Myrrh from the Hebrew '"מור"' ("mor") and Arabic مر (mur) is 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 has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine. It can also be ingested by mixing it with wine.
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 commonly used name, Commiphora molmol, is now considered a synonym of Commiphora myrrha. 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. These myrrh-like resins are known as opopanax, balsam, bdellium, guggul and bisabol.
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.
Myrrh is mentioned in the Old Testament numerous times as a rare perfume with intoxicating qualities, such as Genesis 37:25 and Exodus 30:23.
Myrrh is also found in the Christian Bible as one of the three gifts the wise men presented to the Christ Child, according to the gospel of Matthew. According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus was offered wine and myrrh before the crucifixion.
- Etymology 1
Attributed medicinal properties 2
- Conventional medicine 2.1
- Traditional Chinese medicine 2.2
- Ayurvedic medicine 2.3
- Mechanisms of action 2.4
- Religious ritual 3
- Ancient myrrh 4
- See also 5
- Footnotes 6
- References 7
- Further reading 8
- External links 9
The word "myrrh" derives from the Aramaic ܡܪܝܪܐ (murr), and Arabic مر (mur)، meaning "bitter". Its name entered the English language from the Hebrew Bible, where it is called mor, מור, and later as a Semitic loanword was used in the Greek myth of Myrrha, and later in the Septuagint; in the Greek language, the related word μύρον (mýron) became a general term for perfume.
Attributed medicinal properties
In pharmacy, myrrh is used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes, gargles, and toothpastes 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 tooth powders. Myrrh and borax in tincture can be used as a mouth-wash. A compound tincture, or horse tincture, using myrrh is used in veterinary practice for healing wounds. Meetiga, the trade-name of Arabian Myrrh, is more brittle and gummy than that of the Somalian variety and does not have the latter's white markings. Liquid Myrrh, or Stacte, spoken of by Pliny, also an ingredient of Jewish holy incense, was formerly obtainable and greatly valued but cannot now be identified in today's markets. Myrrh gum is used for indigestion, ulcers, colds, cough, asthma, lung congestion, arthritis pain, and cancer.
- "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.".
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.
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.
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 sesquiterpenes furanoeudesma-1,3-diene and curzarene in the myrrh affect opioid receptors in the mouse's brain which influence pain perception.
Myrrh has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels, as well as to increase the HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in various tests on humans done in the past few decades. A 2009 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 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.
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 is also listed as an ingredient in the holy anointing oil used to anoint the Tabernacle, high priests and kings.
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;)
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." Because of its mention in New Testament, myrrh is an incense offered during Christian liturgical celebrations (see Thurible). Liquid myrrh is sometimes added to egg tempera in the making of icons.
Matthew records that as Jesus went to the cross, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink (Matthew 27:34). Mark described the drink as wine mingled with myrrh (Mark 15:23).
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 oil scented with myrrh (and other fragrances) to perform the sacrament of chrismation, which is commonly referred to as "receiving the Chrism".
In the bible myrrh is mentioned 156 times.
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.
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". He describes its appearance and leaf structure as "pinnate-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".
- Rice, Patty C., Amber: Golden Gem of the Ages, Author House, Bloomington, 2006 p.321
- Wondill Froman (30 November 2005). Biblical Facts About Wine: Is It a Sin to Drink Wine?. AuthorHouse. pp. 307–.
- Caspar Neumann, William Lewis, The chemical works of Caspar Neumann, M.D.,2nd Ed., Vol 3, London, 1773 p.55
- Newnes, G., ed., Chambers's encyclopædia, Volume 9, 1959
- The Plant List. 2013. Version 1.1. Published on the Internet: http://www.theplantlist.org/ Accessed on February 24, 2014.
- Anthony G. Miller, Thomas A. Cope, J. A. Nyberg Flora of the Arabian Peninsula and Socotra, Volume 1, Edinburgh University Press, 1996, p.20
- Gibson (2011), p. 160.
- Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, The University of Haifa, Carta, Jerusalem, p.380
- "Species Information". www.worldagroforestrycentre.org. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
- "ICS-UNIDO – MAPs". www.ics.trieste.it. Retrieved 2009-01-16.
- Al Faraj, S (2005). "Antagonism of the anticoagulant effect of warfarin caused by the use of Commiphora molmol as a herbal medication: A case report". Annals of tropical medicine and parasitology 99 (2): 219–20.
- 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
- Michael Tierra. "The Emmenagogues"
- Materia MedicaMichael Moore
- Alan Tillotson "Myrrh"
- Al-Awadi, FM; Gumaa, KA (1987). "Studies on the activity of individual plants of an antidiabetic plant mixture". Acta diabetologica latina 24 (1): 37–41.
- Dolara, Piero; Luceri, Cristina; Ghelardini, Carla; Monserrat, Claudia; Aiolli, Silvia; Luceri, Francesca; Lodovici, Maura; Menichetti, Stefano; Romanelli, Maria Novella (1996). "Analgesic effects of myrrh". Nature 379 (6560): 29.
- Dolara P, Luceri C, Ghelardini C, et al. Analgesic effects of myrrh. Nature 1996; 379:29. Summary
- See, for example, Soliman, OE; El-Arman, M; Abdul-Samie, ER; El-Nemr, HI; Massoud, A (2004). "Evaluation of myrrh (Mirazid) therapy in fascioliasis and intestinal schistosomiasis in children: Immunological and parasitological study". Journal of the Egyptian Society of Parasitology 34 (3): 941–66.
- Amoudi, Nadia Saleh Al (2009). "Hypocholesterolemic effect of some plants and their blend as studied on albino rats". International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health 2 (2): 176.
- Morrow, John A. "Encyclopedia of Islamic Herbal Medicine". Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011, p. 146.
- Fritze, Ronald H. "New worlds: The great voyages of discovery 1400-1600". Sutton Publishing Limited, 2002, p. 25.
- http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611_Esther-2-12/ KJV Esther 2:12
- Morrow, Joh A. "Encyclopedia of Islamic Herbal Medicine". Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011, p. 145.
- The visitor or monthly instructor. Religious Tract Society. 1837. pp. 35–. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
- Gibson, Dan (2011). Qur’anic Geography: A Survey and Evaluation of the Geographical References in the Qur’an with Suggested Solutions for Various Problems and Issues. Independent Scholars Press, Canada. ISBN 978-0-9733642-8-6.
- Massoud A, El Sisi S, Salama O, Massoud A (2001). "Preliminary study of therapeutic efficacy of a new
- Dalby, Andrew (2000). Dangerous Tastes: the story of spices. London: British Museum Press. (US ISBN 0-520-22789-1), pp. 107–122.
- Dalby, Andrew (2003). Food in the ancient world from A to Z. London, New York: Routledge. , pp. 226–227, with additions
- Monfieur Pomet (1709). "Abyssine Myrrh)". History of Drugs. Abyssine Myrrh
- The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Know About Chinese, Western, and Ayurvedic Herbal Treatments by Ph.D., A.H.G., D.Ay, Alan Keith Tillotson, O.M.D., L.Ac., Nai-shing Hu Tillotson, and M.D., Robert Abel Jr.
- Abdul-Ghani, RA; Loutfy, N; Hassan, A (2009). "Myrrh and trematodoses in Egypt: An overview of safety, efficacy and effectiveness profiles". Parasitology international 58 (3): 210–4. ( A good review on its antiparasitic activities) .
- History of Myrrh and Frankincense (www.itmonline.org)
- Myrrh article by James A. Duke (www.herbcompanion.com)