"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"
THE BENEFITS OF THE USE OF MYRRH
IN HERBAL PREPARATIONS
CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS OF MYRRH
Many of the chemical constituents found in myrrh are currently being studied for their activities on various conditions and diseases. Research on myrrh is just showing that those before us had wisdom in the area of medicine long before we give them credit. Myrrh has several main constituents. These are from about 9 to17% volatile oil, 20 to 40% alcohol-soluble resin, and approximately 30 to 60% water-soluble gum (ABC).
The volatile oil contains heerabolene, acadinene, elemol, eugenol, cuminaldehyde, numerous furanosesquiterpenes including furanodiene, furanodienone, curzerenone, lindestrene, 2-methoxyfuranodiene, and 3-epi-alpha-amyrin and a few other compounds (Hoffmann)(Chromadex). Myrrh is also credited to have myrcene and a-camphorene, as well as a few steroids including Z-guggulsterol, and I, II, III guggulsterol. Herbs that contain volatile oils are aromatic and tend to be antimicrobial and disperse congestion (McDonald). Steroids found in plants are known as sterols and resemble human steroids in structure. Modern clinical studies have shown that they play a role as analgesic and anti-inflammatory agents (Singh and Sanhu).
The resin in myrrh is made up of alpha-, beta-, and gamma-commiphoric acids, heeraboresene, alpha-, and beta-heerabomyrrhols and commiferin (Hoffmann). Resins are a diverse group of chemical compounds that share chemical characteristics such as insolubility in water, solubility at room temperature, and lack of a nitrogen group. “Resin compounds formed with sugar are called glycoresins; those formed with oils are called oleoresins” (Isnar). According to the UCLA Biomedical Library, resin does not decay and is found to be bacteriostatic (Darling). Resins are soluble in alcohol or ethanol which is why myrrh is often prepared as a tincture.
The water soluble gum or mucilage content in myrrh is about 30 to 60%. It is “…composed mainly of acidic polysaccharide with galactose, 4-O-methyl-glucuronicacid, and arabinose in a ratio of 8:7:2, with approximately 18 to 20% proteins” (ABC). “Mucilage is a thick, glutinous substance related to the natural gums, comprised usually of protein, polysaccharides, and uranides. It swells but does not dissolve in water” (Columbian Electronic Encyclopedia). Mucilage is often used in emollient or demulcent preparations. This could account for the many uses of myrrh in cosmetic and beautifying preparations that have been used in centuries past as well as the preparations on the market today.
Myrrh also contains ash, salts, sulphates, benzoates, malates, acetates of potassium, formic acid, acetic acid and many more constituents (Chem). Tannins are also found in myrrh. “Several actions have been attributed to tannins including antidysenteric, antimutagenic, antimephritic, antioxidant, antiviral, bactericide, cancer-preventative, hepatoprotective, pesticide, psychotropic, and viricide properties”(Ultimate Water Massage).
According to the PDR for Herbal Medicines, 2nd Edition, some of the chief components in myrrh are sesquiterpenes (535). Sesquiterpenes are a large family of C15 -isoprenoid molecules found in plants, microbes, and some marine organisms. Isoprenoids also called terpenoids, are “…unsaturated hydrocarbons found in essential oils and oleoresins of plants…”(American Heritage Dictionary). They are hydrocarbons with 15 carbon atoms and are naturally occurring alcohols that very rarely exist as volatile oils. When distilled from plants, these bitter constituents stimulate the glands and the liver, and have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-allergen, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory properties (Natural Healthcare)(Hobbs). The Department of Food Science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, found that the gum exudates of Commiphora myrrha contain six sesquiterpenes including two new furanosesquiterpenes. One of the latter exhibited cytotoxic activity (destroys specific cells) against a MCF-7 breast tumor cell line (Zhu et al 1460-1462). Myrrh oil “…has one of the highest levels of sesquiterpenes, a class of compounds that has direct effects on the hypothalamus, pituitary and amygdale, the seat of our emotions” (Essential Oils Desk Reference).
by Rebecca Joy Knottnerus