Myrrh is the dried resin of several Commiphora tree species. According to the New Testament of the Bible, it was one of the gifts given to Jesus Christ by the three wise men, and it is used in various religious rituals. This resin is a part of both ancient and modern medicines, and it is used as an ingredient in some perfumes and alcoholic beverages for its rich, distinct scent.
Commiphora myrrha, the most common source of myrrh, is a type of tree native to places like Yemen, Somalia, and eastern Ethiopia. It is also known as Balsamodendron myrrha or "gum myrrh." These trees produce the resin when their bark and sapwood are cut, which is often done deliberately in order to collect it. At times throughout history, it has been at least as valuable as gold, and sometimes even more so, because of its medicinal properties and role in religious ceremonies.
Myrrh was used in many different ways in the ancient world and was considered sacred by several cultures. The ancient Egyptians used the resin when embalming mummies. It was also an ingredient for incense according to the Old Testament, and the New Testament states that Jesus was brought a gift of it, along with gold and frankincense, shortly after his birth. It has been reported that, in 65 CE, the Roman Emperor Nero burned a year's supply at the funeral of his wife.
A common element in ancient medicine, myrrh resin was used to dress wounds because of its astringent properties. In modern medicine, it is sometimes used as an antiseptic to prevent and treat gum disease, and it may be found in some mouthwashes and toothpastes. Some studies indicate that it could help reduce inflammation, and it has been suggested as a possible treatment for asthma and some types of stomach disorders. There has been very little research on the effects of this resin on humans, however, so there is no clear proof for these health-related uses. It is sometimes found in salves for skin irritations and various toiletries, both for its purported medical properties and its distinctive scent.
Use as a Fragrance
The resin has been used in mixtures of incense and perfumes since ancient times, a practice that continues to the present day because of its strong scent. High quality myrrh can be identified by its dark color and sticky texture, which indicates a large amount of the fragrant oil that gives it its unique smell. It has an earthy, bitter odor when burned, and instead of melting when exposed to high heat, it expands, unlike most other resins.
Use in Drinks
Myrrh has also long been used as an additive to wine and other alcoholic beverages, often for the flavor it provides. According to the New Testament, it was added to the wine that was offered to Jesus before his crucifixion. It is also an ingredient in the Italian spirit Fernet Branca, created in 1845 by Maria Scala as a medicine. This spirit is very popular in Argentina, where it is commonly mixed with cola, and in San Francisco, where it is may be mixed with ginger ale.