Myrrh is a red-brown resin with a bitter taste (its name derives from the Hebrew 'murr' or 'maror', meaning bitter) obtained from a species of tree (Commiphora) native to Somalia and the eastern parts of Ethiopia.
Like frankincense, myrrh is collected by making incisions into the bark of the tree. The gum that oozes out hardens into dark yellow-reddish tears, which together with the essential oil (also obtained by steam distillation of the tears) are widely used in incense, perfumes and aromatherapy.
Myrrh has a warm, rich, spicy balsamic odour that is sometimes slightly bitter, and was, like frankincense, an extremely valuable commodity during ancient times. It was mainly used in the embalming process, to delay the decay of the body and to mask the noxious odours.
Like frankincense, myrrh was often a component of the incense used in religious ceremonies. These associations, together with its bitter taste, meant that myrrh came to represent death, suffering and sorrow. Legend has it that the fire on which the phoenix would die and then be reborn was fuelled by myrrh and other spices.
During biblical times myrrh, both as a powder and as the essential oil, was also used in expensive perfumes.
Medicinal Action and Uses
Myrrh has been attributed with many medicinal uses. In ancient times it was used for cleaning wounds and, as late as the 19th century CE, it was being administered as a treatment for coughs, colds, sore throats, halitosis, gum disease and gonorrhoea.
Myrrh resin has since been shown to be anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antimicrobial and antiseptic, and is still used today in mouthwashes and toothpastes, and in a number of liniments and healing salves for minor skin problems.
Until morphine and other painkillers were introduced, myrrh was a common analgesic. Myrrh is nowadays used as a constituent in some cosmetics, and as a flavouring in foods."
Of interest, we might consider that myrrh was used as an analgesic, and Christ was reportedly offered an analgesic while on the cross, and also notice the "bitter" taste of myrrh, and remember the "bitter herbs" that are part of the passover?
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© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.