Myrrh is a constituent herb of the Holy Anointing Oil. It was valued not just as a perfume but also for its medicinal use. Romans, Egyptians, Greek, and the Chinese used Commiphora myrrha as medicine. Written references to myrrh as a perfume and herbal medicine date back to Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Myrrh acts on the mucosa and has antiseptic properties, so Greek and Roman soldiers used it to treat wounds and sores. In addition to its use as a general tonic and disinfectant, myrrh was also used to treat indigestion, syphilis, and gonorrhea. It was used as an expectorant to treat respiratory ailments. Because it was believed to promote menstrual flow, it was also used as an abortifacient.
The chemical constituents of myrrh include terpenes, sesquiterpenes, aldehydes, eugenol, resin compounds, volatile and essential oils, and proteins. The presence of sesquiterpenoids indicates neuroprotective properties. In 2011, the European Medicines Agency authorized myrrh tincture to treat minor ulcers and oral inflammation (e.g., gingivitis, stomatitis), minor wounds, and small boils. Myrrh is used in nasal decongestants, mouthwashes, toothpaste, and other products in Europe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed approving myrrh gum tincture for topical drugs. Studies on mice indicate that myrrh reduces cholesterol and triglycerides and increases glucose tolerance in both normal and diabetic rats. Its analgesic properties too were tested in rats (Omer et al., 2011).
With a vibrant herbal medicine industry, China is a major importer of myrrh, known locally as mo yao. It is imported in powder and oil forms and used internally and externally to treat rheumatism, circulatory problems, and wounds. It is especially efficacious in treating amenorrhea, menopause, and uterine tumors (Zhu et al., 2001). It is also used in aromatherapy, as the resin burns slowly.
The European Commission of Health and Consumers Directorate has authorized C. myrrha gum extract (also known as myrrh absolute, myrrh oil, gum oil, resin, and resin water) as a perfume, skin and nail conditioner, and masking (odor-preventing) agent in cosmetic and household products. C. myrrha leaf extract is also accepted by the Directorate for use in skin care products. The plant is valued as an ingredient in mouthwashes, toothpaste, creams, and lotions. In the United States, myrrh oleoresin, essential oil, and extracts are approved for use as food additives and are considered in the “Generally Recognized as Safe” category. However, the resin, essential oils, and extracts have not been approved as an astringent or in oral healthcare products.
Some of the evidence supporting the medicinal properties of myrrh include:
- Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects: Studies have shown that myrrh has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, which may be due to its compounds, such as terpenoids and sesquiterpenes.
- Antibacterial and antiviral properties: It has been found to have antibacterial and antiviral properties, which may be due to its compounds, such as terpenoids and sesquiterpenes.
- Antifungal properties: Studies have shown that myrrh has antifungal properties, possibly due to its compounds, such as terpenoids and sesquiterpenes.
- Wound-healing properties: Myrrh has been found to have wound-healing properties, which may be due to its compounds, such as terpenoids and sesquiterpenes.
- Anti-cancer properties: Studies have shown that myrrh has anti-cancer properties, which may be due to its compounds, such as terpenoids and sesquiterpenes.
It’s important to note that while several studies have shown that the plant has various medicinal properties, more research is needed to fully understand its effects and how it should be used in medicine. It is, however, best advised to take advice from your medical practitioner before using myrrh as medicine.