| What is it?
In herbal medicine we use the resin of Myrrh; a bushy tree growing in rocky terrain in old lands such as Somalia and by the Red Sea. Myrrh resin is formed when a wound is made through the tree bark and into the sapwood. Over time the tree oozes out a sticky, golden yellow resin which is the part that we use in medicine.
How has it been used?
A measure of how prized Myrrh was in ancient times is how it was one of the three gifts to Jesus on his birth (Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh). There are numerous other Biblical references to Myrrh including the Song of Solomon in which 'a bundle of Myrrh is my well-beloved unto me he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts'.
John Heinermann, in his book the Science of Herbal Medicine says:
“From the days of Moses to the 20th century, Myrrh has proven over and again to be one of the finest antibacterial and antimicrobial agents on earth”
Ancient Greek and Roman physicians used Myrrh to treat wounds and prescribed in internally as a digestive aid and menstruation promoter. Myrrh has been extensively used in Chinese medicine as a blood moving herb with particular benefits to people with arthritis and rheumatism. In Ayurvedic medicine Myrrh is also considered one of the best agents for helping rheumatism and is also seen as having benefits to the circulatory system.
Myrrh has been used for thousands of years as an ingredient in incense and perfumes and the resin was used for embalming. Chinese researchers have identified substances in Myrrh that fight bacteria and Indian scientists have discovered that the herb has anti-inflammatory actions.
Ancient Egyptian relief of Myrrh trees
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Science on Myrrh
~ From an article called 'Gift of the Magi' published 2001 in Science Daily from the American Chemical Society 'as part of a larger search for anticancer compounds from plants, the researchers obtained extracts from the Myrrh plant and tested it against a human breast tumour cell line (MCF-7) known to be resistant to anticancer drugs. Research date indicated that the extract killed off all of the cancer cells in laboratory dishes'.
~ Further research into the ability of Myrrh to affect cancer have taken place in studies where Myrrh has been shown to inhibit tumour growth and to have significant inhibiting effects on certain types of cancer (al_Harbi MM et al: Chemotherapy 40(5):337-347, 1994)
~ The ability of Myrrh to reduce pain has been explored by researchers at the University of Florence who have shown that ingredients within Myrrh affect opioid receptors in the brain that reduce pain perception.
Safety of Myrrh
Myrrh is generally regarded as very safe to use by both the young and old and whilst pregnant or during breast-feeding. A small percentage of people get a contact allergy from Myrrh (mostly from its essential oils) so if using externally and a red rash forms soon after using it then it should be discontinued and an alternative treatment sought.
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The taste and smell of Myrrh is evocative and its flavour is extremely aromatic and distinctive. If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine then you should definitely take a little Myrrh and swill it around your mouth - I think the personal experience of it will give you a deeper appreciation of how this herb eats bacteria for breakfast than any amount of academic papers on the subject. Myrrh is intensely antimicrobial and I have seen it deal to stubborn infections that no other drugs were able to reach on numerous occasions.
Myrrh combines powerfully with Gentian for when there is an infection in the digestive tract that is proving difficult to shift. It also works remarkably well with Echinacea and Golden Seal to make a powerful herbal antibiotic for throat infections or for wounds that need cleansing or healing.
Sore Throat or Tonsillitis Formula
25mls Echinacea root
10mls Golden Seal tincture
10mls Licorice root
5mls Myrrh resin extract
50mls total (you could double this mixture for more frequent use or need)
These should be the strongest, highest quality extracts or tinctures you can get.
Instructions for the Sore Throat Formula:
Getting the right dose is critical to all forms of medicine and this is no different. For an average adult I would recommend about 4 mls or about 1 tsp of this formula to be taken either straight or diluted in just a little bit of water (again about a tsp)
You have to get the herbs to coat the back of the throat as much as possible. Let them swish around and, if you can, gargle them for a good 20 seconds, taking a pause to drop your head down and then lift it back up for another musical interlude.
You have to make some noise to do a good gargle and you will find if you change the pitch of your water music up or down then the medicine will touch different parts of your throat. Be creative and don't stop even if your audience doesn't appreciate it as much as they should.
If you have a lot of debris in your throat you may have to spit the herbs out. If so then take another dose soon after that you can swallow as there are many internal benefits to your immune system from these herbs as well as their immediate antibiotic action from being in contact with the infected areas.
For a child I would use about 20 drops, or about 1 ml. You can be confident that you cannot take too much of these herbs over the short time frame you are likely to need them.
This treatment can be repeated very frequently at first. As soon as the throat begins to feel sore again repeat the dose. Nearly everyone feels their throat infection quickly turning around with these herbs so long as they use them freely and often at first.
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Wound Healing formula
Myrrh can be extraordinarily helpful for wounds that are not healing due to infection or when a natural antibiotic wash is needed to prevent infection and speed the natural healing process. Again it combines exceptionally well with Echinacea and Golden Seal for this purpose.
20mls Golden Seal or Thuja*
*Choose either one according to visibility of area
~ Method of application
Use a cotton-tip or any piece of cloth or gauze to paint a small amount of the wash on to the infected area. Golden Seal is also very potent but it will stain skin yellow so use Thuja instead if the area to be treated would be embarrassingly visible.
Use carefully as these are strong substances and over-use will cause damage to the delicate tissues (you would get plenty of warning signs that you were over-doing it by increasing redness in the non-affected areas that are getting some of the wash on them. Generally between 2-4 times a day will be enough for most sores or wounds. The treatment should be rapidly effective.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Myrrh is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Myrrh can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Myrrh is of value in chronic gastritis and atonic dyspepsia with full, pallid tongue and mucous tissues, and with frequent, mucous alvine discharges accompanied with flatulence. Here myrrh and gentian act well, the dose of the combination of equal parts of these tinctures is from 5 to 20 drops. Chronic mucous fluxes, from the bowels or urinary tract, are benefited by myrrh.
Myrrh was formerly used as a dressing for indolent ulcers to promote granulation and alter the character of the discharges. It was at the same time given internally also.
Topically, it is a very useful application to indolent sores, gangrenous ulcers, and aphthous or sloughy sore throat, spongy or ulcerated conditions of the gums, caries of the teeth, etc. In chronic pharyngitis, with tumid, pallid membranes, elongated uvula, and spongy, enlarged tonsils, it is an exceedingly useful topical agent.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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