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Myrrh is an aromatic gum resin that contains an oleoresin essential oil and originates from the sap of certain tree species of the genus Commiphora. Myrrh is primarily derived from Commiphora myrrha, a large shrub or small tree commonly known as the African Myrrh, Herabol Myrrh, Somali Myrrh, or Common Myrrh, which is native to the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen and Oman) and Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and northeast Kenya). The pale-yellow gum resin exudes naturally from the stems and hardens as it dries in the air and sun, but the flow can be accelerated by wounding the tree. A related species, Commiphora gileadensis, the Mecca Myrrh or Arabian Balsam tree grows in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, southern Oman and southeast Egypt. Another related species, Commiphora erythraea, produces Opopanax, a gum resin sometimes called Sweet Myrrh or Bisabol Myrrh.
Myrrh is sold as in clear or opaque yellow pea size lumps that are waxy and glossy. As Myrrh ages, it can darken to a brown or even black colour and white streaks can appear. Myrrh from the Arabian Peninsula is more brittle and gummy than Myrrh from Africa and does not have the latter’s white markings. Myrrh has been valued since antiquity for its pleasant fragrance.
Myrrh is used in wound dressings, liniments and healing salves to treat abrasions, bruises and minor skin ailments, as well as helping to relieve arthritis, sprains, aches and pains. It is also used as an antiseptic in mouthwash, toothpaste and other oral hygiene and dental care products, as well as an analgesic for toothache. Myrrh gum can be ingested to treat coughs and colds, asthma and lung congestion, indigestion and ulcers, and is believed to inhibit certain types of cancers and tumours.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Myrrh is used to treat conditions related to the heart, liver and spleen, as well as blood circulation. It is recommended for arthritic, rheumatic, and circulatory problems, period pains and menstrual problems, the menopause and tumours of the uterus. Myrrh is often combined with Frankincense or herbs.
Traditionally, Myrrh has been used as a general tonic and was believed to have rejuvenating properties. It may help to lower blood glucose and improve glucose tolerance in diabetics. It may also lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels as well increasing HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels.
Myrrh is used as incense, particularly in churches, as well as an ingredient in anointing oil for religious ceremonies, often mixed with Frankincense. Myrrh has also been used as a fumigant.
In the Personal Care industry, Myrrh is used in the manufacture of perfume and as a scent in toiletries.