Myrrh is a familiar yet mysterious spice that has a long history of medicinal use. You may be familiar with it from the Bible, since it was one of the three gifts the Magi brought to baby Jesus. But what exactly is myrrh?
The word "myrrh" comes from the Arabic word for "bitter." This refers to the taste and fragrance of the spice, which was once used for embalming the dead in ancient Egypt and as a key healing herb in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine.
Here's more about what myrrh is, its health benefits, and how you can use it in your daily life.
What Is Myrrh?
Myrrh refers to both a tree, botanically named Commiphora myrrha, and the sap or resin that comes out of the tree. The trees are small, shrub-like, and thorny. They produce an oily, yellowish sap when wounded that hardens into a reddish-yellow resin.
The resin is used in three main forms. It can be distilled into an essential oil, crushed into a powder, or used as pebble-like chunks.
Myrrh is closely related to frankincense, and the two are some of the most frequently used essential oils around the world.
Myrrh trees are native to regions in Africa and the Arabian peninsula. The resin has a huge place in the traditional medicinal practices of many surrounding nations. It's been used as perfume, incense, an embalming spice, insect repellent, and much more.
The use of myrrh is mentioned in many Jewish, Christian, and Muslim texts as well as one of the oldest medicinal manuscripts, the Ebers Papyrus. It has always been highly valued in Chinese medicine and used as a dressing for wounds by many cultures. (1)
Health Benefits of Myrrh
Antimicrobial and Anti-Parasitic
One of the reasons myrrh was once used for embalming was because of its antimicrobial properties. (2) It was also used, often alongside frankincense, to stop disease from spreading.
Modern research confirms that myrrh has strong action against airborne bacteria (when burned) and against several strains of infectious bacteria. This includes E. coli and a strain of Staph bacteria. (3)(4)
In lab test tube studies, highly diluted myrrh oil was able to kill dormant Lyme disease bacteria. This could be a huge breakthrough for people whose Lyme disease persists after antibiotic treatment. There are currently no treatments in conventional medicine besides antibiotics. (5)
Another historical use for myrrh was to treat intestinal parasite infections. Studies so far have found it to be effective to a degree against certain parasites. A drug, called Mirazid, made of myrrh sap and oil has even been developed. (6)(7)
Protects & Soothes Skin
Myrrh, especially as an essential oil, has frequently been used throughout history for skin health. It was used to cover wounds and help them heal more quickly. Its antimicrobial properties kill bacteria that might infect wounds, and the oil has been shown to increase white blood cell counts around skin injuries. (8)
Besides wounds, myrrh oil is also used as a moisturizing agent. It's especially helpful if you often get dry or chapped skin. There's potential for myrrh to help with conditions like acne, weeping eczema, and boils as well.
Myrrh essential oil is frequently used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and calm stress. The scent of myrrh on its own is strong, sweet, and somewhat bitter and earthy. It's often blended with other oils, especially citrus ones, for a less overpowering fragrance.
You can use it for stress by adding it to bathwater, using it in a diffuser, and simply diluting and applying to your skin. You can also try a cup of one of these calming herbal teas.
Supports Oral Health
The specific antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of myrrh make it helpful for mouth infections and inflammation. (10)(11) You'll find it as an ingredient in some toothpastes, and a mouthwash made with it can help sore, inflamed gums and ulcers.
Beyond oral health, myrrh can be combined with herbs like goldenseal and echinacea for sore throats and to stop infection.
Myrrh has anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. More specifically, it contains compounds that react with opioid receptors, telling your brain that you aren't in pain. (12)
It's also an herb that increases circulation and moves blood stagnation as in the case of bruises or congestion. Myrrh has often been used externally for painful complaints like rheumatism, sore muscles, and arthritis.
Aids Upper Respiratory System
Myrrh has long been used for upper respiratory infections. It is sometimes indicated for bronchitis, colds, and asthma when specific symptoms are present.
Energetically, myrrh is a warming and drying herb. This makes it most helpful when congestion and excess mucus are a problem. A different herb should be used for dryness in the respiratory system.
How to Use Myrrh
The most popular way to use myrrh is as an essential oil. The oil form is easy to use and can be applied a number of different ways. You can use it in skin preparations, a diffuser, a massage oil, your bath, etc. In fact, it's one of the top skincare essential oils.
As always, dilute your essential oils with a carrier oil before using on your skin.
Some people enjoy the fragrance of myrrh when it's burned. From ancient times until today, it's been used to increase spiritual awareness and to calm the mind. You can burn it as incense or resin (if you have a resin burner).
You can also buy powdered myrrh to make tinctures or skincare products with. For internal use, keep the doses small and consult a professional natural health practitioner if you're unsure of how much to take.
The one way myrrh is not used is as a tea. This is mainly because its beneficial properties can't be extracted by water.
Myrrh is a very safe herb/spice that's been used for thousands of years. It can on occasion cause digestive upset, especially when taken in large amounts. Rarely, it will cause contact dermatitis when used topically.
If you experience an allergic reaction of any kind, discontinue use immediately. Myrrh is not recommended for internal use if you are pregnant.
Myrrh: An Ancient Spice for the Modern World
Myrrh continues to be a frequently used medicinal herb all around the world. It can be effective against bacteria and fungal issues. The oil is great for aromatherapy and skin health. It can even help with pain relief and inflammation.
If you've never tried this ancient spice, now might be the time to discover all its wonderful benefits!