Myrrh: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Myrrh from the Dhofar region of Oman

Myrrh is a reddish-brown resinous material, the dried sap of a number of trees, but primarily from Commiphora myrrha, which is native to Yemen, Somalia, the eastern parts of Ethiopia, and Commiphora gileadensis, which is native to Jordan. The sap of a number of other Commiphora and Balsamodendron species is also known as myrrh, including that from Commiphora erythraea (sometimes called East Indian myrrh), Commiphora opobalsamum and Balsamodendron kua. Its name entered English via the Ancient Greek, μύρρα, which is probably of Somali or Arabic origin, where it is known as (مر: Murr).

The name "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.

Commiphora myrrha tree, one of the primary trees from which myrrh is harvested.

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".



Somali Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)

The Ancient Egyptians imported large amounts of myrrh as far back as 3000 B.C. They used it to embalm the dead, as an antiseptic, and burned it for religious sacrifice.

In ancient history myrrh was used as a constituent of perfumes and incense, was highly valued in ancient times, and was often worth more than its weight in gold. The Greek word for myrrh, μύρον, came to be synonymous with the word for "perfume". Today Myrrh is used for its antimicrobial properties.

In Ancient Rome myrrh was priced at five times as much as frankincense, though the latter was far more popular. Myrrh was burned in ancient Roman funerals to mask the smell emanating from charring corpses. It was said that the Roman Emperor Nero burned a year's worth of myrrh at the funeral of his wife, Poppaea. Pliny the Elder refers to myrrh as being one of the ingredients of perfumes, and specifically the "Royal Perfume" of the Parthians. He also says myrrh was used to fumigate wine jars before bottling. Archeologists have found at least two ostraca from Malkata (from New Kingdom Egypt, ca. 1390 to 1350 B.C.) that were lined with a shiny black or dark brown deposit that analysis showed to be chemically closest to myrrh. The Romans were known to use myrrh as a premier additive to wine. [1]

Religious context

In the Old Testament of the Bible (and the Torah), myrrh is mentioned as a primary ingredient in the holy anointing oil God commanded Moses to make:

Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, ... You shall make of these... a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony... You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to Me.

Psalm 45 mentions myrrh as a kingly fragrance in a passage interpreted by some as referring to the future Messiah:

Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.

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:

Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
And they brought him to the place called Gol'gotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he did not take it.
Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

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.

The use of incense in Eastern Christianity is much more frequent than in Western versions. 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 Ancient Greece and Rome, a popular myth told the story of Myrrha, a young woman who was afflicted by the gods with an incestuous love of her father. Her old nurse helped her seduce him in darkness, and she fell pregnant. However, when her father learnt of her deception he was appalled and banished her. Taking pity on her, a god transformed her into a tree; hearing a child cry within the tree, some passersby delivered her baby Adonis, who was later the consort of Venus. The sap from which myrrh is derived is said to be the tears of the transformed Myrrha. This story of myrrh's origin is preserved in Ovid's Metamorphoses.[2]

Traditional medicine

Balsamodendron ehrenbergianum

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.[3]

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.[4][5]

As of 2008, 35% of Saudi Arabians use myrrh as medicine.[6]

Modern usage

In pharmacy, myrrh is used as an antiseptic and is most often used in mouthwashes, gargles, and toothpastes[7] 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.


  • In an attempt to determine the cause of its effectiveness, researchers examined the individual ingredients of an 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.[8]
  • Myrrh was shown[9] to produce analgesic effects on mice which were subjected to pain. Researchers at the University of Florence (Italy) showed that furanoeudesma-1,3-diene and another terpene in the myrrh affect opioid receptors in the mouse's brain which influence pain perception.


  1. ^ "Ancient Wine; The Search for the Origins of Viniculture" Patrick E. McGovern, 2003 ISBN 0-691-07080-6
  2. ^ "Metamorphoses" 10.309-502, Ovid, trans. by David Raeburn, 2004 ISBN 0-140-44789-X
  3. ^ Michael Tierra. "The Emmenagogues"
  4. ^ Michael Moore Materia Medica
  5. ^ Alan Tillotson "Myrrh"
  6. ^ "ICS-UNIDO - MAPs". Retrieved 2009-01-16.  
  7. ^ "Species Information". Retrieved 2009-01-15.  
  8. ^ Al-Awadi FM, Gumaa KA. Studies on the activity of individual plants of an antidiabetic plant mixture. Acta Diabetol Lat. 1987 Jan-Mar;24(1):37-41.
  9. ^ Nature 1996, 379, 29

See also

Further reading

  • Massoud A, El Sisi S, Salama O, Massoud A (2001). "Preliminary study of therapeutic efficacy of a new fasciolicidal drug derived from Commiphora molmol (myrrh)". Am J Trop Med Hyg 65: 96–99.  
  • Dalby, Andrew (2000), written at London, Dangerous Tastes: the story of spices, British Museum Press, ISBN 0714127205 (US ISBN 0-520-22789-1), pp. 107–122.
  • Dalby, Andrew (2003), written at London, New York, Food in the ancient world from A to Z, Routledge, ISBN 0415232597, 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. Myrrh and trematodoses in Egypt: An overview of safety, efficacy and effectiveness profiles. Parasitol Int. 2009;58:210-4( A good review on its antiparasitic activities) .

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MYRRH (from the Latinized form myrrha of Gr. µbppa; the Arabic murr, bitter, was applied to the substance from its bitterness), a gum-resin highly esteemed by the ancients as an unguent and perfume, used for incense in temples and also in embalming. It was one of the gifts offered by the Magi, and a royal oblation of gold, frankincense and myrrh is still annually presented by the sovereign on the feast of Epiphany in the Chapel Royal in London, this custom having been in existence certainly as early as the reign of Edward L 1 True myrrh is the product of Balsamodendron (Commiphora) Myrrha, a small tree of the natural order Amyridaceae that grows in eastern Africa and Arabia, but the name is also applied to gum resins obtained from other species of Balsamodendron. r. Baisa Bol, Bhesa Bol or Bissa Bol, from Balsamodendron Kataf, resembles true myrrh in appearance, but has a disagreeable taste and is scarcely bitter. It is used in China, mixed with food, to give to mulch cows to improve the quality and increase the quantity of milk, and when mixed with lime as a size to impart a gloss to walls. (2) Opaque bdellium produced by B. Playfairii, when shaken with water forms a slight but permanent lather, and on this account is used by the Somali women for cleansing their hair, and by the men to whiten their shields; it is known as meena h¢rma in Bombay, and was formerly used there for the expulsion of the guinea-worm. (3) African bdellium is from B. africanum, and like opaque bdellium lacks the white streaks which are characteristic of myrrh and bissa bol, both are acrid, but have scarcely any bitterness or aroma. (4) Indian bdellium, probably identical with the Indian drug googul obtained in Sind and Baluchistan from B. Mukul and B. pubescens, Hook, is of a dark reddish colour, has an acrid taste and an odour resembling cedar-wood, and softens in the hand.

As met with in commerce true myrrh occurs in pieces of irregular size and shape, from a in. to 2 or 3 in. in diameter, and of a reddish-brown colour. The transverse fracture has a resinous appearance with white streaks; the flavour is bitter and aromatic, and the odour characteristic. It consists of a mixture of resin, gum and essential oil, the resin being present to the extent of 25 to 40%, with 21to 8% of the oil, myrrhol, to which the odour is due.

Myrrh has the properties of other substances which, like it, contain a volatile oil. Its only important application in medicine is as a carminative to lessen the griping caused by some purgatives such as aloes. The volatile oils have for centuries been regarded as of value in disorders of the reproductive organs, and the reputation of myrrh in this connexion is simply a survival of this ancient but ill-founded belief.

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Heb. mor.

  1. First mentioned as a principal ingredient in the holy anointing oil (Ex 30:23). It formed part of the gifts brought by the wise men from the east, who came to worship the infant Jesus (Mt 2:11). It was used in embalming (Jn 19:39), also as a perfume (Est 2:12; Ps 458; Prov 7:17). It was a custom of the Jews to give those who were condemned to death by crucifixion "wine mingled with myrrh" to produce insensibility. This drugged wine was probably partaken of by the two malefactors, but when the Roman soldiers pressed it upon Jesus "he received it not" (Mk 15:23). (See GALL.) This was the gum or viscid white liquid which flows from a tree resembling the acacia, found in Africa and Arabia, the Balsamodendron myrrha of botanists. The "bundle of myrrh" in Song 1:13 is rather a "bag" of myrrh or a scent-bag.
  2. Another word lot is also translated "myrrh" (Gen 37:25; 43:11; R.V., marg., "or ladanum"). What was meant by this word is uncertain. It has been thought to be the chestnut, mastich, stacte, balsam, turpentine, pistachio nut, or the lotus. It is probably correctly rendered by the Latin word ladanum, the Arabic ladan, an aromatic juice of a shrub called the Cistus or rock rose, which has the same qualities, though in a slight degree, of opium, whence a decoction of opium is called laudanum. This plant was indigenous to Syria and Arabia.
This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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