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Myrrh Plant and Its Historical Development Essay

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2021

Historically, Myrrh was not a pharmacopeia plant and was not used in conventional domestic medicine. The Periplus explains “the name myrrhs is from the Hebrew and Arabic mur, meaning bitter” (114). At the same time, in folk medicine in many countries, myrrh’s essential oil is used as an adjunct in treating diseases of the skin, respiratory tract, nervous system and other health problems (Lee et al. 981). In addition, it was used for aromatization and elimination of undesired smells.

Myrrh is first mentioned in the papyrus of ancient Egypt. The Egyptians considered this plant sacred and worshiped it. The oil extracted from tree resin, they used as a medicine and during rituals, in particular during mummification. No less often Myrrh is mentioned in the Bible. Here she is called peace or peace. It was this substance that was presented to Jesus Christ as one of the three gifts.

To obtain myrrh, the bark of a tree is incised, and from cuts of the bark, without external pressure, milky sap flows out, which, drying out, becomes gray-brown or yellowish-brown, shiny or dull in appearance (Wickramasinghe 166). Separate such pieces the size of a grain accumulates clusters, which are collected.

Myrrh is fragrant in nature, and the taste is spicy and bitter. The chewing creaks on the teeth, with water, forms a whitish-yellow emulsion. It burns with a luminous flame, does not melt. The gum is harvested as the raw material, which is Myrrh’s frozen resin. Historical evidence shows that for the first time, shepherds began to receive this substance, combing it out of animal fur, which they loved to rub against tree trunks (Lee et al. 983). However, this method did not fit for harvesting large volumes of resin; thus, over time, special notches began to be made on the trees, from which the milky juice began to ooze. Later, the plants began to cultivate purposefully. Now on the bark of adult trees make several neat cuts, of which there are transparent drops. They are sometimes so many that they form whole clusters. In the air, the milky sap of the plant quickly hardens and becomes red-brown.

According to the Periplus of the Erythrean sea “from earliest times, it has been, together with frankincense, a constituent of incense, perfumes, and ointments” (113). A large number of legends are composed of the healing properties of myrrh; the oil of this plant accelerates the formation of connective tissue at the site of ulcers, wounds, and abrasions. Stacte said, “they give no tithes of myrrh to the god because it is the product of other countries as well” (113). Myrrh resin has antibacterial, antifungal and wound healing effects, has anti-inflammatory and sedative effects. The gathering process is highly intricate and scheduled. Pliny in the Periplus of the Erythrean sea states “incisions are made in the myrrh-tree twice a year, and at the same season as in the incense-tree” (113).

Due to its beneficial effects, myrrh was purchased by regular members of society. Furthermore, Stacte claims “myrrh is bought up indiscriminately by the common people and the packed into bags” (113). Tinctures and extracts of myrrh are used to normalize the work of the gastrointestinal tract (Wickramasinghe 159). Due to the given reasons, myrrhs was considered as a multifunctional plant, which was made a great impact on social norms of folk medicine and it served as a perfume.

Works Cited

Lee, Young-Hee, et al. “Dyeing properties and deodorizing/antibacterial performance of cotton/silk/wool fabrics dyed with myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) extract”. Textile Research Journal, vol. 87, no. 8, 2016, pp. 973-983.

Wickramasinghe, Chandima S. M. “A Study of Anthropological and Ethnographical Information in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea”. Indian Historical Review, vol. 45, no. 1, 2018, pp. 151-167.

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