Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses: Myrrh

The many medicinal benefits of myrrh.

| December/January 2009

  • A salve of myrrh used as an analgesic can assuage the discomfort of topical ulcerations.
    Peggy Kessler Duke

Commiphora spp.
—Esther 2:12
Used for: Analgesic, astringent, bronchitis, expectorant, high cholesterol

There are 135 species of myrrh found throughout Africa and Arabia, growing mainly in very arid regions. In her book All the Plants in the Bible, Winifred Walker asserts that the myrrh mentioned in the Old Testament came from a small plant called a rockrose that grew among the sand and rocks. The gum collected from the rockrose was pressed into cakes and used as perfume. In the New Testament, the soft, dark brown or black resin collected and sold in golden spiral pieces, sometimes called “tears” or “pearls,” was from a small tree. Myrrh was sold as a spice or an ingredient of the anointing oil used in the Tabernacle or as a salve for the purification of the dead. The stems and leaves were used to prepare perfume and incense, a practice that continues in Eastern churches today. Medicinally, the extract served as a salve, stimulant or expectorant.

The myrrh that the Magi gave to the baby Jesus foretold how he would suffer and die. The term myrrophore was applied to the women who bore spices to the sepulcher of Jesus—aloes, cassia and cinnamon. In Mesopotamia and the Greco-Roman worlds, myrrh was a panacea for almost every human affliction, from earaches to hem­orrhoids. The Asians esteemed myrrh as an astringent tonic taken internally and as a cleansing agent applied externally.

A salve of myrrh used as an analgesic can assuage the discomfort of topical ulcerations, and myrrh can be made into a mouthwash for spongy gums, ulcerated throats and mouth sores. Guggul, or Indian myrrh, has been the subject of recent research on leukemia and blood cholesterol levels.

Click here for the original article, Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses.  

James A. Duke, Ph.D. , is one of the world’s foremost authorities on botanical medicine. He is author of  The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 1997) and Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary (CRC, 1994). 

Adapted with permission from Herbs of the Bible: 2,000 Years of Plant Medicine by James A. Duke, Ph.D. 



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