Commiphora myrrha also known as C. molmol belongs to the Burseraceae Family. Gum-resin Myrrh is collected from one of 80 or so species of the Commiphora genus. The Commiphora species consist of thorny shrubs or small trees which can grow up to 10 metres in height. They are native to northeastern Africa and southwestern Asia, especially the Red Sea region. The whitish gray bark has schizogenous gum-oleo-resin cavities. In order to collect the gum, incisions are made into the bark. A pale yellow liquid extrudes from the bark but this soon hardens to form yellowish red or reddish brown tears or masses. These are then collected.
Myrrh has played a central role in the religious and medical life of the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Hebrews, the Greeks and the Romans. The name Myrrh is derived from the Arabic ‘murr’ which means ‘bitter’ — myrrh has a very bitter taste. Myrrh has been used in Middle Eastern medicine for the treatment of infected wounds and bronchial complaints for thousands of years.
Myrrh consists of 25 — 45% resins, 30 — 40 % gum and 1.5 — 17% (usually around 8%) volatile oil. This pale yellow to brown essential oil is extracted by steam distillation and contains around 40% alcohols (myrrh alcohols) and 39% sesqueterpenes (elemene, heerabolene, cadinene, copaene, curzerene, lindestrene). It has spicy, warm, balsamic odor, which has a bitter undertone.
Myrrh is used as an astringent in certain mouthwashes and gargles. It is also used as a fragrance component or fixative in soaps, detergents, creams, lotions, and perfumes, with the maximum use level of 0.8% for perfumes. It is also used as a flavor component in major food products including alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, gelatins and puddings, meat and meat products.
Myrrh blends well with cedarwood, cypress, frankincense, juniper, lemongrass, oakmoss, palmarosa, patchouli, rose, sandalwood, benzoin, mandarin, thyme, mints, lavender, pine and spices.
The Commission E approved myrrh for topical treatment of mild inflammations of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa. The British Herbal Compendium indicates the use of myrrh tincture as a gargle to treat pharyngitis and tonsillitis, as a mouthwash for gingivitis and ulcers, and external application to treat sinusitis and minor skin inflammations. In France topical use of Myrrh has been approved for the treatment of small wounds and for nasal congestion from the common cold. The German Standard License for myrrh tincture indicates its use for inflammations of the gums and mouth mucosa such as gingivitis and also for prosthesis pressure marks.
Psychologically, Myrrh has calming properties and can be thought of for weakness, emotional coldness, apathy and no incentive. It can be used to enhance and strengthen spirituality and purify the spiritual environment.
On the physiological level Myrrh has antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. It is useful for many skin conditions including skin ulcers, athletes foot, oily skin, chapped moist skin, weeping eczema, scars, wounds and wrinkles. Avoid use on damaged and hypersensitive skin. It can also be helpful for bronchitis, catarrh, cough, gum disease, gingivitis, hemorrhoids, loss of appetite, gum infections and mouth ulcers.
Contraindications:. Generally considered non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing. Avoid if allergic to cosmetics and perfume. Avoid during pregnancy.
Ernest Guenther, The Essential Oils, Krieger Publishing Company, 1952, reprint 1976
Albert Leung & Steven Foster , Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients used in Food, Drugs, and cosmetics, John Wiley & Sons, Inc , New York, Chichester, Brisbane, Toronto, Singapore, 1996
Blumenthal/Goldberg/Brinckmann, Herbal Medicine, Expanded commission E. Monographs 2000
Beverley Hawkins Aromatherapy 201 Course 1999 revised 2000, 2001,2003, 2004