The world goes mad for frankincense, but for me, Myrrh is one of the most efficacious and beautiful elixirs of aromatherapy. A superb skin healer, decongestant, and uterine tonic, it's a first aid box in a bottle. A significant analgesic and mood enhancer, and of course, one of the gifts of the Magi at the nativity. The main pharmacological effects of the resin from the myrrh tree are anti-inflammatory, anticancer, analgesic, and antibacterial. (Cao, 2019) Today we're thinking about Myrrh essential oil.
Where Does Myrrh Essential Oil Come From?
The small, thorny myrrh shrub lives in the countries surrounding the Red Sea, in the scorched deserts of Somalia, Oman, Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and parts of Saudi Arabia. When its bark is incised in summer, it bleeds resin, which is then dried and sold as incense. Myrrh resin contains 40–60% water-soluble gum, 23–40% alcohol-soluble resins, and a high yield of around 3-8% essential oil separated by steam distillation.
What Does Myrrh Essential Oil Smell Like?
Deep, heavy, bitter-sweet, balsamic, earthy, slightly smokey, and resinous. For me, it smells sublime!
The oil is deep amber brown but, in large concentrations, will make your blends slightly orange. It is incredibly thick and goes solid when cold. It's a heavy, viscous, treacle-y oil that isn't a good plan for electrical diffusers unless you will thin it down somehow. It is so thick and claggy that it's likely to ruin your machine over time.
What Does Myrrh Essential Oil Blend Well With?
Romantic and heavy floral notes and spices. It's lovely with wood and other resins. With care, you can blend it beautifully with herbs.
It is deep and heavy, making a beautiful fixative base note for blends.
Myrrh: Treasure of Antiquity
Its usage is ancient, and significant economies have been built on desirability. The ancient Egyptians referred to it as Punt or Phun and saw Myrrh as the tears of their sky god, Horus. (Glenn, 2020) In Abusir, the pyramid of Egypt's 5th dynasty King Sahure depicts the earliest known expedition from the ancient civilization to a kingdom known from their trade records as "The Land of Punt," around the 25th century BCE. The Land of Punt produced and exported gold, blackwood, ebony, ivory, and wild animals and was the world leader in aromatic resins. It's unknown exactly where Punt was, but scholars agree it was likely to have been the modern-day Horn of Africa, probably Somalia. From there, Pharaohs brought back large quantities of malachite and a naturally occurring gold and silver called electrum with frankincense and Myrrh. Sahure celebrated the extraordinary success of his mission in a relief that can still be seen in his mortuary temple. It shows him tending his new Punt tree in his palace garden. Named "Sahure's splendor soars up to heaven," the only Egyptian art ever found where the king is depicted gardening.
Ancient Egyptian Mysteries
The Egyptians used Myrrh as incense, and a salt compound called natron for their embalming mummies. They used it as a medicine, a perfume, and perhaps as an ingredient of their head cones. Seen on many murals, this head comes worn with a ceremonial dress and is suspected of containing fats saturated with Myrrh.
The idea was that they would have begun the day as solid and then melted through the day, perfuming the body and protecting the skin and hair from drying out in the heat. Research shows that Myrrh possesses excellent sun protection qualities but not enough to replace today's sunscreens.
Art shows these women, usually at weddings or funerals, wearing white translucent costumes streaked with orange as the oil seems to have cascaded down and stained the top parts of their dresses. Presumably, these women were ceremonial priestesses, but that is not proven.
The frustrating thing about these head cones is that they are made of organic matter, and they decompose. Since none had ever been found, it has been fiercely argued that these cones may not have been natural. Perhaps they were like halos in Christian art, an allusion to sacredness, a testament to these women's divinity, but nothing more. However, in 2020, a grave was discovered with two bodies at Amarna, the temple site of Akenaten. One was a young woman in her 20s, and the other an adolescent of undetermined sex. Both were wearing head cones.
The cones were made of wax, probably beeswax, and measured 3 inches wide by 4 inches high. Frustratingly though, there were no traces of perfume volatiles, and the usage of unguents can still not be proven, or indeed that there was Myrrh in it. That said, neither has it been disproven. Another 3000 years will tell us more and verify that the orange staining is a gift from the Land of Punt.
Myrrh of the Jews
Myrrh was one of the three sacred incense of the Old Testament, frankincense and spikenard being the other two. Myrrh comes from a Semitic one, Mor, which refers to its bitter taste (The exact word for bitter is Mar). It appears more times in the Bible than any other plant, but it may be that not all Biblical references pertain to the Myrrh we would think of. Even today, Myrrh refers to the dried resin of many trees within the Commiphora species. Another word, lot, is translated as "myrrh" in passages found in Genesis 37:25 and 43:11; but it's uncertain what plant is meant by this term.
A footnote in the King James version translates it as labdanum, an extract from Cistus ladanifer, or the Rock Rose. Some of these different "myrrh species" have medicinal properties, while others smell gorgeous. This, in part, may explain the strange array of conflicting symbolisms that Myrrh has. Indeed, a sacred plant used for the priesthood and royalty, with deep associations with birth and death, yet also very much a plant of sensuality and seduction.
Holy Anointing Oil
Most importantly, Myrrh appears in the recipe that Yahway gave Moses in his vision on Mount Sinai for the Holy Anointing Oil.
"Moreover, the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels, and of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and oil, a hin: and thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be a holy anointing oil." Exodus 30: 22-25
Anointment signifies one chosen to serve G-d in some specialized function, set aside and demonstrated as holy. Indeed, when a British monarch is coronated, they are anointed with oil accompanied by Hadel's breathtaking Zadok the Priest in recognition of the first anointing of King Solomon by Zadok and the prophet Nathan. In Psalms, we hear that the king's garments were perfumed with Myrrh (Ps. 45:9)
What I should say here, though, is that the Queen's chrism contained benzoin as its base note fixative rather than Myrrh.
Holy Oil of The Menorah
Some scholars also suggest it may have been one of the scents in the olive oil burned in the Menorah in those early Hebrew temples.
The story of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah revolves around this sacred oil of the temple. The eight-day Jewish celebration, often known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in the second century BCE after Jews had risen against Greaco-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt.
According to law, the Menorah should burn continuously, but when the victorious Jews entered their desecrated temple, they found it extinguished, with only enough oil to burn for one day. A scouting party was sent to find new oil, and while they were gone, the miraculous Menorah burned for eight days, enough to keep the light of divinity until the men returned. Hanukkah is usually celebrated from the 18th-26th December.
Olive oil was burned in the beautiful Menorah, and given how Myrrh was viewed as holy, they may be correct about its fragrance.
Ingredients in these sacred oils are sometimes chosen to take someone into an altered state, where G-d is heard to speak a little louder. Indeed, in the case of the Exodus Holy Anointing Oil, Myrrh seems to hold this function.
Myrrh and Opioid Receptors
While Myrrh is not psychoactive in the way we think of, say, marijuana or heroin, it contains specialist sesquiterpenes and furanosesquiterpenoids, proven to interact with the delta and mu-opioid receptors. These constituents include curzarene, furanodiene, and furanoeudesma-1,3-diene (Dolara, 1996)
When these receptors are engaged, it brings a variety of effects. In scientific experiments, these are studied for information about their possibilities for analgesia.
When mice experiments measured the latency of their pain reaction on a hot plate and how much they writhe after being injected with acetic acid. (I know. I'm so sorry, mice!) Furanoeudesma-1,3-diene was found to have a potency of 10% of that of morphine. This explains why the Roman soldier offered Jesus "wine mingled with myrrh" at his crucifixion. (Mark 15:23)
Columella, a Roman writer from the 1st century CE, described how to stop wine from turning to vinegar (a process catalyzed by Acetobacter bacteria) "…then sprinkle on myrrh, cassia, cardamom, saffron, six other spices, and more resin." Pliny also mentions this Myrrh-infused wine being imbibed at Roman feasts (1601, Chapter 13), but this time, instead of being used as a painkiller. Presumably, there were more intoxicating effects. Presumably, wine was a simple way to imbibe the tonic effects of Myrrh.
A Comment On Status?
In 2019, an interesting paper published by the Medical University of Łódź brought a new understanding to these medicinal wines. It has always been suggested that this was standard during Roman times; however, recent research into an insert in a book by Dioscorides suggests it may be more nuanced than that. The 1st-century writer discusses choosing one's ingredients for each patient based on symptoms and economic status. (Rzeźnicka & Kokoszko, 2019)
Myrrh traditionally had a value of twice that of even frankincense, so that it would have been costly. It adds a new layer of meaning to the New Testament story that Jesus was offered wine on the cross. Was it further comment to set his status as King of The Jews apart from the thieves on either side of him? This was not your commonplace act of mercy but rather something for someone considered unique or perhaps given by someone incredibly affluent.
A Sacred Journey
As we know, opioids don't only work on the physical body. They also affect the mind. Most saliently, we think of the narcotic effects of heroin. Mu opioids are some of the most effective analgesics available, but they are also efficacious mood enhancers, activating the central dopamine reward pathways that modulate euphoria (Al-Hasani & Bruchas, 2011). Indeed, if you spend enough time on entheogenic websites, you'll find plenty of references to experimenters who have been engaging with Myrrh
The story tells us that Jesus refused the wine.
Incidentally, around 20 different furanosesquiterpenes have been identified. They do pass through distillation and are found in Myrrh essential oil. (Maradahfu, 1988) (Zhu, 2003)
The Old Testament calls the Myrrh in the Holy Ointment mor deror, i.e., Myrrh congealed to form granules (deror from dar, "pearl") dissolved in olive oil. We know this elixir as stacte. No longer produced today, stacte was produced by booming and pressing myrrh bark and creating a liquid.
The ancient Greek botanist Theophrastus described the manufacture of stacte: "From the myrrh, when it is bruised flows an oil; it is called "stacte" because it comes in drops slowly."
In Materia Medica, Dioscorides recorded that after having bruised the Myrrh and dissolved it in oil of balanos over a gentle fire, hot water was poured over it. The Myrrh and oil would sink to the bottom like a deposit; as soon as this occurred, they strained off the water and squeezed the sediment in a press. (Groom, 1981)
Mary Magdalene and The Myrrhophores
Later in the New Testament, we read that when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they might anoint Jesus' body" (Mark 16:1).
While the tomb vigil is also mentioned in Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1, the spices only appear in the testimony of Luke. Luke is often referred to as The Gospel of Women. It is lovely that he extends that to describe the care of the body, an essentially female role in many cultures, and indeed the very feminine nature of Myrrh.
He says that, on the day of Jesus' crucifixion, the women "went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment." Luke 23:56. They observed Jewish laws, visited the tomb, and discovered they were not the first to have the idea, as John 19:39 reveals that Nicodemus had already used spices on the body of Jesus: "Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds." Could it be to disguise the smell of death described by Martha when Jesus wanted to visit the tomb of Lazarus?
Of course, the rest of the story becomes the beginning of one of the largest organized religions in history. The stone had been rolled back, with nobody in it.
Whatever happened to all that wasted Myrrh?
Today, British Soul Midwife and Death Doula, Felicity Warner, trains people to become Myrrophores - someone who heals with Myrrh - to embody and transmit the healing energy of Myrrh to help people die peacefully.
Also Read: Do Plants Speak The Voice of God?
Symbolic Use of Myrrh as Incense
Myrrh is an ingredient of Eastern Orthodox Christian baptism in the Holy Spirit. Here it represents consecration and healing. Where Myrrh is burned in Roman Catholic services, it means sacrifice, penitence, and purification and preservation of the flesh.
So we've thought of the connotations of the death of Myrrh and its association with divinity. We know its ability to affect mood and mental state and how it can be used for pain-killing. But what about its association with seduction and sensuality? Because that's just as well represented in the Old Testament of the Bible.
The Aphrodisiac Story
In Song of Songs, we hear how The Queen of Sheba arrived from the wilderness for a meeting with King Solomon "… perfumed with myrrh and frankincense" (Song of S3:6).
But then, in Proverbs, the adulterous wife perfumed her couch with it to seduce men (Prov. 7:17).
In the Book of Esther, we hear that when courtesans were fumigated with Myrrh for six months before being presented to the harem of the Babylonian ruler Ahasuerus (Esth. 2:12). Since Myrrh has a potent effect in the uterus, one wonders if that may have been to ensure they could not have been pregnant or carrying any other sexually transmitted undesirables.
It is mentioned no fewer than seven times in Song of Songs, and there it grows into an imaginary spice garden containing all the charms of the beloved. (Song 4:14; 5:1). The poet sings of meeting his heart's desire upon "the mountain of myrrh." (4:6)
The beloved one watches for her lover with her fingers dripping "flowing myrrh" (5:5), and his lips too were "dripping with flowing myrrh." (5:13). Presumably, these speak of stacte, or maybe Myrrh soused in wine.
This clear aphrodisiac connection is echoed in Greek myths. There, Myrrha is a beautiful girl whose mother, Cenchreis, has the gall to tell Aphrodite that Myrrha may be more beautiful than the goddess. Furious at such a slight, she curses Myrrha to fall in love with her father, which she does.
When Cenchreis is out of town, Myrrha and her maid plot to seduce and copulate with him for nine nights before he uncovers the heinous crime. Ashamed, she flees to Arabia, but her father chases her down. To hide from him, she begs the gods to conceal her, which they do by turning her into a Myrrh tree. Pregnant, she gives birth in the desert to the most beautiful of all the mortals, Adonis, whom, ironically, Aphrodite finds and instantly falls in love with.
After that, Myrrh was given as an offering to the goddess of love.
Myrrh and Pregnancy
There is a thread that's not easy to see here, which is the connection of Myrrh to birth. It is not recommended to use as an essential oil that brings on contractions in the first 37 weeks of pregnancy. After that time, though, it is a brilliant support in labor.
In addition to its effects on the womb, Myrrh has powerful mood-enhancing effects. It reduces anxiety and lifts the spirit. The change of emotions is partly attested to by its interaction with the opioid receptors.
Myrrh and Skin Healing
The myrrh tree oozes sap when injured to prevent infection and insect attack. The sap is designed to close up wounds, and indeed, it works just as effectively in the same way in human medicine.
Myrrh is mentioned as a salve in the Smith and Embers papyri that dates to 2500 BCE. It describes how it was dissolved into water to bathe wounds or mixed with flour, honey, beef fat, butter, and plant fibers from plants to create a poultice.
In 1370 BCE, Nefertiti's consort Pharaoh Amenophis IV, received a letter from Milkili, one of his military lieutenants serving in Palestine. It read, "And let the King, my Lord, send troops to his servants, and let the King, my Lord, send myrrh for medicine." He refused to fight until the medical corps had an ample enough supply of Myrrh to treat all wounds suffered in the battle.
Myrrh essential oil is like glue for deep cuts and wounds. It stops bleeding, dries wounds, and keeps them clean. (Nomicos, 2007)
A 2015 study using what is commonly known as Scented Myrrh, Commiphora Guidotti Chiov. Ex. Guid. Describe how an ointment using myrrh essential oil significantly reduced the time it took for the wound to contract. Epithelization time (the time it took for new skin cells to form) was shortened, and the skin's breaking strength was much higher than the negative control.
In addition, the overall antibacterial and antifungal activities of both myrrh essential oil and resin were comparable with the standard antibiotics that doctors prescribe, ciprofloxacin and griseofulvin, respectively, and the preparation was reported to be non-irritating. (Gebrehiwot, 2015)
Myrrh and The Mouth
Myrrh essential oil is anti-inflammatory (Nomicos, 2007) and is helpful for diarrhea (Nomicos, 2007) and all sorts of stomach complaints, mainly where damage occurs in the internal tissues.
Traditionally, people chew myrrh gum in Africa to protect their teeth and gums (which seems brave to me given the reputation of the "bitter taste of myrrh"). A trial in Saudi Dentistry described the effects of a mouthwash made with Myrrh given to 20 patients who had undergone tooth extractions. Twenty others were given a control substance so that results could be compared.
Significant improvements were seen in the myrrh group regarding postoperative surgical-site edema, tenderness, and socket size. (Raniah, 2021) It should be stressed that as a company, Vinevida does not support the ingestion of essential oils, so should you try to emulate this using myrrh essential oil, we recommend you do not swallow it.
Myrrh essential oil is a powerful antibacterial agent killing Staphylococcus aureus and other gram-positive organisms, although it is less effective against gram-negative organisms.
Myrrh Essential Oils For Coughs And Colds
If you have a bottle of myrrh essential oil, there's a likelihood you have encountered one of its favorite tricks…it goes so hard when it gets cold that now you can't get the lid off, right? Yup, been there; I tried to smash that bottle!
A pro tip for Myrrh essential oil is to put a label on its lid. Stand the bottle in boiling water for a few minutes when it gets cold. It won't hurt the oil, but the label on the bottle will be mashed.
Warming Myrrh essential oil softens it and returns it to fluidity in a way reminiscent of how it works in the body.
Myrrh essential oil is powerfully decongestant, cutting through catarrh and phlegm like a hot knife through butter. I would warn you about this. It works too fast to use on kids. Their nose unblocks, and the snot trickles down their throat…cough, cough, cough, and it can make them sick. So while it is a safe oil, it's like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Too much, too far, too fast. Frankincense is better for kids; let's face it, there aren't many child-related themes to this oil. Generally, it's a very grown-up thing.
Myrrh for Hands and Feet
Everything I just said about kids, forget it if it's about feet. Blisters, cracked skin, athlete's foot, stinky teenage foot rebellion… Myrrh, Myrrh, Myrrh. It fights fungal infections such as athlete's foot, toenail fungus, and even the most ravaged feet. As a kid, I used to swear by a cream my mom made with myrrh essential oil for my bleeding toes from ballet pointe shoes.
In the same way, if you garden or have a job that is hard on the hands, Myrrh heals up cracks and abrasions and soothes rose bush assaults magnificently. I wonder if Nefertiti's hubby knew that?
Myrrh in Chinese Medicine
Investigating Myrrh in TCM is fascinating because, traditionally, in this discipline, Frankincense and Myrrh are used together. When this process has been analyzed, they have a remarkable synergy where one changes, enhances and detracts from certain aspects of the other. (Bo Cao, 2019),(de Rapper, 2012). They work in perfect symphony.
Myrrh is known as Mo Yao and is classified as spicy, bitter, and spicy, with a neutral temperature. It has a particular affinity with the heart, liver, and spleen meridians. Like frankincense, it is seen as having "blood-moving" powers to push stagnant blood out of the uterus. Using myrrh essential oil to shift stagnant energy can be helpful for scanty painful periods, fibroids, and menopause.
Likewise, for any rheumatic, arthritic, and circulatory problems, I like to use myrrh essential oil for varicose veins and varicose eczema.
Also Read: Blending with Myrrh
What Is Myrrh Essential Oil Good For Emotionally?
In TCM, the spleen has designated as the organ of worry, the heart of joy and love, and the liver of anger and stress. Broadly, Myrrh essential oil can be helpful in preparations that touch on any of those.
In Aromatherapy for Healing The Spirit, Gabriel Mojay says that Myrrh essential oil instills deep tranquility of mind and is one of the principal oils for overthinking, worry, and mental distraction. Too it can be effective in potions of seduction.
Is Myrrh Essential Oil Safe During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding?
Because of Myrrh essential oil's actions on the uterus, we suggest avoiding it during the first 37 weeks of pregnancy. However, essential oils will pass through into breast milk, and given its famous "bitter taste," perhaps avoid it altogether during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
That said, it is superb for cracked nipples, especially if paired with a bit of calendula. You'd want to apply after feeding, then ensure as much of the cream was gone as possible before the next feed. If the baby suddenly goes off feeding, suspect Myrrh first and quit using the cream for a while. When that happens, helichrysum can be a perfect substitute.
Safety of Using Myrrh Essential Oil
Maximum dilution for use in aromatherapy is 3%, and apart from the pregnancy restrictions is a safe and easy oil to use.
Such an exquisite and valuable oil, every household needs Myrrh essential oil. Great for pain, especially gynecological pain, skin healing, and as a decongestant. We'd recommend not putting Myrrh essential oil in your diffuser since it can go so solid, but a drop in some warm water makes a lovely clear, and soothing space. Experiment and enjoy.
Also Read: Myrrh Essential Oil