Myrrh essential oil benefits are well-studied, and are incredible examples of how a historical plant based medicine is relevant today. So, forget about the Christmas story for a minute, myrrh should be on everyone’s radar throughout the entire year!
History of Myrrh
Gifted to the baby Jesus and remembered each year at Christmas, many of us may not realize that myrrh is actually used every day around the world. While most of our essential oils and herbal remedies come from leaves and flowers, myrrh is much more exotic. It is the resin, similar to a sap, of an African and Middle Eastern tree, the Commiphora myrrha, that is used to distill the essential oil.
We know that myrrh is of old thanks to the gifts of the Magi, but that’s not the only documentation. Ancient Egyptians, as part of their intricate mummification process, utilized myrrh in their rituals. We have record from Herodotus that describes myrrh’s use in approximately 450 B.C., though mummification was in practice for centuries prior.
Myrrh has been historically used as medicine in China and as part of Jewish anointing oils, and is still used to this day. Myrrh essential oil is an incredible example of the way plant based medicines connect us with history. This tree has stood where ancient Egyptians and Hebrews walked, and still stands today, sharing its healing resin with yet another era. Not all healing is sweet and pleasant, though. Myrrh is named for the Arabic word for “bitter”: murr.
Myrrh’s Therapeutic Properties
Chemically, myrrh oil is comprised of terpenoids. Terpenoids have a reputation as potent healers, potentially because of their role in protecting the plant from oxidative stress. As we know, this kind of stress causes cell death, and it’s not exclusive to humans.
After centuries of use in aromatic and medicinal forms, science is uncovering more and more of the healing properties of myrrh oil by the day. Some of the scientifically acknowledged properties include:
- Wound healing
These actions have been traditionally applied to skin infections, oral health, inflammation, intestinal health, and pain relief, all confirmed in some way by modern science. (1)
The more research uncovers, the more we see stress in its various states as an underlying cause of so many illnesses and discomforts. It’s no wonder that a powerful antioxidant would carry such varied benefits. And powerful it is! Myrrh extract exhibited an antioxidant effect strong enough that it can protect the liver – the “detox” organ that is bombarded with toxins every day – from oxidative damage.
Not only does myrrh utilize antioxidant properties to seek out free radicals and reverse oxidative damage, but it may be able to eliminate cancer cells, as well. Researchers in China recently published their findings on myrrh’s cancer fighting abilities, after in vitro lab tests demonstrated the inhibition of cancer cell growth. (2) As with most cancer research, the steps forward toward proven treatments are detailed and difficult, but the foundation is clearly there, and the potential is absolutely intriguing!
5 Benefits of Myrrh Essential Oil
So how exactly does one utilize such a powerful, ancient, even holy substance? Honestly, however you’d like! The healing properties of myrrh oil have an increasingly well-studied background, and has been demonstrated as an effective remedy in more than one category. The myriad of myrrh essential oils benefits makes it one of my favorites.
Microbes are all around us, in many shapes and forms both beneficial and deleterious. When we’re thinking in terms of pharmaceuticals and traditional medicines, there are treatments for bacterial infections, another treatment for fungal infections, and still others for viruses. Instead of treating individual problems, myrrh essential oil is beneficial against a variety of microbes.
Natural antivirals, antifungals, and antibacterials exist, of course, with each substance carrying its own strengths and weaknesses. A strong antimicrobial, though, may have the ability to affect more than one category of microbes. Myrrh essential oil is one such antimicrobial substance and was even successfully tested against eleven strains of bacteria. (3)
2. Wound Healing
With these antimicrobial effects in combination with pain and inflammation relief, myrrh is an excellent wound healer. In an interesting study evaluating postpartum women who delivered vaginally with an episiotomy, myrrh oil in a sitz bath or soap application was actually shown to help the perineum heal by warding off the identified bacteria Escherichia coli and Enterococcus faecalis. The researchers concluded, “These findings indicate that postpartum aromatherapy for perineal care could be effective in healing the perineum.” If you plan to breastfeed, however, some indications are that myrrh may impact milk supply. (4)
3. Oral Health
The mouth is a dirty place. We’re exposed to so much through our mouths, making it a hotbed of microbes and potential illness. When we do get sick, our mouths often notice first – sore throats, phlegm, and other discomforts settle in as one of the first signs of many illnesses. What’s more, diseases of the mouth and gums are all too common.
According to a review conducted by Egyptian researchers, myrrh oil “is one of the most effective herbal medicines in the world for sore throats, canker sores and gingivitis.” (5) And when it is combined with frankincense essential oil, a special synergy occurs. According to a recent South African study,
“Frankincense and myrrh have been used in combination since 1500 BC…When assayed in various combinations, the frankincense and myrrh oils displayed synergistic, additive and noninteractive properties, with no antagonism noted. When investigating different ratio combinations against Bacillus cereus, the most favourable combination was between B. papyrifera and C. myrrha.” (6)
Utilize its antiseptic, antimicrobial, and wound healing effects by mixing a drop into your toothpaste when you brush your teeth each night.
4. Antiparasitic Actions
No one wants to think about parasite infestations, but what we really don’t want is to be caught with a parasite and unable to treat it. Egyptian scientists tackled this issue, as well, working with patience who had signs of parasites in their stool. Antiparasitic treatments are often harsh and come with intestinal discomfort. After testing a treatment utilizing myrrh essential oil, “no signs of toxicity or adverse reactions” were a problem and the treatment was successful. (7) This was against a specific parasite, of course, but the potential for improved treatment and even protection against infection exists!
5. Cancer Fighting
Last, but certainly not least, the ability myrrh essential oil has in fighting cancer is becoming a popular topic in the industry. One of the most thorough studies on the topic was published in the journal Oncology Letters in 2013, and this is what they discovered about frankincense and myrrh oil:
“The effects of the two essential oils, independently and as a mixture, on five tumor cell lines, MCF-7, HS-1, HepG2, HeLa and A549, were investigated using the MTT assay. The results indicated that the MCF-7 and HS-1 cell lines showed increased sensitivity to the myrrh and frankincense essential oils compared with the remaining cell lines. In addition, the anticancer effects of myrrh were markedly increased compared with those of frankincense, however, no significant synergistic effects were identified.” (8)
Of course, no one is claiming that myrrh will cure cancer here, but as more research is conducted in this area, I hope to see more definitive recommendations on how to use it!
Recommendation: For a truly Biblical combination, use frankincense and myrrh essential oils together for a synergistic blend of antimicrobial benefits!’
Notably, these two resins are generally prescribed simultaneously in traditional Chinese medicine. They are used primarily to treat blood stagnation and inflammatory diseases, as well as for the relief of swelling and pain, (8) Even though there were no synergism noted regarding cancer, “A previous study identified that the combination of frankincense and myrrh oils exhibited synergistic effects on harmful bacterial infections Cryptococcus neoformans and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.” (8)