Myrrh (Commiphora molmol specifically, but also C. africana, C. erythracea, C. madagascariensis, C. myrrha, and C. schimperi)
Myrrh (Commiphora molmol specifically, but also C. africana, C. erythracea, C. madagascariensis, C. myrrha, and C. schimperi) in the torchwood family (Burseraceae) are perennial trees and shrubs with gray-white bark, native to Northeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.1,2,3 The Commiphora species exude a resin or gum, also called myrrh, either naturally or from incisions made in the bark, that is collected for medicinal and consumer use.1,2,3
History and Traditional Use
Myrrh gum has been used in Middle Eastern medicine for treatment of infected wounds and digestive and bronchial complaints for over a thousand years. 4 It was also used as an embalming agent in the Middle East and Africa.4 It is mentioned in the earliest Jewish and Christian holy texts, and is a primary ingredient in incense used for religious rituals.5 Myrrh has been used as a stimulant, antiseptic, to prevent spasms, to induce menstrual flow, and to stimulate digestion.1 It has been used for many conditions such as cancer, leprosy, ulcers, sore throat, coughs, asthma, foul breath, gum disease, and loose teeth. From the seventh century forward, myrrh has been used in Chinese medicine for bleeding hemorrhoids, menstrual difficulties, sores, tumors, and arthritic pain.1
Modern Medicinal Use
The topical use of myrrh is approved by the German Commission E for minor inflammations of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat.6 A tincture of myrrh is used in many dental remedies, mouthwashes and ointments.7 The British Herbal Compendium lists myrrh as beneficial in treating sore throat and tonsillitis, as a mouthwash for ulcers and gum disease, and externally for skin inflammations.8 It is reported to have antimicrobial activities as well as astringent properties on mucous membranes.1 In Saudi Arabia and eastern Africa, myrrh is used as an anti-inflammatory and rheumatism treatment.9 In France, the topical use is approved for nasal congestion caused by the common cold, and infections of the mouth and throat.10
Modern Consumer Use
Myrrh is used as an astringent in many mouthwashes and gargles.1 The oil is a fragrance component in soaps, detergents, perfumes, and creams. Myrrh can be found in balms to treat chapped lips, and in products used externally for wounds, hemorrhoids, and sores. Myrrh is used as a fragrance and fixative in cosmetics, and as a flavoring component in foods and beverages.1
1 Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley-Interscience; 1996.
2 Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
3 Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Honest Herbal. 4nd ed. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Herbal Press; 2000.
4 Bown D. Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. New York: DK Publishing, Inc. 1995.
5 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1979.
6 Blumenthal M et al. The Complete German Commission E Monographs&emdash;Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998
7 Wichtl M, ed., Brinckmann JA, Lindenmaier MP, trans. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart: Medpharm Scientific Publishers; 2004.
8 Bradley PR, ed. British Herbal Compendium. Vol 1. Bournemouth: British Herbal Medicine Association; 1992.
9 Iwu MM. Handbook of African Medicinal Plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1990.
10 Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.