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Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Opopanax chironium, common names Hercules-all-heal, also known as sweet myrrh or bisabol myrrh, is a herb belonging to the family Apiaceae.  Subspecies include:

  • Opopanax chironium subsp. chironium
  • Opopanax chironium subsp. bulgaricum (Vel.) N.Andreev

It is grown for its sap, a sort of resin that has a number of uses.  But one key use for the plant as a whole is that it has metal chelating ability and is thus a useful bioremedial plant, one which is also very attractive.



Opopanax chironium is a perennial herb which grows 1–3 metres (3 ft 3 in–9 ft 10 in) high. It has a branching stem, thick and rough close to the base. Leaves are serrate, pinnate, with long petioles. It produces a large, flat, yellow inflorescence at the top of the branches.

Distribution and habitat

The plant thrives in warm climates like Iran, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Somalia, but also grows in cooler climates, though “Some view opopanax grown in cooler climates as being of inferior quality”.

Medicinal Uses

The word Opopanax, also known as opobalsam, refers to a number of gum resins (natural substances that are a mixture of water-soluble gums and alcohol-soluble resins) traditionally considered to have medicinal properties. Pliny (Historia Naturalis) and Dioscorides (De Materia Medica) described various kinds of which the resin from this plant is one.

The resin is extracted from the Opopanax plant by cutting at the base of a stem and sun-drying the juice that flows out.


It is used to make scents, incense and perfumes.  The resin is “highly flammable” but can be burned as incense to produce a scent somewhat like balsam or lavender.  Opopanax resin is most frequently sold in dried irregular pieces, though tear-shaped gems are not uncommon.

The metal chelating ability is exerted via the presence of Ferulic acid.

If you glance at the observation from Dr Duke, you will see that there are a large number of chemicals that have not yet been investigated, however, those that have been show antibacterial activity [EXTERNAL use only] and antiviral activity.  Please note this, external use only.

But of great interest is the presence of Humulene in the Essential Oil, which according to Dr Duke’s analysis shows Antimalarial IC50=86 ug/ml and  Antiplasmodial activity.  It is thus a preventative – not for consumption but to act as a deterrent.  It would be interesting to know whether simply growing the plant near human habitation acted the same way.

Another chemical – Umbelliferone – found in the Essential Oil is also antibacterial and Antimitotic 5-25 ug/ml – gets rid of mites.    So the plant as a whole is quite a useful natural insecticide.

Related observations