What is Commiphora?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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Commiphora is a genus of flowering plants under the Burseraceae, or torchwood, family. Its species are made up of trees and shrubs that can be seen growing in regions of east India, Arabia, and Africa. There are more than 180 known species of Commiphora recorded. The species in this genus have numerous uses, including medicinal purposes and in perfume manufacturing.

Common characteristics of these trees and shrubs are thorny branches and small trifoliate leaves. Variations of small to medium red, pink, and white flowers sprout along rough, woody stems. These perennials grow to heights of 13 feet (14 m) when fully mature. An aromatic smell is emitted whenever parts of these plants’ leaves and branches are bruised or cut off.

Commiphora wightii, or the Mukul myrrh tree, is one of the genus’ most frequently grown species. These trees are mostly cultivated for their sap, which is used as an ingredient for incense and herbal remedies for treating high cholesterol, liver problems, and excessive bleeding. Indian and Arab countries are the biggest commercial consumers of wightii. Like most of the species, Mukul myrrh trees also have protective thorns on their trunk and branches, and they grow small, off-white colored blooms during the summer.


Another popular variety of Commiphora that grows in some regions of Asia and Africa is meccanensis, commonly named balm of Gilead. The Bible mentions the plant as a source of herbal remedies for ailments such as fever and stomach aches. Its leaves secrete a fragrant smell. Products such as herbal balms for headaches and scented oils for places of worship are obtained from this medicinal plant.

These types of trees and shrubs can also be grown in gardens. Commiphora myrrha, or gum myrrh trees that have fragrant oval-shaped leaves and small white blossoms, are often used as accent or foundation plants for home gardens. Myrrha can also function as a natural insect repellent for outdoor living areas like pool decks and patios, because mosquitoes and flies tend to steer clear from this tree. The maximum height for gum myrrh trees is around 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 m).

The majority of the species in this genus are grown mostly for their commercial value and medicinal functions rather than for ornamental reasons. Historical accounts of their many uses can be traced back to 2000 B.C. Egyptians used gum myrrh tree sap for embalming, and the Chinese boiled the leaves of Mukul myrrh trees to produce fragrant aromas during purification rituals. Modern day manufacturers of Commiphora products have started infusing these plants’ extracts with products such as mouthwash and acne creams.


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