Myrrh is a reddish-brown resinous material, the dried sap of the tree Commiphora myrrha, native to Yemen, Somalia and the eastern parts of Ethiopia. The sap of a number of other Commiphora and Balsamodendron species are also known as myrrh, including that from C. erythraea (sometimes called East Indian myrrh), C. opobalsamum and Balsamodendron kua. Its name entered English via the Ancient Greek, μύρρα, which is probably of Semitic origin. Myrrh is also applied to the potherb Myrrhis odorata otherwise known as "Cicely" or "Sweet Cicely".
High quality myrrh can be identified through the darkness and clarity of the resin. However, the best method of judging the resin's quality is by feeling the stickiness of freshly broken fragments directly to determine the fragrant-oil content of the myrrh resin. The scent of raw myrrh resin and its essential oil is sharp, pleasant, somewhat bitter and can be roughly described as being "stereotypically resinous". When burned, it produces a smoke that is heavy, bitter and somewhat phenolic in scent, which may be tinged with a slight vanillic sweetness. Unlike most other resins, myrrh expands and "blooms" when burned instead of melting or liquefying.
The scent can also be used in mixtures of incense, to provide an earthy element to the overall smell, and as an additive to wine, a practice alluded to by ancient authorities such as Fabius Dorsennus. It is also used in various perfumes, toothpastes, lotions, and other modern toiletries.
Myrrh was used as an embalming ointment and was used, up until about the 15th century, as a penitential incense in funerals and cremations. The "holy oil" traditionally used by the Eastern Orthodox Church for performing the sacraments of chrismation and unction is traditionally scented with myrrh, and receiving either of these sacraments is commonly referred to as "receiving the Myrrh".
Psalm 45 mentions myrrh as a kingly fragrance in a passage interpreted by some as referring to the future Messiah:
In the New Testament, myrrh was one of the gifts of the Magi to the infant Jesus according to Matthew, is cited in Mark as an intoxicant that was offered to Jesus during the crucifixion, and in John was one of the spices used to prepare Jesus' body for burial:
Because of its scriptural roles as an anointing oil, myrrh is used in the preparation of chrism which is used by many churches, both Eastern and Western, and is a common ingredient in incense offered during Christian liturgical celebrations (see Thurible). In Roman Catholic liturgical tradition, pellets of myrrh are traditionally placed in the Paschal candle during the Easter Vigil.
In Eastern Christianity, the use of incense is much more frequent than in the West. In some traditions, special emphasis is placed on the offering of incense at Vespers and Matins, because of the Old Testament regulation regarding the evening and morning offering of incense.
In Chinese medicine, myrrh is classified as bitter, spicy, neutral in temperature and affecting the heart, liver, and spleen meridians. Its 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 also has been used in the treatment of amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menopause and uterine tumors, as its "blood-moving" properties can purge stagnant blood out of the uterus.
Myrrh has also been recommended to help toothache pain, and can be used in liniment for bruises, aches and sprains.
Myrrh is most commonly used in Chinese medicine for rheumatic, arthritic and circulatory problems. It is combined with such herbs as notoginseng, safflower stamens, Angelica sinensis, cinnamon and Salvia miltiorrhiza, usually in alcohol, and used both internally and externally.
Myrrh is used more frequently in Ayurveda, Unani medicine and Western herbalism, which ascribe to it tonic and rejuvenative properties. A related species, known as guggul in Ayurvedic medicine is considered one of the best substances for the treatment of circulatory problems, nervous system disorders and rheumatic complaints, Myrrh (Daindhava) is used in many rasayana formulas in Ayurveda.
However rasayana herbs have special processing. Outside of this form myrrh is said to be contraindicated for pregnant women or women with excessive uterine bleeding, and not be used with evidence of kidney dysfunction or stomach pain.
In western pharmacy, Myrrh is used as an antiseptic and is most often used 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. It is also used in the production of Fernet Branca.
Myrrh: a significant development in the treatment of parasites.(Phytotherapy Review & Commentary)(drug overview )(Drug overview)
Jul 01, 2006; myrrh has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years. It is mentioned several times in the Bible, in writings as...