Category: Medicines - plant based
Introduction and description
And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.
Myrrh is a reddish-brown resinous material collected from the dried sap of certain trees.
The original myrrh species is Commiphora myrrha, which is native to Yemen, Somalia, and the eastern parts of Ethiopia. Commiphora molmol is indigenous to eastern Mediterranean countries, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, and South Arabia. The related Commiphora gileadensis, native to Eastern Mediterranean and particularly the Arabian Peninsula is the biblically referenced Balm of Gilead. It can be found in Israel/Palestine and Jordan and is now accepted as an alternate source of myrrh.
Myrrh is a pale yellow granular secretion - a sort of oily gum resin - that is discharged into the cavities made by deliberately wounding the tree by cutting incisions in its trunk.
The sap is exuded and then dries in the air, eventually hardening to become [depending on the wound size] about the size of a walnut. Once it has dried on the tree, myrrh is waxy and brittle, but after the resin is collected it becomes a dry, hard and glossy substance that can be clear or opaque, and vary in colour depending on ageing from yellowish to almost black, occasionally with white streaks. Its taste is acrid and bitter and it has a very distinctive odour.
Its name entered the English from the Greek myth of Myrrha; in the Greek language, the related word μύρον became a general term for perfume. However, the term ultimately derives from the Arabic word مر (murr), meaning "bitter".
Resins from other Commiphora species should only be called myrrh, if the chemical composition is comparable to the original myrrh. Commiphora molmol, for example, supplies considerable quantities of commercial myrrh, however you can also find “False myrrh” from plants like Commiphora mukul. This latter myrrh has very distinct chemical properties, but it also has medicinal properties and is used extensively for its thyroid stimulating effects.
The scent of raw myrrh resin and its essential oil is sharp, pleasantly earthy, and somewhat bitter, with a "stereotypically resinous" character. Myrrh resin can be qualitatively evaluated by its darkness and clarity, and especially the fragrance and stickiness of freshly broken pieces. It expands and "blooms" when heated or burned, instead of melting like most other aromatic resins. Its smoke is heavy, bitter and somewhat phenolic in scent, with a slight vanillic sweetness.
The reason for its effectiveness in medical applications may be understood by looking at its chemical constituents and I have provided an observation from Dr Duke's plant database to show all the constituents and their activities. But it is worth noting that researchers at the University of Florence (Italy) have shown that at least one of the chemicals - furanoeudesma-1,3-diene and another terpene in the myrrh affect opioid receptors - myrrh is a delta agonist, meaning it should provide considerable pain relief. Thus it is possible that myrrh when burnt acts in part like opium. But it can also be ingested and formed a major part of the medicine that was once called Theriac.
One area being seriously investigated and which is proven, is its anti-parasitic action - the correct word is anthelmintic. And it is effective against some extremely nasty parasites.
Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels
Myrrh originated from the Arabian Peninsula, where the gum resins were first collected. Its trade route reached Jerusalem and Egypt from modern Oman (then known as the Dhofar region) and Yemen, following the Red Sea coast of Arabia.
Herodotus wrote in the 5th century BC, "Arabia is the only country which produces myrrh, frankincense, cassia and cinnamon." Diodorus Siculus wrote in the second half of the first century BC that "all of Arabia exudes a most delicate fragrance; even the seamen passing by Arabia can smell the strong fragrance that gives health and vigor".
The Ancient Egyptians imported large amounts as far back as 3000 B.C. They used it to embalm the dead and as an antiseptic. 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.
If we consider this for a moment it means that the Egyptians knew its anti-parasitic qualities and used them to protect their dead from being consumed by maggots and worms.
In Ancient Rome, myrrh was priced at five times higher than frankincense, again because of its medicinal value. It was burned at the Roman funerals of the wealthy as a display of status and wealth; the Roman Emperor Nero supposedly burned a year's worth of myrrh at the funeral of his wife, Poppaea.
Pliny the Elder refers to myrrh as one of the ingredients of perfumes, and specifically as the "Royal Perfume" of the Parthians.
Myrrh does indeed have a distinctive perfume but perfume has a symbolic meaning too. Occasionally in spiritual experience people can smell glorious perfume smells, the smell is unlike any smell that exists in 'reality' often a sort of mix of flowers, resin and trees .... or myrrh! It appears to be given to people who are not blessed with the gift of vision, or whose gifts lie elsewhere, for example in healing. In effect one of the best spiritual smells you can get is that of myrrh.
Pliny also mentions that myrrh was used to fumigate wine jars before bottling, and Fabius Dorsennus alludes to myrrh as a luxurious flavoring for wine.
It is still used to flavor the liqueur known as Fernet.
I quote "Fernet is a bitter and aromatic liquor made from many herbs and spices, including myrrh, cardamom, and saffron, with a distilled grape base".
In the Middle East myrrh has been used as a medical treatment for many many years.
“As of 2008, 35% of Saudi Arabians use myrrh as medicine”.
In Chinese medicine, myrrh is said to have special efficacy on the heart, liver, and spleen meridians, as well as "blood-moving" powers. It is recommended for rheumatic, arthritic, and circulatory problems, and for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menopause, and uterine tumors. It is combined with such herbs as Angelica sinensis, and Salvia miltiorrhiza, usually in alcohol, and used both internally and externally.
One of the interesting properties of myrrh is that it contains Limonene and Limonene mimics the natural endogenous neurotransmitter adenosine, which is essentially a relaxant. Or if you prefer, it reduces stress.
Limonene is a major aromatic compound in essential oils extracted from citrus rind. We found that limonene directly binds to the adenosine A(2A) receptor, which may induce sedative effects. PMID: 21134357
The A2A receptor regulates myocardial blood flow by vasodilating the coronary arteries, which increases blood flow to the myocardium. So it is a vasodilator. Or as the Chinese would say it has "blood-moving" powers.
Many of the medical uses for myrrh were for external application. Identification of ancient plants using modern scientific names may not reflect precisely the plant used centuries ago. Nonetheless, some botanical information, such as identification of exudates of pine trees, myrrh, and cinnamon bark, is well established historically. A large number of them were used to treat sores or wounds on the torso or extremities. ‘Stomach complaints’ were also commonly noted for treatment. In the 4th Century, BCE Theophrastus specified an ‘ointment for all inflamed wounds’ that contained Oil of balanos (Balanites aegyptiaca (L.) Del.); cassia ; cinnamon; myrrh (Commiphora myrrha); and pine resin. A similar ointment in the Ebers Papyrus contained oil of balanos, cinnamon, myrrh and frankincense.
In 1898, J.V. Shoemaker recommended an ‘Antiseptic poultice for ulcers’ which had as its ingredients : Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha); asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida L.); and galbanum (Ferula gummosa Boiss). A few years later (1910) a ‘Manual of Therapeutics’ was published by Parke, Davis and Co., a U.S. pharmaceutical firm, listing their products, which included the same remedy for ‘unhealthy ulcers.’ In traditional Chinese medicine, a mixture of frankincense and myrrh is still recommended for painful swellings and ulcers that do not heal.
And today one even finds it used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes, gargles, and toothpastes and in the prevention and treatment of gum disease. Researchers examining the individual ingredients of an herbal formula used traditionally by Kuwaiti diabetics to lower blood sugar found that the myrrh and aloe gums in the medicine improved glucose tolerance in both normal and diabetic rats.
Thus myrrh is essentially a medicine and a very useful medicine with antifungal, anti-parasitic, possible anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and a pain reliever and relaxant built in.
New Testament references
Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.—Matthew 2:11b
and the myrrh was the gift of healing. In effect, these are symbolic gifts - myrrh symbolising the power to heal. Later, however, myrrh was offered not as a symbol but for its properties. According to Mark, it was offered to Jesus as a pain reliever prior to his crucifixion:
Mark 15:21-23King James Version (KJV)
21 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.
22 And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.
23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.
And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight
Myrrh and incense
Visions and hallucinations from smoke inhalation have taken people to some quite terrifying places.
But many Temples, some mosques and Catholic and other 'high' churches, employ candles and incense in abundance; once churches used to be totally black from the smoke from the lighting and incense. Thus smoke inhalation was a deliberate mechanism used in religious buildings to get people into a conducive state.
Myrrh was probably added to the incense mixture to lessen the frightening effect.
By relaxing and giving pain relief, myrrh effectively takes away the panic that may ensue from deprivation of oxygen. The following Commiphora species are commonly found in incense:
- Guggul (Commiphora wightii)
- Somalian Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
- Opoponax (Commiphora opoponax)
Joss sticks and other incense sticks also work in the same way, although the amount of smoke given off is often not enough on its own to give you a spiritual experience. If however, one combines the oxygen deprivation potential of smoke with the pain and nervous sensation deprivation from myrrh, then combine it with some chanting or repetitive mantras, or if you prefer some gentle drumming at the beat of your heart – you have a very effective combination.
Incense sticks, like those shown here, slowly release aromatic smoke when burned, thus over time quite an accumulation of smoke can be produced in an ill ventilated room.
Myrrh is used in the production of Fernet Branca, as we have seen, and it is my suspicion that Fernet branca is a derivative of Theriac. There is no one recipe for Fernet branca, much as there was not one recipe for Theriac and if you glance at the observations and Janice's experiments with Fernet Branca using herself as a guineau pig, the composition and tastes are different betweeen 'brands/varieties/countries'.
In Chinese medicine, myrrh is combined with such herbs as notoginseng, safflower stamens, Angelica sinensi, , cinnamon, and Salvia miltiorrhiza, usually in alcohol, and used both internally and externally.
Ayurvedic medicine also has 'recipes' for its use.
Myrrh can also be ‘smoked’ in the same way in which opium is ‘smoked’ – so in other words vapourised and inhaled.
I am not going to be too specific as it depends what is wrong with you as to whether it is used internally, externally and in what doses.
Now for the realities.
Dr Duke [see observation] has established that myrrh is anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. His research is further borne out by additional research undertaken with selected bacteria and selected fungus and selected parasites [also see the observations].
There also seems to be a synergistic effect that takes place between frankincense and myrrh when some pathogens are encountered. BUT myrrh appears to be quite indiscriminatory in its destruction of bacteria, as such it COULD DESTROY YOUR GUT BACTERIA if ingested - your intestinal flora. There is one paper I have provided where myrrh was tested against one of our 'friendly' bacteria and it went the way of all the others - gone on the petri dish - killed.
In effect, myrrh acts like a broad brush antibiotic, and anti-fungal agent. In very very severe cases of bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection, it may be an essential remedy. I have found one case study of a man dying of metastatic cancer who was saved using myrrh, in effect drastic measures were needed for drastic disease.
And more research is starting to appear. In cases where IBS is caused by infection of bacteria or parasites or fungi that the immune system cannot shift, it may also be helpful. But, there will then have to be a period where the flora are helped to re-establish themselves.
Since antiquity, the genus Commiphora ... has been exploited as a natural drug to treat pain, skin infections, inflammatory conditions, diarrhea, and periodontal diseases. In more recent history, products derived from Commiphora myrrha and various other species of Commiphora are becoming recognized to possess significant antiseptic, anesthetic, and antitumor properties. Traditional practice and evidence-based research have supported that these properties are directly attributable to terpenoids (especially furanosesquiterpenes), the active compounds present in myrrh essential oil. More recently, current studies have focused on applying clinical trial methodologies to validate its use as an antineoplastic, an antiparasitic agent, and as an adjunct in healing wounds. PMID: 17978635
There is a real possibility that the inventors of Theriac knew this and the overall concoction was designed to support the healthy bacteria whilst killing off the unhealthy bacteria.
Note that our intestinal flora is essential in protecting us from any number of invasions from other pathogens, as such its destruction should not be taken lightly. There are bacteria and fungi as well as archaea in our intestines as such anything which has broad brush anti-fungal, anti-biotic and ant-parasitic action could have a devastating effect unless used wisely. On a more postive note, there is some evidence that some of the chemicals in myrrh may feed our friendly fungi. [ If I have understood the following correctly].
To study the biotransformation of cycloartan-24-ene-1alpha,2alpha, 3beta-triol isolated from myrrh and find new antitumor bioactive cycloartane-type derivatives....... a strain of Penicillium janthinellum was selected for preparative transform assay,.... and ther anti-proliferative effects against human prostate cancer PC3 and DU145 cells were evaluated .... Cycloartane-type triterpenoid can be bio-transformed by Penicillium janthinellum, and lead to the isolation of two new hydroxyl substituted derivatives [with anti-tumour properties].PMID: 23252274
Penicillium are fungi found in our intestines, but whether this variety is or not I don't know.
Watch this space!!!
References and further reading
Park HM, Lee JH, Yaoyao J, Jun HJ, Lee SJ. (2011). “Limonene, a natural cyclic terpene, is an agonistic ligand for adenosine A(2A) receptors.” Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 404 (1) : 345-8 PMID: 21134357
Combined use of honey, bee propolis and myrrh in healing a deep, infected wound in a patient with diabetes mellitus. - LOTFY, M; BADRA, G; BURHAM, W; ALENZI, F Q (2006) British Journal of Biomedical Science
Furanoeudesma-1,3-diene, A sesqiterpene from myrrh is a specific agonist of opiod delta receptors - P. Dolara, C. Luceri, M. Lodovici, C. Ghelardini, S. Aiolli and M.N. Romanelli; Pharmacological Research
Local Anaesthetic, Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties of Sesquiterpenes from Myrrh - Piero Dolara, Barbara Corte, Carla Ghelardini, Anna Maria Pugliese, Elisabetta Cerbai, Stefano Menichetti, Antonella Lo Nostro- Department of Pharmacology & Department of Organic Chemistry, University of Florence, Italy
- A review of the efficacy of traditional Iranian medicine for inflammatory bowel disease 012775
- An update review on Commiphora molmol and related species 027538
- Anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of individual and combined extracts from Commiphora myrrha [myrrh], and Boswellia carterii [frankincense] 012774
- Antibacterial activity of resin rich plant extracts 012772
- Antiplasmodial potential of traditional phytotherapy of some remedies used in treatment of malaria in Meru-Tharaka Nithi County of Kenya 019172
- Dioscorides and De Materia Medica - Myrrh and toothache 018081
- Dr Duke on Myrrh [Commiphora myrrha] 012768
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antiklebsiellic activity 018432
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Antipseudomonic Activity 020192
- Efficacy of Myrrh in the treatment of schistosomiasis 012760
- Myrrh as a treatment for liver fluke 012762
- Myrrh as an anthelmintic 012761
- The additive and synergistic antimicrobial effects of select frankincense and myrrh oils--a combination from the pharaonic pharmacopoeia 012773
- The Lancet - Theriac in antiquity 012766
- Thirty days of Fernet Branca: An experiment in healthy living 012770
- Traditional medicine practices among community members with chronic kidney disease in northern Tanzania: an ethnomedical survey 020984
- Using Myrrh to treat parasites 012759
- Wall Street Journal - The principle of theriac 012767
Wisdom, Inspiration, Divine love & Bliss
- Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Politics - The wise man needs no army 012763
- Esther 2 King James Version (KJV) 012769
- Song of Solomon 1 000335
- Song of Solomon 3 008134
- Song of Solomon 4 008135
- Song of Solomon 5 008136
- The First Epistle of Clement 012764
- Vaughan, Henry - from Unprofitableness 012765