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What Is Myrrh?

A bowl of myrrh.
The most common source of myrrh is the tree, Commiphora myrrha.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were presented to the baby Jesus in the New Testament.
In Argentina, myrrh is often mixed with cola.
Myrrh was used to embalm mummies in the ancient world.
The New Testament says myrhh was added to the wine given to Christ before his crucifixion.
Myrrh was said to have been given by the three wise men to baby Jesus.
The resin of myrrh gum is used to make devotional incense.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2014
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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.

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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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Discuss this Article

anon926996
Post 18

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

anon243581
Post 17

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.

anon178859
Post 16

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.

anon170100
Post 15

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)'

anon169924
Post 14

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.

anon140010
Post 13

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?

anon137544
Post 12

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

anon118213
Post 10

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.

anon66076
Post 9

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

cbngr
Post 7

What would the value of Myrrh have been?

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

honchess
Post 5

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.

anon7574
Post 4

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.

wallie
Post 3

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

anon6690
Post 2

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

Moderator's reply: CE is short for Common Era. You can find more information on this topic in our article, What is the Difference Between AD, BC, BCE, and CE in Identifying Historical Dates?

wallie
Post 1

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?

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