Origin

Myrrh is a concrete exudation from Balamodendron Myrrh a, a shrub or small tree, growing in the deserts of Arabia and North-eastern Africa, Two commercial varieties were formerly brought into market, one from the ports of Egypt in the Mediterranean, the other from the ports of India; both, however, being originally obtained from the same neighbourhood. They were distinguished by the names of Turkey and India myrrh. The former was much purer and finer than the latter, because selected with greater care, in reference to its more expensive carriage. At present both kinds are imported from India, whither they are taken by Arab vessels from the Red Sea.

Sensible Properties. Myrrh is in small fragments, irregular or rounded, like tears, or in larger masses, as if consisting of the smaller agglutinated together. The best specimens, formerly called Turkey myrrh, are of a pale reddish-yellow, or reddish-brown colour, often powdery on the surface, and translucent. The larger agglutinated pieces exhibit various shades of colour The inferior kinds, formerly known as India myrrh. are in very irregular lumps, of a dark colour, opaque, and full of impurities. Myrrh is brittle, with a shining fracture. The powder of the best kinds is whitish or yellowish-white, of the inferior darker, with a somewhat reddish hue. It is not fusible by heat, but is inflammable. The odour is strong, peculiar, and fragrant; the taste bitter, somewhat acrid or pungent, and aromatic.

Composition, and Relation to Solvents. The active principles of myrrh are & peculiar bitter resin, which has been called myrrhin, and a volatile oil. In composition it is a gum-resin, containing volatile oil, and other ingredients of little or no practical importance. Water dissolves the gum and a very small proportion of the volatile oil; alcohol the resin and the whole of the oil; and, as these two are the active principles, alcohol would seem to be the best menstruum. But when the gum-resin is rubbed with water, it readily forms a white or yellowish-white opaque emulsion, in which the resin and oil are held in suspension by the gummy matter dissolved in the water; and, though a portion of the resin soon subsides, the mixture is sufficiently permanent, or so easily rendered uniform by shaking, that this form is usually preferred for the administration of the medicine. Alkalies unite with the resin, and render it much more soluble in water; so that, by the addition of a portion of an alkaline carbonate in forming the emulsion, this is rendered of easier preparation, and more permanent. The volatile oil may be separated from the gum-resin by distillation.

Effects on the System

Myrrh acts on the system probably as a simple bitter tonic through its resin, and as a stimulant to the circulation through its volatile oil. It has no special influence on the brain or nervous system generally; but is supposed to have a peculiar tendency to the lungs and uterus, stimulating their functions respectively, and consequently acting as an expectorant and emmenagogue. When swallowed in small doses, it increases the appetite, produces a feeling of warmth in the stomach, and invigorates digestion, as well probably as the vital functions generally. In larger quantities, it increases the pulse, produces a glow over the system, and operates generally as a mild arterial stimulant. In over-doses, it irritates, or may even inflame the stomach, and gives rise to general febrile phenomena.

Therapeutic Application

Myrrh has been known as a medicine from the earliest records of our science. It is now probably less esteemed than formerly, but is still much employed, and is not without valuable powers. As a tonic simply, it is not often used; being too stimulating, and too apt to irritate the stomach, if this be at all disposed to be so affected, or to augment any existing irritation or inflammation. But in a perfectly sound, though weakened state of the stomach, with a languid condition of the functions generally, it may be given advantageously; and especially when, with this debilitated state of the system, there coexists either amenorrhoea, or a chronic bronchial inflammation, with profuse expectoration, or both these conditions jointly. The particular affections, therefore, to which it is best adapted, are chlorosis in females with amenorrhoea, and chronic bronchitis in the old or debilitated, with or without hectic fever, but with copious and especially puruloid expectoration; and, when these affections are associated, the indications for its use are still stronger. But particular care must be taken that the stomach is in no degree phlogosed when it is administered. It has been much used in phthisis; but I cannot say that I have known it to be of material service in that complaint; while it has often done harm by disturbing the stomach. It is seldom given alone. In anemic states of the system with amenorrhoea, it is often combined with one of the preparations of iron, and, if there be constipation at the same time, or a tendency to it, with aloes or rhubarb.

Being a local stimulant, myrrh has been much used externally in foul, flabby, or indolent ulcers, as a mouth-wash in spongy or ulcerated gums, and as a gargle in ulcerous affections of the fauces. For these purposes, the powder is, in external ulcers, simply sprinkled on the diseased surface, or applied in the form of an ointment; in affections of the mouth and fauces, it is employed rubbed up with water.

Administration

Myrrh may be administered in powder, pill, or emulsion, in the dose of from ten to thirty grains. In the simple form of powder, it is little used.

Nor is it often given, uncombined, in the form of pill; but it enters into several officinal combinations in this form. Such are the Pilulae Aloes et Myrrhae, formerly called Rufus's pills, Pilulae Ferri Comp., Pil. Galbani Comp., and Pil. Rhei Comp., of the U. S. Pharmacopoeia. To these the reader is referred, under the heads of their prominent ingredients respectively.

Emulsion is the form of administration most frequently used. It should be made by selecting the finest pieces, powdering them, and rubbing the powder up thoroughly with such a proportion of water, that a tablespoonful of the mixture shall contain the dose of the gum-resin which it may be desired to exhibit. If an alkaline carbonate be indicated at the same time, its addition will tend to facilitate the preparation. The noted anti-hectic mixture of Dr Griffiths, formerly very popular, and still considerably used in chlorosis, amenorrhoea, hysteria, and the hectic fever of pulmonary complaints, is made of these ingredients, with the addition of sulphate of iron, which is converted into the carbonate through reaction with the carbonate of potassa used. The Mistura Ferri Composita of the Pharmacopoeias is an imitation of this preparation.

Decoction is not an appropriate mode of preparing myrrh, as the whole of its active properties are not extracted by water. The gum-resin, however, is an ingredient in the Compound Decoction of Aloes of the British Pharmacopoeia, in which the resin is dissolved by means of the alkaline carbonate used.

Tincture of Myrrh (Tinctura Myrrhae, U. S), though little used internally, is often employed locally as a stimulant to indolent and foul ulcers, to promote the exfoliation of bones, and, diluted with water, as a mouth-wash or gargle, in spongy gums, aphthous sore mouth, and ulceration of the mouth and fauces. When mixed with water, it becomes turbid by the separation of the resin. The dose is from thirty minims to a fluidrachm.

There are several other stimulant tonics, which owe their virtues to bitter principles and volatile oils, but having little to recommend them in preference to those in more general use, and not being at present much employed, will be more appropriately considered in a subordinate position. Such arc angustura, cascarilla, contrayerva, wormwood, tansy, and horehound. A brief notice will suffice for each of these