Myrrh (pronounced /ËˆmÉœr/) is the aromatic oleoresin of a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora, which grow in dry, stony soil. An oleoresin is a natural blend of an essential oil and a resin. Myrrh resin is a natural gum.
When a tree wound penetrates through the bark and into the sapwood, the tree bleeds 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.
Myrrh gum is commonly harvested from the species Commiphora myrrha, which is native to Yemen, Somalia, and eastern Ethiopia. Another farmed species is C. momol. The related Commiphora gileadensis, native to Eastern Mediterranean and particularly the Arabian Peninsula, is the biblically referenced Balm of Gilead, also known as Balsam of Mecca. Several other species yield bdellium and Indian myrrh.
The oleo gum resins of a number of other Commiphora and Balsamodendron species are also used as perfumes, medicines (such as aromatic wound dressings), and incense ingredients. A lesser quality myrrh is bled from the tree Commiphora erythraea. Commiphora gileadensis (syn C. opobalsamum) oleo gum resin is known as Opopinax, a name it shares with the gum resin bled from a species of parsnip, Pastincea opobalsamum.
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 tumors.
Its 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.
Myrrh (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.
In pharmacy, myrrh is used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes, gargles, and toothpastes for prevention and treatment of gum disease. Myrrh is currently used in some liniments and healing salves that may be applied to abrasions and other minor skin ailments. Myrrh has also been recommended as an analgesic for toothaches, and can be used in liniment for bruises, aches, and sprains.
Mechanisms of action
In an attempt to determine the cause of its effectiveness, researchers examined the individual ingredients of a herbal formula used traditionally by Kuwaiti diabetics to lower blood glucose. Myrrh and aloe gums effectively improved glucose tolerance in both normal and diabetic rats.
Myrrh was shown to produce analgesic effects on mice which were subjected to pain. Researchers at the University of Florence showed that furanoeudesma-1,3-diene and another terpene in the myrrh affect opioid receptors in the mouse's brain which influence pain perception.
Myrrh has been shown to lower cholesterol LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, as well as to increase the HDL (good cholesterol) in various tests on humans done in the past few decades. One recent (2009) documented laboratory test showed this same effect on albino rats.