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What is Myrrh?

Niki Acker
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

Sources

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.

Ancient Uses

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.

Medicinal Uses

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.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

Discussion Comments

By anon926996 — On Jan 21, 2014

I take frankincense and myrrh with oil of oregano internally for pain. Works great!

By anon243581 — On Jan 28, 2012

In my research, I found that Myrrh represents consecration meaning separation unto God. Being anointed with oils and consecrated (set apart) unto a holy life. The wise man who presented the gift of Myrrh to Yeshuah (on the day of the Lord's birth) gave it as a symbol of the future sacrifice. Yeshuah was going to be set apart to live a holy life and give it as a living sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind, hence the spotless and blameless Lamb of Yehovah Elohyim.

By anon178859 — On May 22, 2011

Myrrh is sometimes wrongly ascribed to myrrhis odorat, common name sweet cicely. This is more likely to have been used on a lapel, etc. than myrrh, which is not native to Europe or North America.

By anon170100 — On Apr 25, 2011

Myrrh symbolized bitter rejection that the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus went through on the cross.In the book of Isaiah it says 'he is despised and rejected of men;a man of sorrows acquainted with grief: and we Hid as it were our faces from Him; he was despised,and we esteemed Him not.(KJV)'

By anon169924 — On Apr 24, 2011

Myrrh was also used as a mild anesthetic/pain reliever. In Roman times it was mixed with wine and offered to some of those undergoing the agony of crucifixion. Jesus was offered the concoction of wine/myrrh before the crucifixion but He refused to drink it. It is now being investigated/researched because of its many medicinal properties, some of which include the reduction of cholesterol levels, a decrease in blood sugar levels, and its pain relieving properties.

By anon140010 — On Jan 06, 2011

I read in a Guidepost devotional that the same wise man that brought Myrrh as a gift to baby Jesus also 33 years later brought myrrh to the cross when Jesus was crucified to anoint his body. Is this true?

By anon137544 — On Dec 28, 2010

In the Jewish morning prayer services, near the beginning describing the practises for sacrifices, the formulation for incense is given.

By anon118213 — On Oct 13, 2010

I am from Somalia, where both myrrh and frankincense are used. when a baby is born to a somalian family, they keep little Myrrh under his bed until that baby reaches about a year old. we believe it helps that baby to shape his future. it's not something new. it started about 500BC. scientists now found out that frankincense, which is similar to myrrh, can cure some neuron diseases, reduces stress, and even treats lung and heart diseases.

By anon66076 — On Feb 17, 2010

i just want to know how to make incense from it. anybody can you help me?

By cbngr — On Jun 05, 2009

What would the value of Myrrh have been?

Nicodemus brought 100 pounds to help with the burial of Jesus. Is that a lot?

By honchess — On Dec 06, 2008

I subscribe to a couple archaeological publications and I've noticed that, although the CE/BCE references were popular when they were first initiated, many archaeologists. seem to be reverting to the old BC/AD notations.

CE and BCE seem to be rather ambiguous. I mean, how far back does the "common era" go before it becomes "before common era"?

Whereas the BC and AD (regardless of your 'religious" affiliations or non-affiliations as the case may be) do refer to more definite time frames. Just a comment.

By anon7574 — On Jan 29, 2008

My church (an Episcopal cathedral) used to burn frankincense for feast days and other high occasions. People complained all the time, but I honestly think they'd complain if you swung a thurible with smoke from dry ice. Anyway, we switched to rose myrrh and it is soooooooooo nice. We absolutely love it and the complaints are still around but fewer.

By wallie — On Jan 08, 2008

Anyone on the Myrrh question.. surely someone knows about this tradition somewhere??

By anon6690 — On Jan 06, 2008

What the heck is 65 CE? 65 years after what?

By wallie — On Dec 24, 2007

have you ever heard of Myrrh being used at weddings as an add on to the brides headdress or the grooms lapel? The green plant not the dried version of it.

It's for luck i think? I wonder where and how this tradition came about. My parents were German and they used this. Anybody know anything about this tradition?

Niki Acker

Niki Acker

Writer

"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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