Monday, July 23, 2012

Myrrh-The Bitter Aromatic

 “Myrrh” is both Arabic and Hebrew for “Bitter.” Actually, it’s “Murr,” a small step away, but still recognizable. Actually again, it’s originally Aramaic.

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) belongs to to the eccentric and crusty tribe of tree-borne gum oleoresin exudates who happily dwell in the remoter areas of the Arabian Peninsula and African Horn. There are many families who belong to the Myrrh tribe, including Balm of Gilead and Sweet Myrrh (opoponax) and others. But Myrrh, meaning, “myrrh,” is found in Yemen and Somalia, and even then it’s pretty restricted--to Yemen from roughly Hadramawt west to Aden, and to Somaliland. There are supposed to be a few stragglers in Oman, near Dhalkut, on the road to Yemen, but I haven’t seen them yet.  Am still waiting for my friend (ahem, Mohammed) to show them to me.  All the myrrh I work with in Salalah comes from the Somali coast.

Here is a nice description from Guido Majno’s The Healing Hand--Man and Wound in the Ancient World:Myrrh is tapped from a scraggy, unfriendly tree of ‘crippled appearance,’ with a grey-white bark, and usually gathered from thickets not over three metres high. It is leafless most of the year, and its rough branches end in thorns. The bark tends to crack spontaneously letting the myrrh trickle out even without man-made wounds.”

Myrrh has been used and known, trusted and loved for thousands of years; by the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans and of course, the locals. Sure, myrrh is aromatic, but the answer doesn’t lie just with a pretty smell. Myrrh doesn’t even smell all that pretty--myrrh smells serious. Myrrh smells useful. Myrrh smells like the aromatic in charge of the medical ward. Myrrh is the doctor sleeping on the cot in the maintenance room. Myrrh is not really for flouncing about with a burner, dancing through the hallways and smoking up your scarf. Myrrh is all about stopping infection. Killing microbes. Healing an ulcer. Myrrh is the cool and rational voice in the corridor, the plan of action, the Samurai warrior.

Why has myrrh always been at the head of the group of aromatic plant medicines? First of all, it’s temping and maybe correct to assume that a plant’s natural actions will be mimicked when used on humans. Oozing out of the tree? Use on oozing wounds of course. And myrrh smells, and doesn’t decay, so this is logically something you want to impart to a wound, n’est pas? It seems to work, and this is probably the main reason why even today we see myrrh as an antiseptic ingredient in toothpastes, mouthwashes, balms, and liniments.

Myrrh is an antiseptic and is useful in for abrasions, cuts, minor burns, and the like. Myrrh also has some analgesic properties and so will help with sprains and bruises.

There is some talk about myrrh being beneficial for diabetics as it can lower blood glucose levels but apparently it also does this non-diabetics so if you are taking a lot of myrrh internally, keep this side effect in mind. However, it has been shown to lower cholesterol LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, and to increase the HDL (good cholesterol) in various tests on humans done in the past few decades.

Just putting it out there....

Some Fun Religious Tidbits

Myrrh was one of the gifts of the Magi to the newborn baby Jesus, and was also a key ingredient in “mummy blends”, as in embalming the dead.  I think those are the two most famous myrrh attributes, but there is more!

Myrrh was an ingredient in “Ketoret” incense, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem, according to the Torah and Talmud.

Myrrh is also offered, as an incense, during Christian liturgical celebrations, sometimes mixed with frankincense and other aromatics. It’s also used in the sacramental oils for both chrismation and unction, in the Eastern Orthodox Church

And meanwhile, in other medical systems......

Traditional Chinese Medicine classifies myrrh as bitter and spicy, neutral temperature. Uses are similar to frankincense. But myrrh moves the blood, while frankincense moves the chi.

Ayurveda considers myrrh (daindhava) to have tonic and rejuvenative properties. It’s contra-indicated for pregnant women, those with uterine bleeding, kidney dysfunction or stomach pain.

Western Allopathic Medicine. Here’s some stuff I found on WebMD, which I find surprising, even though it’s super cautious, because it seems to acknowledge myrrh’s efficacy. Most of the warnings seem to be about oral doses. This is a direct quote from WebMD:

“MYRRH Side Effects & Safety

Myrrh seems safe for most people when used in small amounts. It can cause some side effects such as skin rash if applied directly to the skin, and diarrhea if taken by mouth.
Large doses may be UNSAFE. Amounts greater than 2-4 grams can cause kidney irritation and heart rate changes.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Taking myrrh by mouth during pregnancy is UNSAFE and should be avoided. Myrrh can stimulate the uterus and might cause a miscarriage. There isn’t enough information to rate the safety of using myrrh on the skin during pregnancy, so until more is known, it’s best to avoid this use. Breast-feeding mothers should also avoid using myrrh. Not enough is known about the safety of using myrrh when breast-feeding.

Diabetes: Myrrh might lower blood sugar. There is a concern that if it is used along with medications that lower blood sugar, blood sugar might drop too low. If you use myrrh as well as medications for diabetes, monitor your blood sugar carefully.

Fever: Myrrh might make a fever worse. Use with caution.

Heart problems: Large amounts of myrrh can affect heart rate. If you have a heart condition, get your healthcare provider’s advice before starting myrrh.

: Since myrrh might affect blood glucose levels, there is a concern that it might interfere with blood glucose control during and after surgery. Stop using myrrh at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Systemic inflammation: If you have systemic inflammation, use myrrh with caution, since it might make this condition worse.

Uterine bleeding
: Myrrh seems to be able to stimulate uterine bleeding, which is why some women use it to start their menstrual periods. If you have a uterine bleeding condition, use myrrh with caution, since it might make this condition worse.

MYRRH Overview Information

Myrrh is used for indigestion, ulcers, colds, cough, asthma, lung congestion, arthritis pain, cancer, leprosy, spasms, and syphilis. It is also used as a stimulant and to increase menstrual flow.

Myrrh is applied directly to the mouth for soreness and swelling, inflamed gums (gingivitis), loose teeth, canker sores, bad breath, and chapped lips. It is also used topically for hemorrhoids, bedsores, wounds, abrasions, and boils.

In foods and beverages, myrrh is used as a flavoring component.
In manufacturing, myrrh is used as a fragrance, in incense, and as a fixative in cosmetics. It is also used in embalming.”

So there you have it.

About Our Myrrh

Myrrh dissolves in water, so they say. I find this to be a little misleading though. I think it’s more correct to say it liquifies. Myrrh is the father of slime and if you put a little resin in a pot with some water and leave it for a few days, it will be as gloriously and horribly slimy as anything you have ever felt. Be careful of myrrh though--the texture can really get away from you. I’ve said frankincense is like napalm when it’s boiling. Myrrh is worse and for longer.

Small myrrh distillation in Salalah

We distill small amounts of Somali origin Myrrh in Salalah. And even for me, someone used to frankincense, myrrh is difficult to work with and exceptionally hideous to clean up after. And myrrh’s process takes a really long time.

I’m writing this only because we tend to run out of myrrh rather quickly, and this is the reason.
We use only spring water in our myrrh distillation, and don’t remove the oil from the hydrosol. Part of the reason for this is just that it’s too difficult without a centrifuge and without ruining the hydrosol.  And it’s a happy difficulty because when I think about using myrrh, on the skin primarily, it’s actually much better, smarter and more effective in its water world vehicle.

So our myrrh hydrosol (or hydrolat, or water, or whatever you want to call it) is beautiful, active and effective on its own, right our of the spray bottle. We put no preservatives in the myrrh. We distill it, filter it, and bottle it and sell it fast. The myrrh I just brought from Oman, that is on the Enfleurage shelves as I write this is no more than 3-4 weeks old.

You can use the myrrh as you like, and if you don’t have something in mind, then use what I wrote above as a guide. You can also use it as a refreshing astringent-like spray on your face after cleansing and before moisturizing. Spray on anywhere for bug bites, poison ivy mishaps, sunburn, and the like. You can use other essential oils if and as needed, as compresses or a separate balm after, or with the myrrh. (Chamomile, Tea Tree, Lavender, Peppermint, etc.) Or just spray on a little myrrh as needed. You can be as involved or as remote as you like when you have all your basic ingredients, and that now includes our myrrh oil-laden hydrosol.

Storage-wise, even though it’s not necessary, it probably won’t hurt to refrigerate it.

If you have myrrh ideas, or are sitting on myrrh lore you want to share, then please share it with us on our facebook page!

1 comment:

  1. Trygve,

    I have several things that I would like to use Myrrh oil for at home especially medically however, it is so thick like tree sap and I am unable to find a good article on how to thin it properly in order to promote the best healing properties. Some of the uses that I want to use it for are receding gums, very dry skin and maintaining my blood sugar levels. I have diabetes and a simple handful of grapes causes my blood sugar to sky rocket. Any help that you can offer would be much appreciated. Thank you and God Bless!