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Herbs & Botanicals

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Myrrh (mo yao)

What is myrrh? What is it used for?

Myrrh is a form of gum resin derived from the commiphora tree, which is native to northern Africa and southwest Asia. When the bark of the tree is cut, myrrh seeps out in yellowish, reddish-brown masses that are shaped like tears and are sometimes as big as walnuts.

Myrrh consists of water-soluble gum, alcohol-soluble resins and volatile oil. The gum contains polysaccharides and proteins, while the volatile oil is composed of steroids, sterols and myrcene. Myrrh's characteristic odor is derived from substances called furanosequiterpenes.

While it is believed that myrrh was introduced into traditional Chinese medicine in the seventh century, it has been used in Middle Eastern medicine to treat infected wounds and bronchial conditions for much longer, perhaps thousands of years. It also has a long history of use in ayurvedic medicine, where it has been used to treat mouth ulcers, gingivitis and disorders of the female reproductive cycle.

How much myrrh should I take?

As a gargle or rinse, most practitioners recommend using 5-10 drops of myrrh tincture to a glass of water. As a mouthwash, the recommended dose is 30-60 drops of tincture in a glass of water.

What forms of myrrh are available?

Myrrh is available as a powder, tincture or topical cream. Tinctures are used in gargles, mouthwashes and rinses; they can also be applied directly to affected areas of the gums or mouth.

What can happen if I take too much myrrh? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

There are no known side-effects or drug interactions with myrrh. While there are no restrictions for its use while lactating, it is recommended that women do not take myrrh while pregnant.

References

  • Bown D. Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. New York: DK Publishing, Inc., 1995, p. 265.
  • Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. Paris: Lavoisier Publishing, 1995.
  • Huang KC. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs, 2nd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1999, p. 183.
  • Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health Care Practitioners. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.
  • Wilford JN. Ruins in Yemeni desert mark route of frankincense trade. New York Times January 28, 1997:B1, B10.

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