myrrh affect opioid receptors in the mouse’s brain which influence pain perception.
Mirazid, an Egyptian drug made from myrrh, has been investigated as an oral treatment of parasitic ailments, including fascioliasis and schistosomiasis.
Myrrh has been shown to lower cholesterol LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, as well as to increase the HDL (good cholesterol) in various tests on humans done in the past few decades. One recent (2009) documented laboratory test showed this same effect on albino rats.
In studies done on mice, Myrrh has been shown to have significant inhibiting effects on certain types of cancer. The active constituents of Myrrh being accredited with this property are Sesquiterpenes. These tests were done using the Myrrh species Commiphora molmol, and were also found to inhibit tumor growth.
Myrrh was used by the ancient Egyptians, along with natron, for the embalming of mummies.
According to the Encyclopedia of Islamic Herbal Medicine, “The Messenger of Allah stated, ‘Fumigate your houses with al-shih, murr, and sa’tar.'” The author claims that this use of the word “murr” refers specifically to Commiphora myrrha.
Myrrh was an ingredient of Ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, as described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. An offering was made of the Ketoret on a special incense altar, and was an important component of the Temple service.
Myrrh was traded by camel caravans overland from areas of production in southern Arabia by the Nabataeans to their capital city of Petra, from which it was distributed throughout the Mediterranean region.
According to the book of Matthew 2:11, gold, frankincense and myrrh were among the gifts to Jesus by the Biblical Magi “from the East.”
“While burning incense was accepted as a practice in the later Roman Catholic church, the early church during Roman times forbade the use of incense in services resulting in a rapid decline in the incense trade.”
Because of its mention in New Testament, myrrh is an incense offered during Christian liturgical celebrations.
Myrrh is mixed with frankincense and sometimes more scents and is used in almost every service of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, traditional Roman Catholic and Anglican/Episcopal Churches.
Myrrh is also used to prepare the sacramental chrism used by many churches of both Eastern and Western rites. In the Middle East, the Eastern Orthodox Church traditionally uses myrrh-scented oil to perform the sacraments of chrismation and unction, both of which are commonly referred to as “receiving the Chrism”.
Myrrh is also used in Neo-paganism and Ritual Magick.
Oil of myrrh is used in The Book of Esther 2:12 in a purification ritual for the new queen to King Ahasuerus:
“Now when every maid’s turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odors, and with other things for the purifying of the women;)
Modern myrrh has long been commented on as coming from a different source to that held in high regard by the ancients, having been superior in some way. Pedanius Dioscorides described the myrrh of the first century AD as most likely to refer to a “species of mimosa”, describing it “like the egyptian thorn”. His description of it’s appearance and leaf structure as “spinnate-winged”. The ancient type of myrrh conjectured was noted for possessing a far more delightful odor than the modern. It was noted in 1837 that “The time, perhaps, is not far distant, when, through the spirit of research, the true myrrh-tree will be found.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider