What is myrrh?
The word myrrh will probably not be a stranger to your ears. If you were raised in the Christian faith, it may be familiar to you since childhood. It was mentioned over 150 times in the Holy Bible. But what is it exactly?
Myrrh is a resin or natural gum that is yellow to reddish-brown in color and viscous in consistency. Myrrh has a smoky, bittersweet smell. The word “myrrh” actually comes from the Arabic “murr”, which means bitter.
Myrrh is harvested from a species of small thorny trees from the genus Commiphora. These trees are commonly found on parched rocky hills and grow up to about three meters or nine feet tall. The myrrh tree is distinctive, with its white flowers and knotted trunk.
In ancient times, myrrh is held in high regard and value in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cities. It was a vital trade item coming from Arabia, India, and Abssynia. It was used as an ingredient in expensive perfumes, incenses, and cosmetics. It was also used as a spice, to add flavor to dishes.
It is regarded as a sacred substance. In one of its most popular depictions, myrrh was among the gifts of the three Wise Men to baby Jesus. Jews make a holy anointing oil out of myrrh, to be used in worship services. Egyptians used it in sun-worshipping rituals, in funeral rites and in embalming their pharaohs. It is also prominent in Ayurvedic medicine. It is believed that myrrh aids in linking the Crown and Root chakras, strengthening the connection between the physical body and its energetic being. It has also been employed in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, up to this day.
Where does it come from?
Myrrh is harvested from a species of small thorny trees from the genus Commiphora. To name a few of these species, they are C. myrrha or C. molmol, and they go by the common name didin; C. mukul or Indian bdellium, C. erythraeaor sweet myrrh; C. katafor baisa bol, bhesa bol or bissa bol. These trees grow on parched rocky hills and up to about three meters or nine feet tall. To withstand the strong winds and harsh weather, their trunks usually take on odd, twister and knotted shapes.
There are two main varieties of myrrh, namely herabol and bisabol. Herabol refers to those extracted from C. myrrha while bisabol is obtained from C. erythraea. These tree grow in African and Middle Eastern countries like Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, and Ethiopia, where there is plenty of dry, parched, and rocky soil.
To harvest myrrh, “tapping” is done on the tree. This is a deliberate incision, about two inches long, on the bark of the tree. An ordinary axe may be used, but some use a specially-designed tool. The tree produces a yellow milky liquid or sap that bleeds out of the incision. This is its defensive mechanism to prevent its precious water from leaking out. Due to exposure to air, the sap hardens into irregular reddish-brown walnut-sized lumps or globules referred to as “tears”. These are collected two weeks later and then tapping is again done, making the tree produce another batch of resin. Depending on the species, it could take more than two weeks before the collector takes the resin.
Once collected, myrrh is stored for approximately three months to harden.
What are different forms of myrrh?
Myrrh comes in various forms.
- Myrrh Resin. These are the hardened globules extracted from the tree. It is usually used as incense, either as globules or ground up into powder. Some place myrrh resin over hot coals to release a spiritual presence into a room. This was done in preparation for a religious ceremony. Myrrh incenses are also used in aromatherapy for meditation and prayer.
- Myrrh Essential Oil. This is the product of steam distillation of myrrh resin. There are two variations of myrrh essential oil — either fresh or dried resin is used to make them. Fresh resin is newly harvested while dried resin is allowed to dry for some months before use. Today, the market primarily offers essential oil from dried resin.
Myrrh Oil. In comparison to myrrh essential oil, this formulation is less concentrated. It is myrrh essential oil, diluted in or blended with a carrier oil. Typically, coconut, jojoba and olive oil are used as carrier oils. This is the ready-to-use version since myrrh essential oil is too strong to be applied directly on the skin or to be used for any other purpose.
- Myrrh oil can also be made at home with myrrh resin. All you have to do is get one cup of the carrier oil of choice. Easy options you may already have at home are olive and vegetable oil. Add seven grams or a quarter-ounce of myrrh resin. Combine these in a sauce pan. Leave the mixture in low heat for six hours, stirring occasionally. Afterwards, pour the oil in a mason jar and place it by a window or other place where there is direct sunlight. Leave this here, and after two weeks, it will be ready for use.
Myrrh Tincture. Instead of oil, myrrh tincture is alcohol-based. This is done through a process of maceration, the softening of the resin by soaking or steeping. This is popularly used for oral care — as mouthwash or it is applied for toothaches and gingivitis.
- To make this, you will need one part powdered myrrh and three parts of 45% grain alcohol. Unflavored vodka also works well. Combine the two in a tight-lidded container, put on the lid, and shake vigorously. Place it in a warm area, away from direct sunlight. The top of your fridge, furnace or water heater are some suggested locations. Let the mixture sit for four weeks, shaking the jar vigorously, at least once a day. Afterwards, sift the mixture using a coffee filter, into another tight-lidded clean container. Let it stand for a few days undisturbed. This allows any sediments to collect at the bottom. Once the sediments separate from your tincture, transfer it to another container and it’s now ready for use.
- Encapsulated Myrrh Gum Resin. Some people also take myrrh like medication since it has many medicinal properties. It is antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. It is also said to speed up the healing of wounds. This form is powdered resin placed in a capsule.
Frankincense and myrrh
Not only were frankincense and myrrh gifts that the Wise Men brought baby Jesus to celebrate his birth, they also share a lot of similarities.
- Tree saps or gum resins. Frankincense and myrrh are both gum resins; frankincense is milky white in color while myrrh is reddish brown. They are harvested by tapping on the bark of the tree, which is done with longitudinal cuts that pierce the gum resin reservoirs of the trees. This causes the sap to ooze out and harden, forming tears, which are globules in the shape of tears, hence the nickname.
- Arid soils. They share similar habitats, arid areas of the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and India.
- Tree origins. Frankincense comes from trees of the genus Boswellia. The most aromatic of which is said to be from B. sacra. These grow to be 16 feet or five meters in height, with papery bark, sparse leaves and white-petaled flowers with a red center. On the other hand, myrrh comes from trees of the genus Commiphora. The most common of which is C. myrrha. These grow up to nine feet or three meters high, and they have sparse leaves, white flowers, as well as a distinctive knotted trunk.
- Uses. They are used almost identically and you will often find them in the same sentence. They are used for fragrance and cosmetics, but also for spiritual practices, prayers, funerals, and healing.
Are there any health benefits of myrrh?
Definitely. There are tons of health benefits that come with myrrh. There are two active compounds found in myrrh. They are sesquiterpenes and terpenoids. These two substances exhibit anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. Sesquiterpenes also display beneficial effects on the emotional center, promoting a sense of calm and balance.
These two compounds are also being explored for possible anti-cancer applications and other therapeutic uses.
Here are the many benefits of myrrh.
- Oral care. Myrrh can be used as a mouthwash. Its antibacterial properties will help you get rid of bad breath by preventing the growth of bacteria. This also helps prevent gum disease and mouth infection. It is also a potent remedy for toothaches and sore throats.
- Moisturizer. Because of myrrh’s antioxidant properties, it has great applications for anti-aging and skin rejuvenation. Mix myrrh oil in your lotion, apply alone on your skin, or make your own homemade lotion.
- Wounds. Myrrh has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. When applied to wounds, it helps prevent the development of infections. As if that’s not enough, it also promotes tissue repair and white blood cell function. These allow for faster healing of wounds. The combination of these benefits makes it a good choice for treating burns and even ulcers.
- Coughs and Colds. Myrrh works as an expectorant as well. This can help relieve congestion and reduce phlegm.
- Digestive Issues. Myrrh has also been used to reduce digestive problems like diarrhea, indigestion, and even the basic upset stomach.
There are three ways you can use myrrh.
- Diffuse it, thereby inhaling it. More and more people discover the benefits of aromatherapy to improve health and promote relaxation, especially in reducing stress and anxiety. In Ayurvedic medicine, myrrh is highly regarded in its ability to help man connect with his spirituality.
- Apply it topically. You can use myrrh oil or tincture for wounds, fungal rashes, and cracked skin, just to name a few.
- Take it internally. Myrrh can be added as spice to food, but some people also ingest it in a capsule form, just like regular medication. When doing this, it is better to consult a medical professional so you can be guided accordingly.
When using myrrh, exercise caution, because myrrh oil doesn’t come with dosage indications. If you have an existing condition and are under the care of a doctor, let them know of your interest in using myrrh for your treatment. This way, the doctor can ensure that you are not taking medications that will react badly with myrrh and that you will not be overdosing on it. It is also not recommended for pregnant women, as it may cause uterine bleeding and lowered blood pressure.