What is myrrh?
Myrrh isn’t only a gift given in olden times. Even though it can’t compare to gold in value, it has many surprisingly valuable uses.
Myrrh is an oily sap that comes from the bark of Commiphora trees. Species of Commiphora grow in tropical or subtropical places like Somalia and Ethiopia.
Myrrh and the commonly associated frankincense have popular uses around the world. Some cultures have used incense made from the saps for religious or cultural ceremonies. For example, Egyptians often used myrrh as part of the mummification process. Other cultures focus on herbal medicine and use the saps for medical treatments.
Forms of myrrh
Myrrh is a sap, but it can be processed into different forms.
Most high-quality myrrh is crumbly and dry. Chunks of dried myrrh are commonly used as incense.
Besides making everything smell good, one of myrrh’s functions as incense was to purify the air. This was prescient since scientists now know about myrrh’s antibacterial properties.
Essential oils are one of the primary chemical agents in myrrh, which means the oils have the most potent benefits. Oils have a wider variety of uses than some other forms of myrrh.
These oils are the subject of much research. Many myrrh products are also made using myrrh essential oil.
The basic forms of myrrh are used to make several other products like creams, mouthwashes, and chewable gums. Myrrh also appears in embalmers, cosmetics, scents, and flavorings.
It’s a water-soluble sap, so you can even melt it down into your tea or coffee if you’d like to!
What does myrrh smell and taste like?
Humans have used myrrh for thousands of years as incense, and now it appears in mouthwashes and chewable gums, so it must taste good.
Myrrh is resin, the sap from a tree, and the flavors reflect that. Myrrh has flavors and scents reminiscent of:
Myrrh pairs well with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. It’s also often combined with frankincense because the latter has a citrusy and bright profile.
Benefits of myrrh
Myrrh and frankincense are regarded as having medicinal powers in Eastern cultures. Traditional medicine has used myrrh and frankincense to treat:
Even so, scientists haven’t taken a close look at myrrh until more recently.
Myrrh’s essential oils (MEO) demonstrate effective antibacterial effects. Research has also shown that some bacteria that become resistant to other antibiotics don’t develop a resistance to myrrh.
Myrrh is especially effective against the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, killing 99.59% of this bacteria after 2 hours of contact. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is one of the species that is most likely to infect humans, typically following surgery.
Its antibacterial qualities play a role in myrrh’s ability to encourage wound healing.
Myrrh has properties that help your body heal. This benefit was demonstrated in a study on tooth extractions.
The study population had some of their teeth extracted. One group used a saline mouthwash following the extractions, and the other group used a myrrh extract as a mouthwash.
The group using myrrh experienced less edema and tenderness around the socket. After a week of recovery, the myrrh group displayed much less inflammation than the saline mouthwash group.
MEO and oils from frankincense possess anticancer benefits. Mixtures of the two were tested, but myrrh on its own had much higher anticancer effects.
There may be a few reasons for this effect. For one, apoptosis is the process of cells dying naturally over the course of your life, and studies show that Myrrh promotes and induces apoptosis in cancer cells.
Myrrh also contains β-elemene, a chemical with anticancer properties. β-elemene appears in many anticancer drugs.
These benefits have not gone unnoticed. Xihuang pills are a popular anticancer medicine in China that contains myrrh and frankincense. They’re regularly used to treat:
Myrrh’s side effects
Overdosing on any medication, natural or otherwise, can have dangerous side effects. Myrrh is no exception.
A myrrh overdose may cause inflammation. In fact, taking myrrh long-term or in high doses can actually cause the problems it's trying to treat. Along with irritation and inflammation, your organs may suffer from myrrh toxicity. High doses of myrrh can damage your liver, kidneys, or spleen.
All in all, it’s better to exercise caution and use myrrh in moderation.
Other things to watch out for
Before buying some myrrh, here are some things to consider.
Be careful where you get myrrh
You’ll likely have to order your myrrh, so you’ll need to find a reliable distributor. Some sellers may use another tree’s resin and sap instead of myrrh.
Myrrh tends to be expensive, ranging anywhere from $7 to $24 per ounce. If you opt for cheap myrrh, it may not be myrrh at all.
Learn about complementary health
There are many options if you’re interested in complementary health. Still, bear in mind that a treatment option isn’t good for you just because it’s traditional or natural.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is a great resource for those interested in alternative medicine. Before buying myrrh, learn about complementary health and talk to your doctor.
Myrrh isn’t a cure-all
Myrrh comes in many forms, and there isn’t one type of myrrh that works for everything.
Burning incense, for instance, may not help your healing process if you have a tooth extracted. Likewise, using a myrrh mouthwash may not help your body fight cancer.
Myrrh has been used for thousands of years, and for good reason. Whether appearing as an oil, mouthwash, or gum, myrrh has many powerful benefits.
Like any other complementary health product, though, myrrh should be used with caution. Talk with your doctor before supplementing your treatments with myrrh.
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AMB Express: "Bactericidal activity of Myrrh extracts and two dosage forms against standard bacterial strains and multidrug-resistant clinical isolates with GC/MS profiling."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Healthcare Settings."
Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry: "Effects of myrrh on intra-oral mucosal wounds compared with tetracycline- and chlorhexidine-based mouthwashes."
Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine: "Subcutaneous Injection of Myrrh Essential Oil in Mice: Acute and Subacute Toxicity Study."
Illinois Extension: "The origin of frankincense and myrrh add to their special meaning."
Journal of Ethnopharmacology: "Frankincense and myrrh essential oils and burn incense fume against micro-inhabitants of sacral ambients. Wisdom of the ancients?"
Molecules: "Seeing the Unseen of the Combination of Two Natural Resins, Frankincense and Myrrh: Changes in Chemical Constituents and Pharmacological Activities."
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "What does NCCIH do?"
npr: "Scents Of The Season Speak Directly To Our Emotions."
Oncology Letters: "Composition and potential anticancer activities of essential oils obtained from myrrh and frankincense."
The Saudi Dental Journal: "Efficacy of Commiphora myrrh mouthwash on early wound healing after tooth extraction: A randomized controlled trial."
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