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Fragrance Facts: Uses and Benefits of Myrrh

Best known as one of the three gifts brought by the wise men to be presented to Baby Jesus, myrrh has long been used as a perfume, medicine and much-loved scent for candles.

In fact, myrrh has been highly sought after since long before the New Testament was published, with the ancient Egyptians using the substance to preserve their most respected and beloved pharaohs, kings and leaders.

myrrh benefits and uses

Although it almost seems mythical to many of us in the west who only know it alongside gold and frankincense, myrrh is still used all around the world in religious rituals, medicines and fragrances. Medical testing has demonstrated that myrrh could offer a huge selection of health benefits, with researchers from around the world attempting to unlock the full potential of this enigmatic substance.

 

So, to dig a little deeper into what the substance can offer you, here are the uses and benefits of myrrh, with a little history lesson thrown in for good measure.

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Health Benefits of Myrrh

The health benefits of myrrh aren’t restricted to just use in ancient China, modern medical professionals are passionate about using myrrh in treating a whole range of medical issues. In pharmacy, myrrh is widely used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes and toothpastes, keeping the mouth clean and smelling nice.

But despite the longstanding use of myrrh in medicine, its full potential is only now being tested. Tests over the past decade or so have shown that myrrh can, in fact, lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in humans, whilst increasing HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

myrhh in ceramic bowl

And further studies on mice demonstrate that myrrh could contribute to inhibiting eight different types of cancer and slow the progress of tumour growth. Medical testing is ongoing, but myrrh could be at the centre of one of the biggest cancer treatment breakthroughs in history.

In 2010, a study concluded in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found that the substance also offered effective protection against liver damage in rabbits, thanks to the high antioxidant capacity. It is thought that this benefit may also apply to humans, and ongoing tests are trying to determine whether myrrh could help protect our livers against damage.

As well as looking after your insides, myrrh could also present huge benefits for your skin. Since the ancient Egyptians, myrrh has been used to treat cracked and chapped skin. Applying myrrh as part of a moisturising routine or through home fragrance could help you enjoy beautiful skin.

The relaxation-inducing qualities of myrrh also offer great mental and physical health benefits. Used widely in massage and aromatherapy, myrrh can relax mind, body and soul – helping you relax and regenerate.

Where Does Myrrh Come From?

Native to Northern Africa and the Middle East, myrrh is the aromatic resin of Commiphora, a small, thorny species of tree. Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia are all large producers of myrrh, employing the substance for a selection of different uses and exporting it around the world.

finely ground myrrh

To harvest resin, farmers puncture the bark of the Commiphora repeatedly and the myrrh gum escapes through these wounds, coagulating into a waxy resin. This resin hardens and takes on a yellowish tinge, darkening as it ages with white streaks emerging.

Essential oils are then extracted from the resin, and these are used in fragrances, medicines and treatments. The concentrated oil form of the substance delivers the warm, earthy smell of black liquorice which myrrh is synonymous with. For thousands of years, the oil of myrrh resin has been extracted, and today’s farmers still use a number of those ancient techniques to harvest the much-loved and endlessly useful oil.

The name ‘myrrh’ has roots in ancient Aramaic and Arabic languages, in which the words ‘murr’ and ‘mur’, respectively, denote bitterness. These terms were appropriated by many of the great languages of the ancient and modern world, entering English from the Hebrew Bible and even inspiring the root for the Greek general term of perfume, ‘mýron’.

Historical Uses of Myrrh

Myrrh was highly prized in the ancient world, with some historians believing that historic myrrh was somehow superior to modern variations. A mythical pure myrrh has been hinted at through the annals of history, with a 19th-century text suggesting that one true myrrh tree with the finest resin ever to be discovered exists hidden somewhere in the world.

Throughout history, myrrh has been widely used during important, religious rituals. Alongside the aforementioned use in mummification in ancient Egypt, myrrh was one of the ingredients used in Ketoret, the fabled incense used in the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem.

Myrrh is also a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, with practitioners claiming the substance is particularly useful for aiding heart, liver and spleen functions, as well as offering blood-moving powers. Traditional Chinese doctors have long prescribed myrrh as a treatment for a range of illnesses and conditions, including rheumatic, arthritic, circulatory problems and the menopause.

three kings myrrh

As well as historical uses, there are numerous biblical mentions of myrrh suggesting the essential oil of the resin was used to purify the incoming wives of kings. And the New Testament details how Jesus Christ’s life was bookended by myrrh; not only was the substance one of his three first birthday presents, but was also mixed with wine for Jesus to drink as he ventured to the cross.

Did you like this “Fragrance Facts” article? Discover the world of fragrance through our prolific series:

Magnolia

Ylang Ylang

Sandalwood

Verbena

Bergamot

Peppermint

Lemongrass

Orange

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