MYRRH (from the Latinized form myrrha of Gr. /*u/5pa ; the Arabic murr, bitter, was applied to the substance from its bitterness), a gum-resin highly esteemed by the ancients as an unguent and perfume, used for incense in temples and also in embalming. It was one of the gifts offered by the Magi, and a royal oblation of gold, frankincense and myrrh is still annually presented by the sovereign on the feast of Epiphany in the Chapel Royal in London, this custom having been in existence certainly as early as the reign of Edward I. 1 True myrrh is the product of Balsamodendron (Commiphora) Myrrha, a small tree of the natural order Amyridaceae that grows in eabtern Africa and Arabia, but the name is also applied to gum resins obtained from other species of Balsamodendi on.
I. Baisa Bol, Bhesa Bol or Bissa Bol, from Balsamodendron Kataf, resembles true myrrh in appearance, but has a disagreeable taste and is scarcely bitter. It is used in China, mixed with food, to give to milch cows to improve the quality and increase the quantity of milk, and when mixed with lime as a size to impart a gloss to walls. (2) Opaque bdellium produced by B. Playfairii, when shaken with water forms a slight but permanent lather, and on this account is used by the Somali women for cleansing their hair, and by the men to whiten their shields; it is known as meena hdrma in Bombay, and was formerly used there for the expulsion of the guinea-worm. (3) African bdellium is from B. africanum. and like opaque bdellium lacks the white streaks which are characteristic of myrrh and bissa bol, both are acrid, but have scarcely any bitterness or aroma. (4) Indian bdellium, probably identical with the Indian drug googul obtained in Sind and Baluchistan from B. Mukul and B. pubesccns. Hook, is of a dark reddish colour, has an acrid taste and an odour resembling cedar-wood, and softens in the hand.
As met with in commerce true myrrh occurs in pieces of irregular size and shape, from $ in. to 2 or 3 in. in diameter, and of a reddish-brown colour. The transverse fracture has a resinous appearance with white streaks; the flavour is bitter and aromatic, and the odour characteristic. It consists of a mixture of resin, gum and essential oil, the resin being present to the extent of 25 to 40%, with 2 to 8% of the oil, myrrhol, to which the odour is due.
Myrrh has the properties of other substances which, like it, contain a volatile oil. Its only important application in medicine is as a carminative to lessen the griping caused by some purgatives such as aloes. The volatile oils have for centuries been regarded as of value in disorders of the reproductive organs, and the reputation of myrrh in this connexion is simply a survival of this ancient but ill-founded belief.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)