Description: The bushes yielding the resin do not grow more than 9 feet in height, but they are of sturdy build, with knotted branches, and branchlets that stand out at right-angles, ending in a sharp spine. The trifoliate leaves are scanty, small and very unequal, oval and entire. It was first recognized about 1822 at Ghizan on the Red Sea coast, a district so bare and dry that it is called 'Tehama,' meaning 'hell.'
Botanically, there is still uncertainty about the origin and identity of the various species.
There are ducts in the bark, and the tissue between them breaks down, forming large cavities, which, with the remaining ducts, becomes filled with a granular secretion which is freely discharged when the bark is wounded, or from natural fissures. It flows as a pale yellow liquid, but hardens to a reddish-brown mass, being found in commerce in tears of many sizes, the average being that of a walnut. The surface is rough and powdered, and the pieces are brittle, with a granular fracture, semi-transparent, oily, and often show whitish marks. The odour and taste are aromatic, the latter also acrid and bitter. It is inflammable, but burns feebly.
Several species are recognized in commerce. It is usually imported in chests weighing 1 or 2 cwts., and wherever produced comes chiefly from the East Indies. Adulterations are not easily detected in the powder, so that it is better purchased in mass, when small stones, senegal gum, chestnuts, pieces of bdellium, or of a brownish resin called 'false myrrh,' may be sorted out with little difficulty.
It has been used from remote ages as an ingredient in incense, perfumes, etc., in the holy oil of the Jews and the Kyphi of the Egyptians for embalming and fumigations.
Little appears to be definitely known about the collection of myrrh. It seems probable that the best drug comes from Somaliland, is bought at the fairs of Berbera by the Banians of India, shipped to Bombay, and there sorted, the best coming to Europe and the worst being sent to China. The true myrrh is known in the markets as karam, formerly called Turkey myrrh, and the opaque bdellium as meena harma.
The gum makes a good mucilage and the insoluble residue from the tincture can be used in this way.
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Constituents: Volatile oil, resin (myrrhin), gum, ash, salts, sulphates, benzoates, malates, and acetates of potassa.
It is partially soluble in water, alcohol, and ether. It may be tested by a characteristic violet reaction if nitric acid diluted with an equal volume of water is brought into contact with the residue resulting from the boiling of 0.1 gramme of coarsely powdered myrrh with 2 c.c. of 90 per cent alcohol, evaporated in a porcelain dish so as to leave a thin film.
The oil is thick, pale yellow, and contains myrrholic acid and heerabolene, a sesquiterpenene.
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Medicinal Action and Uses: Astringent, healing. Tonic and stimulant. A direct emmenagogue, a tonic in dyspepsia, an expectorant in the absence of feverish symptoms, a stimulant to the mucous tissues, a stomachic carminative, exciting appetite and the flow of gastric juice, and an astringent wash.
It is used in chronic catarrh, phthisis pulmonalis, chlorosis, and in amenorrhoea is often combined with aloes and iron. As a wash it is good for spongy gums, ulcerated throat and aphthous stomatitis, and the tincture is also applied to foul and indolentulcers. It has been found helpful in bronchorrhoea and leucorrhoea. It has also been used as a vermifuge.
When long-continued rubefacient effect is needed, a plaster may be made with 1.5 oz. each of camphor, myrrh, and balsam of Peru rubbed together and added to 32 oz. of melted lead plaster, the whole being stirred until cooling causes it to thicken.
Myrrh is a common ingredient of toothpowders, and is used with borax in tincture, with other ingredients, as a mouth-wash.
The Compound Tincture, or Horse Tincture, is used in veterinary practice for healing wounds.
Meetiga, the trade-name of Arabian Myrrh, is more brittle and gummy than that of Somaliland and has not its white markings.
The liquid Myrrh, or Stacte, spoken of by Pliny, and an ingredient of Jewish holy incense, was formerly obtainable and greatly valued, but cannot now be identified.
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Other species: Bissa Bôl, or perfumed bdellium of theArabs, has an odour like mushrooms. Though it is sent from Arabian ports to India and China, it was formerly known as East Indian Myrrh. It is of a dark colour, and may be a product of Commiphora erythraea, var. glabrescens, of B. Kalaf, A. Kafal, B. Playfairii or Hemprichia erythraea.
B. Kua of Abyssinia has been found to yield Myrrh.
Mecca balsam, a product of B. or C. Opobalsamum, is said to be the Myrrh of the Bible, the Hebrew word mar having been confused with the modern Arabic morr or Myrrh in translation.
The product of Ceradia furcata is also called African Bdellium.
The commercial Gugul, or Indian Bdellium, is said by some writers to be a product of Commiphora roxburghiana, by others of B. Mukul, and by others again of B. roxbhurghii or Amyris Bdellium. It is more moist than Myrrh; is found in irregular, dark reddish-brown masses, with a waxy fracture; softens with the heat of the hand; adheres to the teeth when chewed; and smells slightly of Myrrh.
It is used in the East Indies in leprosy, rheumatism and syphilis, and in Europe for plasters.
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(Information from Botanical.com - and taken by them from "A Modern Herbal", published in 1931, by Mrs M Grieve.)