The Mystery of Myrrh
Of all of the well-known resinous bearing plants in the world Myrrh may be the one known to penetrate mental, physical and emotional cracks. Myrrh and its sought after oleo-gum-resin (aka: gum-resin or resin) bears the signature of oldness, inner wisdom and depth. But what exactly is Myrrh and how may it be approached from an aromatherapy perspective? This article, and its associated video (also below), looks to acquaint you with the plant, its resinous essential oil and how to work with it.
Myrrh is classified in the Burseraceae family, also known as the “Torchwood” family. So-called Torchwood for their flammable gum-resins which are readily accessed from the plants (trees) by drilling, tapping, incising or scraping the bark. These pantropical resin-bearing plants thrive in the drier tropical and sub-tropical climates: examples are Palo santo in Ecuador, Elemi in the Philippines and the Frankincense species found in Africa, Arabia and India.
Despite the propensity of the Burseraceae family’s gum-resins to readily smoke and burn, Myrrh’s gum-resin is quite brittle and smolders like dying embers. To me this is indicative of its deeply grounding and penetrating nature.
Myrrh is a Plant of Ancient Lands
Myrrh bearing trees thrive in lands around the Arabian and Red Seas. Although there are approximately 200 species classified in the Commiphora family, those seeking traditional Myrrh are mainly interested in resin harking from Arabia (i.e., Saudi Arabia and Oman) and the“Horn of Africa” (i.e., Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia). It is in these regions that the irregularly shaped, spiny and craggy trees called “Commiphoraa myrrah” call home. Indicative of its tenacity and somber qualities, C. myrrha is one of the few plants to survive in a treacherous region of Oman called Tehama which translates to “Hell.”
Of note, there is also the species Commiphora molmol which is considered interchangeable with C. myrrah. It really comes down to different growing conditions and geographical locations—plants adapt and specialize. Regardless, these stunted, shrubby trees with whitish-grey peeling bark may grow up to 5 m high to 1.5 m wide in “dwarfish thickets. Similar to the Frankincense tree, Myrrh is deciduous and bears flowers and fruits during the small window of the year when the rains come (Nov – Jan).
What’s In a Name?
What does it take to live in an ancient land known as “Hell”? In the context of Myrrh, the gum-resin has a bitter, brittle nature; it is acrimony and starkness. “Myrrha” is from the Hebrew “mor” meaning bitter, “Commiphora” is from the Greek “kommi” (gum) “phoros” (carrier). This acrimonious resin was used for centuries for transitions, embalming, funerary rights and the healing of wounds. Emblematic of this is how Myrrh was given to Jesus at the beginning of life as well as the end when he was upon the cross. The bitterness of “Hell” is the mark of suffering. Of being human, the frailty of hope and seemingly futile avoidance of suffering.
The Personality of Myrrh
Myrrh represents sadness that comes with wisdom earned from a life of scarcity, being burned, scorched and dried. Its growing conditions favor access to moisture in cracks and crevices, associating it with the dark, cooling qualities of caves and inner sanctums. Myrrh shows us we don’t need much; it has reserve, recalling the Hermit archetype.
Standing strong in the chaos of a sun-drenched sandstorm is a short, thorny, multi-branched thicket-looking bedraggled Being who holds secrets of survival. Myrrh’s energy is yin. Deep, dark and cave-like with an ability to bleed into the body; drawing everything inward with powers of somberness and subtlety. However deep, its actions on the mind-body lack an expected heaviness. Instead, Myrrh is a light veil that drapes and seeps.
Getting to Know Myrrh Essential Oil
Myrrh essential oil is obtained by steam distilling the crushed gum-resin exuded by C. myrrah. As this tree is not easily cultivated much of the resin is wild harvested, where collectors may be gone for weeks at a time. The exudate is obtained from natural fissures in the tree or by incising the bark to artificially expose the resin. When exposed to air the oleo-resin hardens to a brittle brownish-yellow to red-brown.
Affinities and Usage Applications for Myrrh Essential Oil
Essential oil of Myrrh is a go-to for modulating the nervous system and supporting respiratory and skin health. Myrrh gum-resin is overall (e.g., using the dried powder) antimicrobial, astringent, carminative, works with mucus and helps expel it and overall supportive of wound healing.
- Nervous system & emotional support: Myrrh’s qualities are pensive, somber and deep. It is fortifying and may foster a sense of stability. Calming to the scattered mind, Myrrh brings everything inward toward the heart.
- Consider blending with the Sages (Salvia sp.), Geranium (Pelargonium sp.), Rose (Rosa sp.) and all other oils listed below.
- Respiratory support: Its penetrating, drying qualities go deep, sooth and open the breath. Consider for colds and flu, catarrh, deep infection (bronchitis) via inhalation and steam/vapor.
- It blends well with Frankincense (Bosewllia sp.), Conifers (e.g., Pinus sylvestris, Cedrus atlantica, Abies balsamea) and Myrtus communis.
- Skin health: Myrrh supports the healing of dry, damaged, cracked skin as well as damp, weepy, lax tissues and fungal infections.
- Consider blending with Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii), the Melaleucas (M. alternifolia, M. quinquenervia), Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum), Copaiba and Cistus ladanifer.
Affinities and Usage Applications for Myrrh Tincture & Hydrosol
- Support digestive health with Myrrh’s astringent and carminative qualities.
- Combine with: Fennel, Ginger or German chamomile to ease gas or bloating and soothe sore tissues.
- For oral care when local-astringent, anti-microbial and wound healing qualities are need, create a mouth-rinse for assistance (see below recipe).
- Consider combining with Cistus or Cypress if a toning (astringent) quality is needed for leaky-laxity all the way through the GI tract (e.g., from sore gums to hemorrhoids to diarrhea)
Impressions of Myrrh Essential Oil
Myrrh’s aromatic molecules bring an immediate calming and stabilizing effect. The region of the “third eye” is activated. The overall experience is none other than somber; yin energy that is Earth bound. Time and time again attention is brought down to the lung-heart/cardiac notch accompanied by a physical and mental stillness of a catatonic nature: inward centering. Attention is brought to a stronger heartbeat heightened by full, unrushed breath. Several separate occasions, without notice, my hand went up to my breastbone with repeated emphases on the cardiac-notch. Each occasion brings something unnamable but deeply somber and my eyes well-up. Not as much as with Palo Santo; that is world sadness. Myrrh is about internal excavating. More nuanced, is a continued pulling down of energy. Pulsing in the knees and feet. Heaviness continues to sit between the eyebrows, the third eye. The mind continues to be clear, the body steady in a semblance of catatonia with deeply, slow lungs and fortified heartbeats.
The light, mobile and clear oil of Myrrh belies its bitterness with initial turpenic, mildly sweet and green-woody whispers. It is warm to neutral, dry on the nose but brings the mind to cool and slightly moist earth to the touch. Taken by the hand, cavernous interiors cloak you in deep amber with hints of leather and tea-colored linen. The journey continues as you travel on, noting mothballs in old dark closets made of wood, bearing a reddish-brown patina of lifetimes bearing witness. Faint notes of Fenugreek and Cumin hover around the stability of Sandalwood softness. Contemplation, not rumination, sets in as you enter a womb of thought only to quietly sit upon the ground in-waiting. Secrets reveal themselves through faint wafts old suede, dry rocks, old desert soil. Myrrh’s aroma becomes singular—oxidized burnt ochre—standing quiet but strong. As the dry-down settles Myrrh carves out space to sink into the solitude needed to excavate buried things that may come forth from your sub-conscious and liberate them through the lungs.
Aromatherapy in Practice: Blending with Myrrh Essential Oil
Myrrh (in powdered or tinctured form) has long been associated with oral health and is recognized by the German Commission E for use in oral care (e.g., gingivitis). Consider creating your own mouth-rinse to support oral health, especially for bleeding, loose, spongy gums and infection. I really enjoy creating and using my own mouth-rinse and hope you do too.
- 3 oz distilled water
- 3 oz hydrsols of your choice (I chose German chamomile and Yarrow)
- 1.5 oz tincture of Myrrh
- 0.5 oz tincture of Propolis
- 1 Tbsp Xylitol
- 10 drops of Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
- 5 drops of Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
- 5 drops of Thyme ct Thymol (Thymus vulgaris)
- Note: Other notable essential oils for oral care are Tea tree, Niaouli and Clove.
How to Make: Combine all of the ingredients into an 8 oz capped bottle with a neck so you may easily dispense the mouth-rinse. Shake vigorously to combine the ingredients. Label and store in a dry, cool place.
Usage Suggestions: Use daily, as you would any mouthwash. Gargle at least 3x/day if infection is present.
Clearing for Transitions & Sacred Space
Have you ever needed to literally clear the air? This can be as simple as clapping your hands or looking to burn smudge sticks & resins as people have been doing for 1,000’s of years. You may also consider creating a simple “Clearing Mist” as well.
Myrrh is chosen for its somber, comforting embrace capable of induction. Cypress, long worked with as a being who connects the living world and the other world, helps process transitions and moving along on a journey. Sage is almost forceful in clearing away stagnation but gets the job done leaving space for new beginnings.
- 9 drops Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
- 11 drops Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
- 1 drop Sage (Salvia officinalis)
How to Make: Dispense the essential oils into a 1 ounce spray bottle (preferably glass). Affix the top and shake to combine the essential oils. Remove the top and add 1 ounce of distilled water or consider adding Rose or Frankincense hydrosol. Replace the spray top and create a label for the bottle.
Usage Suggestions: Always shake before using to disperse the essential oils amongst the water. Use this as you see fit! Spray doorways and corners or even the space around you to “clear the air.” Consider using after arguments, when you feel scattered or fuzzy or are looking to contemplate a weighty matter.
Thank you for spending time with Myrrh and me.