Myrrh

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

Myrrh ( /mɜːr/ ; from Semitic, 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 posca or wine was common across ancient cultures, for general pleasure and as an analgesic. [2]

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 wound on a tree penetrates through the bark and into the sapwood, the tree secretes a resin. Myrrh gum, like frankincense, is such a resin. Myrrh is harvested by repeatedly wounding the trees to bleed the gum, which 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. [3]

Myrrh gum is commonly harvested from the species Commiphora myrrha . Another commonly used name, Commiphora molmol , [4] is now considered a synonym of Commiphora myrrha. [5]

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 bdellium (including guggul and African bdellium), balsam (balm of Gilead or Mecca balsam) and opopanax (bisabol).

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, [6] 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 Arabic مُرّmurr and Aramaic ܡܪܝܪܐmurr . Its name entered the English language from the Hebrew Bible, where it is called מורmor, and later as a Semitic loanword [7] 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. [8] 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. [9]

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. [10]

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 is thought to move the qi , making it used 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. [11]

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. [12] [13]

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 were 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. [14] Myrrh was used by the ancient Egyptians, along with natron, for the embalming of mummies. [15]

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 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 Southern Arabia to their capital city of Petra, from which it was distributed throughout the Mediterranean region. [16]

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 hadith of Muhammad, narrated by Abu Nuaim on the authority of Abban bin Saleh bin Anas, Muhammad said, "Fumigate your houses with mugwort, myrrh and thyme." (Kanz-ul-Ummal). [17] The Encyclopedia of Islamic Herbal Medicine mentions the same hadith: "The Messenger of Allah stated, 'Fumigate your houses with al-shih, murr, and sa'tar.'" The author states that this use of the word "murr" refers specifically to Commiphora myrrha. [18] 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". [19] 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

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.

Frankincense Aromatic 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 Unknown biblical substance used in incense

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.

Labdanum

Labdanum, also called ladanum, ladan or ladanon, is a sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs Cistus ladanifer and Cistus creticus, species of rockrose. It was historically used in herbal medicine and is still used in the preparation of some perfumes and vermouths.

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

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. Australasia, and the Americas.

Balm of Gilead

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

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. Other named sources for the resin are India, Arabia, Media, and Babylon.

Kyphi is a compound incense that was used in ancient Egypt for religious and medical purposes.

<i>Commiphora</i>

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

In India, incense sticks, also called Agarbatti, are a large part of the economy and many religions in the region.

<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>

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, meaning bitter. It is the gum of the myrrh tree. Its oil is called oleoresin. It famously comes from Mecca, so it is called 'Mur Makki'.

<i>Commiphora gileadensis</i>

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 Unknown biblical substance used in incense

Stacte and nataph are names used for one component of the Solomon's Temple incense, the Ketoret, specified in the Book of Exodus. 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 (perfumery)

Opopanax is the commercial name of bisabol or bissabol, the fragrant gum resin of Commiphora guidottii. It has been a major export article from Somalia since ancient times, and is called hebbakhade, habaghadi or habak hadi in Somali. It is an important ingredient in perfumery and therefore known as scented myrrh, perfumed myrrh or perfumed bdellium.

Myrrh is a natural gum or resin extracted from a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora.

References

  1. Rice, Patty C., Amber: Golden Gem of the Ages, Author House, Bloomington, 2006 p.321
  2. Pliny the Elder [-79 CE], trans. John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley, "Wines Drunk by the Ancient Romans", The Natural History [c. 77 CE], book 14, ch. 15. London: H.G. Bohn, 1855. 253. Available online at books.google.com/books?id=A0EMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA253
  3. Caspar Neumann, William Lewis, The chemical works of Caspar Neumann, M.D.,2nd Ed., Vol 3, London, 1773 p.55
  4. Newnes, G., ed., Chambers's encyclopædia, Volume 9, 1959
  5. The Plant List. 2013. Version 1.1. Published on the Internet: http://www.theplantlist.org/. Accessed on February 24, 2014.
  6. 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."
  7. Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, The University of Haifa, Carta, Jerusalem, p.380
  8. "Species Information". www.worldagroforestrycentre.org. Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  9. "ICS-UNIDO – MAPs". www.ics.trieste.it. Archived from the original on 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2009-01-16.
  10. 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. S2CID   2097777.
  11. 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.
  12. Michael Moore Materia Medica
  13. Tillotson, A., Chrysalis Natural Medicine Clinic, Myrrh Gum (Commiphora myrrha) Archived 2007-06-14 at the Wayback Machine
  14. S.Wachsmann, (2008) "Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant" - Page 19
  15. Fritze, Ronald H. "New worlds: The great voyages of discovery 1400-1600". Sutton Publishing Limited, 2002, p. 25.
  16. J. W. Eadie, J. P. Oleson (1986) "The Water-Supply Systems of Nabatean and Roman Ḥumayma", Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
  17. Myrrh ~ مر مكي
  18. Morrow, Joh A. "Encyclopedia of Islamic Herbal Medicine". Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011, p. 145.
  19. The visitor or monthly instructor. Religious Tract Society. 1837. pp. 35–. Retrieved 9 May 2013.

Further reading