Myrrh

Last updated
Myrrh resin Commiphora-myrrha-resin-myrrh.jpg
Myrrh resin

Myrrh ( /mɜːr/ ; from Aramaic, but see § Etymology ) is a natural gum or resin extracted from a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora . [1] Myrrh resin has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense, and medicine. Myrrh mixed with wine can also be ingested.[ citation needed ]

Contents

Extraction and production

Commiphora myrrha tree, one of the primary trees from which myrrh is harvested Commiphora myrrha - Kohler-s Medizinal-Pflanzen-019.jpg
Commiphora myrrha tree, one of the primary trees from which myrrh is harvested

When a tree's wound penetrates through the bark and into the sapwood, the tree secretes a resin. Myrrh gum, like frankincense, is such a resin. When people harvest myrrh, they wound the trees repeatedly to bleed them of the gum. Myrrh gum is waxy and coagulates quickly. After the harvest, the gum becomes hard and glossy. The gum is yellowish and may be either clear or opaque. It darkens deeply as it ages, and white streaks emerge. [2]

Myrrh gum is commonly harvested from the species Commiphora myrrha . Another commonly used name, Commiphora molmol , [3] is now considered a synonym of Commiphora myrrha. [4]

Commiphora myrrha is native to Somalia, Oman, Yemen, Eritrea, (Somali Region) of Ethiopia and parts of Saudi Arabia. Meetiga, the trade-name of Arabian Myrrh, is more brittle and gummy than the Somali variety and does not have the latter's white markings.

The oleo gum resins of a number of other Commiphora species are also used as perfumes, medicines (such as aromatic wound dressings), and incense ingredients. These myrrh-like resins are known as opopanax, balsam, bdellium, guggul bisabol, and Indian myrrh.

Fragrant "myrrh beads" are made from the crushed seeds of Detarium microcarpum, an unrelated West African tree. These beads are traditionally worn by married women in Mali as multiple strands around the hips.

The name "myrrh" is also applied to the potherb Myrrhis odorata, otherwise known as "cicely" or "sweet cicely".

Liquid myrrh, or stacte, written about by Pliny, [5] was an ingredient of Jewish holy incense, and was formerly greatly valued but cannot now be identified in today's markets.

Etymology

The word myrrh corresponds with a common Semitic root m-r-r meaning "bitter", as in Aramaic ܡܪܝܪܐmurr and Arabic مُرّmurr. Its name entered the English language from the Hebrew Bible, where it is called מורmor, and later as a Semitic loanword [6] was used in the Greek myth of Myrrha, and later in the Septuagint; in the Ancient Greek language, the related word μῠ́ρον (múron) became a general term for perfume.

Attributed medicinal properties

Commiphora gileadensis (listed as "Balsamodendron ehrenbergianum" Balsamodendron ehrenbergianum00.jpg
Commiphora gileadensis (listed as "Balsamodendron ehrenbergianum"

Medicine

An old bottle of Tincture of Myrrh An old bottle of Tincture of Myrrh.jpg
An old bottle of Tincture of Myrrh

In pharmacy, myrrh is used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes, gargles, and toothpastes. [7] It is also used in some liniments and healing salves that may be applied to abrasions and other minor skin ailments. Myrrh has been used as an analgesic for toothaches and can be used in liniment for bruises, aches, and sprains. [8]

Myrrh is a common ingredient of tooth powders. Myrrh and borax in tincture can be used as a mouthwash. A compound tincture, or horse tincture, using myrrh is used in veterinary practice for healing wounds.

Myrrh gum is commonly claimed to remedy indigestion, ulcers, colds, cough, asthma, lung congestion, arthritis pain, and cancer. [9]

Traditional Chinese medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, myrrh is classified as bitter and spicy, with a neutral temperature. It is said to have special efficacy on the heart, liver, and spleen meridians as well as "blood-moving" powers to purge stagnant blood from the uterus. It is therefore recommended for rheumatic, arthritic, and circulatory problems, and for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menopause, and uterine tumours.

Myrrh's 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.

It is combined with such herbs as notoginseng, safflower petals, angelica sinensis, cinnamon, and salvia miltiorrhiza, usually in alcohol, and used both internally and externally. [10]

Ayurvedic medicine

Myrrh is used in Ayurveda and Unani medicine, which ascribe tonic and rejuvenative properties to the resin. It (daindhava) is used in many specially processed rasayana formulas in Ayurveda. However, non-rasayana myrrh is contraindicated when kidney dysfunction or stomach pain is apparent or for women who are pregnant or have excessive uterine bleeding.

A related species, called guggul in Ayurvedic medicine, is considered one of the best substances for the treatment of circulatory problems, nervous system disorders, and rheumatic complaints. [11] [12]

Religious ritual

In Ancient Egypt and Punt (Horn of Africa)

The 5th dynasty ruler of Egypt King Sahure recorded the earliest attested expedition to the land of Punt, modern day Horn of Africa particularly Somalia which brought back large quantities of myrrh, frankincense, malachite and electrum. Other products that were also brought back included wild animals, particularly cheetahs, the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius), giraffes and Hamadryas baboons (which was sacred to the Ancient Egyptians), ebony, ivory and animal skins. Sahure is shown celebrating the success of this venture in a relief from his mortuary temple which shows him tending a myrrh tree in the garden of his palace named "Sahure's splendor soars up to heaven". This relief is the only one in Egyptian art depicting a king gardening. [13] Myrrh was used by the ancient Egyptians, along with natron, for the embalming of mummies. [14]

In the Hebrew Bible

An essential oil extracted from myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) MyrrhEssentialOil.png
An essential oil extracted from myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)

Myrrh is mentioned as a rare perfume in several places in the Hebrew Bible. In Genesis 37:25, the Ishmaelite traders to whom Jacob's sons sold their brother Joseph had "camels ... loaded with spices, balm, and myrrh," and Exodus 30:23-25 specifies that Moses was to use 500 shekels of liquid myrrh as a core ingredient of the sacred anointing oil.

Myrrh was an ingredient of Ketoret: the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, as described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. An offering was made of the Ketoret on a special incense altar and was an important component of the temple service. Myrrh is also listed as an ingredient in the holy anointing oil used to anoint the tabernacle, high priests and kings.

Oil of myrrh is used in Esther 2:12 in a purification ritual for the new queen to King Ahasuerus:

Now when every maid's turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things for the purifying of the women).

In ancient Nabataea

Myrrh was recorded in the first century BC by Diodorus Siculus to have been traded overland and by sea via Nabatean caravans and sea ports, which transported it from indigenous Ethiopian sources in Southern Arabia to their capital city of Petra, from which it was distributed throughout the Mediterranean region. [15] .

In the New Testament

Myrrh is mentioned in the New Testament as one of the three gifts (with gold and frankincense) that the magi "from the East" presented to the Christ Child (Matthew 2:11). Myrrh was also present at Jesus' death and burial. Jesus was offered wine and myrrh at his crucifixion (Mark 15:23). According to John's Gospel, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea brought a 100-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes to wrap Jesus' body (John 19:39). The Gospel of Matthew relates that as Jesus went to the cross, he was given vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink (Matthew 27:34); the Gospel of Mark describes the drink as wine mingled with myrrh (Mark 15:23).

In contemporary Christianity

Because of its mention in the New Testament, myrrh is an incense offered during some Christian liturgical celebrations (see Thurible). Liquid myrrh is sometimes added to egg tempera in the making of icons. Myrrh is mixed with frankincense and sometimes more scents and is used in almost every service of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, traditional Roman Catholic, and Anglican/Episcopal churches.

Myrrh is also used to prepare the sacramental chrism used by many churches of both Eastern and Western rites. In the Middle East, the Eastern Orthodox Church traditionally uses oil scented with myrrh (and other fragrances) to perform the sacrament of chrismation, which is commonly referred to as "receiving the Chrism".

In Islam

According to the Encyclopedia of Islamic Herbal Medicine, "The Messenger of Allah stated, 'Fumigate your houses with al-shih, murr, and sa'tar.'" The author claims that this use of the word "murr" refers specifically to Commiphora myrrha. [16] The other two are Al-Shih (possibly mugwort) and Sa'tar (or Za'atar - thyme).

Ancient myrrh

Modern myrrh has long been commented on as coming from a different source to that held in high regard by the ancients, having been superior in some way. Pedanius Dioscorides described the myrrh of the first century AD as most likely to refer to a "species of mimosa", describing it "like the Egyptian thorn". He describes its appearance and leaf structure as "spinnate-winged". [17] The ancient type of myrrh conjectured was noted for possessing a far more delightful odor than the modern.

See also

Related Research Articles

Resin solid or highly viscous substance of plant or synthetic origin

In polymer chemistry and materials science, resin is a solid or highly viscous substance of plant or synthetic origin that is typically convertible into polymers. Resins are usually mixtures of organic compounds. This article focuses on naturally occurring resins.

Incense aromatic biotic material which releases fragrant smoke when burned

Incense is aromatic biotic material that releases fragrant smoke when burned. The term refers to the material itself, rather than to the aroma that it produces. Incense is used for aesthetic reasons, aromatherapy, meditation, and ceremony. It may also be used as a simple deodorant or insect repellent.

Frankincense resin from Boswellia trees

Frankincense is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes, obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia in the family Burseraceae, particularly Boswellia sacra, B. carterii, B. frereana, B. serrata, and B. papyrifera. The word is from Old French franc encens.

Balsam list of plants with the same or similar names

Balsam is the resinous exudate which forms on certain kinds of trees and shrubs. Balsam owes its name to the biblical Balm of Gilead.

Onycha

Onycha, along with equal parts of stacte, galbanum, and frankincense, was one of the components of the consecrated Ketoret (incense) which appears in the Torah book of Exodus (Ex.30:34-36) and was used in the Jerusalem's Solomon's Temple. This formula was to be incorporated as an incense, and was not to be duplicated for non-sacred use. What the onycha of antiquity actually was cannot be determined with certainty. The original Hebrew word used for this component of the ketoret was שחלת, shecheleth, which means "to roar; as a lion " or “peeling off by concussion of sound." Shecheleth is related to the Syriac shehelta which is translated as “a tear, distillation, or exudation.” In Aramaic, the root SHCHL signifies “retrieve.” When the Torah was translated into Greek the Greek word “onycha” ονυξ, which means "fingernail" or "claw," was substituted for shecheleth.

Benzoin (resin)

Benzoin or benjamin is a balsamic resin obtained from the bark of several species of trees in the genus Styrax. It is used in perfumes, some kinds of incense, as a flavoring, and medicine. It is distinct from the chemical compound benzoin, which is ultimately derived from benzoin resin; the resin, however, does not contain this compound.

Burseraceae family of plants

The Burseraceae are a moderate-sized family of 17-19 genera and about 540 species of flowering plants. The actual numbers differ according to the time period in which a given source is written describing this family. The Burseraceae are also known as the torchwood family, the frankincense and myrrh family, or simply the incense tree family. The family includes both trees and shrubs, and is native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Storax balsam resin from the genus liquidambar

Storax, often commercially sold as styrax, is a natural resin isolated from the wounded bark of Liquidambar orientalis Mill. and Liquidambar styraciflua L. (Hamamelidaceae). It is distinct from benzoin, a similar resin obtained from the Styracaceae plant family.

Balm of Gilead historical perfume used medicinally, of herbal origin

Balm of Gilead was a rare perfume used medicinally, that was mentioned in the Bible, and named for the region of Gilead, where it was produced. The expression stems from William Tyndale's language in the King James Bible of 1611, and has come to signify a universal cure in figurative speech. The tree or shrub producing the balm is commonly identified as Commiphora gileadensis. Some botanical scholars have concluded that the actual source was a terebinth tree in the genus Pistacia.

Bdellium semi-transparent oleo-gum resin extracted from Commiphora wightii and from Commiphora africana trees

Bdellium, also bdellion, is a semi-transparent oleo-gum resin extracted from Commiphora wightii of India and from Commiphora africana trees growing in Ethiopia, Eritrea and sub-saharan Africa. According to Pliny the best quality came from Bactria. Also named as sources for the resin are India, Arabia, Media and Babylon.

Galbanum gum resin

Galbanum is an aromatic gum resin and a product of certain umbelliferous Persian plant species in the genus Ferula, chiefly Ferula gummosa and Ferula rubricaulis. Galbanum-yielding plants grow plentifully on the slopes of the mountain ranges of northern Iran. It occurs usually in hard or soft, irregular, more or less translucent and shining lumps, or occasionally in separate tears, of a light-brown, yellowish or greenish-yellow colour, and has a disagreeable, bitter taste, a peculiar, somewhat musky odour, an intense green scent, and a specific gravity of 1.212. It contains about 8% terpenes; about 65% of a resin which contains sulfur; about 20% gum; and a very small quantity of the colorless crystalline substance umbelliferone. It also contains α-pinene, β-pinene, limonene, cadinene, 3-carene, and ocimene.

<i>Commiphora</i> genus of plants

The genus of the myrrhs, Commiphora, is the most species-rich genus of flowering plants in the frankincense and myrrh family, Burseraceae. The genus contains approximately 190 species of shrubs and trees, which are distributed throughout the (sub-) tropical regions of Africa, the western Indian Ocean islands, the Arabian Peninsula, India, and Vietnam. The genus is drought-tolerant and common throughout the xerophytic scrub, seasonally dry tropical forests, and woodlands of these regions.

Incense in India

India is the world's main incense producing country, and is a healthy exporter to other countries. Incense burning has taken place in India for thousands of years, and India exported the idea to China and Japan, and other Asian countries.

<i>Commiphora wightii</i> Species of plant

Commiphora wightii, with common names Indian bdellium-tree, gugal, guggul, gugul, or Mukul myrrh tree, is a flowering plant in the family Burseraceae, which produces a fragrant resin called gugal, guggul or gugul, that is used in incense and vedic medicine. The guggul plant may be found from northern Africa to central Asia, but is most common in northern India. It prefers arid and semi-arid climates and is tolerant of poor soil.

<i>Commiphora myrrha</i> species of plant

Commiphora myrrha, called myrrh, African myrrh, herabol myrrh, Somali myrrhor, common myrrh, or gum myrrh is a tree in the Burseraceae family. It is one of the primary trees used in the production of myrrh, a resin made from dried tree sap. The tree is native to the Arabian peninsula and to Africa .It is called 'mur' (المر) in Arabic, the word means bitter, it is a gum of a myrrh tree and the gum shares the same name. Its oil is very famous & called Oleoresin. It is very famous from Mecca, so it is called 'Mur Makki'. It is anti bacterial, anti fungal, anti pest and can be used for fumigation or oral uses. It has been used as an astringent, antiseptic, anti parasitic, anti tissive, emmenagogue, and antispasmodic agent. It was commonly included in mixtures used to treat worms, wounds, and sepsis. In Hadees it is mentioned to fumigate with it & it has been found that it is very helpful in fumigation.

<i>Commiphora gileadensis</i> species of plant

Commiphora gileadensis, the Arabian balsam tree, is a shrub species in the genus Commiphora growing in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, southern Oman, Sudan and in southeast Egypt where it may have been introduced. Other common names for the plant include balm of Gilead and Mecca myrrh, but this is due to historical confusion between several plants and the historically important expensive perfumes and drugs obtained from them. True balm of Gilead was very rare, and appears to have been produced from the unrelated tree Pistacia lentiscus. This species also used to include Commiphora foliacea however it was identified and described as a separate species

Religious use of incense has its origins in antiquity. The burned incense may be intended as a symbolic or sacrificial offering to various deities or spirits, or to serve as an aid in prayer.

Stacte

Stacte and nataph are names used for one component of the Solomon's Temple incense, the Ketoret, specified in Exodus 30:34. Variously translated to the Greek term or to an unspecified "gum resin" or similar, it was to be mixed in equal parts with onycha, galbanum and mixed with pure frankincense and they were to "beat some of it very small" for burning on the altar of the tabernacle.

Incense offering Offering on the altar of incense in the time of the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temple period

The incense offering in Judaism was related to perfumed offerings on the altar of incense in the time of the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temple period, and was an important component of priestly liturgy in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Opopanax or opoponax, refers to a kind of gum resin obtained from a plant called πάνακες, traditionally considered to have medicinal properties. Pliny and Dioscorides described various kinds of Panaces with uncertain identifications. However, according to Dioscorides, opopanax was obtained from a kind of Panaces named πάνακες Ἡράκλειον, which has been identified as Opopanax chironium, Opopanax hispidus and species of Heracleum.

References

  1. Rice, Patty C., Amber: Golden Gem of the Ages, Author House, Bloomington, 2006 p.321
  2. Caspar Neumann, William Lewis, The chemical works of Caspar Neumann, M.D.,2nd Ed., Vol 3, London, 1773 p.55
  3. Newnes, G., ed., Chambers's encyclopædia, Volume 9, 1959
  4. The Plant List. 2013. Version 1.1. Published on the Internet: http://www.theplantlist.org/. Accessed on February 24, 2014.
  5. Pliny the Elder with Bostock, John and Riley, Henry Thomas, trans. (1855) The Natural History of Pliny. London, England, UK: Henry G. Bohn. vol. 3, Book 12, Chapters 33–35, pp. 129–132. From Ch. 35, p. 130: "The [myrrh] tree spontaneously exudes, before the incision is made, a liquid which bears the name of stacte, and to which there is no myrrh that is superior."
  6. Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, The University of Haifa, Carta, Jerusalem, p.380
  7. "Species Information". www.worldagroforestrycentre.org. Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  8. "ICS-UNIDO – MAPs". www.ics.trieste.it. Retrieved 2009-01-16.[ permanent dead link ]
  9. Al Faraj, S (2005). "Antagonism of the anticoagulant effect of warfarin caused by the use of Commiphora molmol as a herbal medication: A case report". Annals of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology. 99 (2): 219–20. doi:10.1179/136485905X17434. PMID   15814041.
  10. Tierra, Michael (June 3, 2019). "The Emmenagogues: Herbs that move blood and relieve pain: Myrrh". East West School of Planetary Herbology. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  11. Michael Moore Materia Medica
  12. Tillotson, A., Chrysalis Natural Medicine Clinic, Myrrh Gum (Commiphora myrrha)
  13. S.Wachsmann, (2008) "Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant" - Page 19
  14. Fritze, Ronald H. "New worlds: The great voyages of discovery 1400-1600". Sutton Publishing Limited, 2002, p. 25.
  15. J. W. Eadie, J. P. Oleson (1986) "The Water-Supply Systems of Nabatean and Roman Ḥumayma", Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
  16. Morrow, Joh A. "Encyclopedia of Islamic Herbal Medicine". Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011, p. 145.
  17. The visitor or monthly instructor. Religious Tract Society. 1837. pp. 35–. Retrieved 9 May 2013.

Further reading