September 1, 2021 by D.Fathia
Updated September 1, 2021

The secrets of Frankincense and myrrh from culture to chemistry

 The secrets of Frankincense and myrrh from culture to chemistry

I have been using frankincense for quite a while. I like to chew it and enjoy the bitter taste, though some might think it is too bitter to handle. Still, there are types with a more or less neutral taste.

Though I cannot tolerate strong smells, I like to inhale the fragrance of frankincense and myrrh from time to time. My mother used to burn these ingredients at home and the fragrance would remain all day long.

We used to do these rituals just out of habit and bonding with ancestral traditions, but it turned out that these plants can be beneficial in ways we never thought possible.

So, let’s find out more about the secrets behind all the fuss around these items.

What is myrrh?

Myrrh is a gum resin from trees belonging to the genus Commiphora. Myrrh is a word of Semitic origin, from the root “m-r-r” meaning bitter. Both Arabic and Hebrew have the same word for it; later it was introduced to the English language through the Hebrew Bible.

Commiphora myrrha, the tree origin of myrrh, is native to Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, and Oman. The crop is harvested nearly in the same way as frankincense. They cut the trees in the form of wounds so that the resin would come out. Myrrh hardens after the harvest. It is generally yellow but might form streaks. They darken with time.

The pharaohs were the first to import myrrh from the Horn of Africa, along with other things. They used it in their mummifying rituals.

The Hebrew Bible mentions myrrh on various occasions. It was used as sacred anointing oil and also as an ingredient in the ketoret used in the Temples of Jerusalem.

According to the New Testament, myrrh was gifted to Jesus, offered during the crucifixion, and used during his burial. Today, it is still used in liturgical celebrations and in preparing the sacramental chrism.

Islamic literature didn’t leave this ingredient out. There are recommendations made by the prophet Mohammed, to burn myrrh along with thyme and mugwort inside the houses.

These references, at least testify to the spiritual importance of myrrh to people from different religions and ethnicities.

Medicinal uses:

Myrrh has been used in ancient civilizations for medicinal purposes. Traditional Chinese medicine relied on this resin to treat various conditions such as rheumatic and arthritic problems. They consumed it both internally and externally, alone and mixed with other herbs.

In India and some Asian countries, it is still in use in what is called the Ayurveda and Unani medicines. These pseudoscientific methods use alternative medicines and ways to treat patients. Practitioners still exist and practice these medicines now.

In modern medicine, myrrh is used in pharmacology in various ways. It is used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes and toothpaste…etc. It is also used in liniments for skin problems, bruises, and sprains…etc.

Science has proved that ancient’s reliance on myrrh for medicinal uses is not arbitrary. This resin has properties that do indeed help in repairing damage and healing certain issues. Several studies with tube tests and animal experiments revealed that myrrh has antibacterial properties.

One test-tube study revealed that myrrh oil at low dilution killed all dormant Lyme disease bacteria which remained after drug treatment. More studies and human trials need to be done but those early findings are promising.

Myrrh’s antimicrobial properties are the reason it is used in mouth pastes and washes.

If you suffer chronic headaches, then there might be good news for you. In one study, patients were administered supplements made up of various ingredients including myrrh. Headaches were incredibly reduced by two-thirds during the experiment period.

Myrrh was used to treat skin problems. Now research is focused on finding an explanation. Test tube studies did reveal that an essential oil blend containing myrrh had positive effects on wounds.

The early findings about this resin are very promising. Surely, a few years from now we will be cherishing the extraordinary workings of myrrh.

Frankincense and myrrh:

Burning frankincense and myrrh is one way to perfume the houses in ancient times; as a matter of fact, many people still foster this habit even today, my family is one example.

The scent of this blend is nice and remains for quite a while. However, it actually does more than leaving a nice fragrance. Burning frankincense and myrrh can kill airborne bacteria. Probably, this piece of information which we discovered in recent years, was the reason ancient people burned this resin in worship places and homes, especially when it is cold and rainy because bacteria grow in such environment.

Chemists at the University of Florence found that myrrh has molecules that work on the brain’s opioid receptors causing painkilling outcomes.

Both frankincense and myrrh have been claimed to have painkilling effects. They have also been proved to relieve anxiety and calm the mood, which is why people across religions used to burn them during religious ceremonies, they can augment feelings of euphoria and happiness.


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