Myrrh (Heb. mor), a gum resin mentioned in the Old Testament as an article of commerce, and one of the oldest medicinal articles of which we have any record. Though the drug has been well known for many centuries, its origin was long obscure; it was once supposed to be produced by an acacia, and it has been attributed to other genera. Nees von Esen-beck in 1826 described the myrrh-yielding tree from specimens brought home by Ehrenberg as balsamodendron myrrha, and this was accepted as the plant till 1863, when Berg in studying the specimens found that the one indicated by Ehrenberg as furnishing myrrh was quite different, and he described it as B. Ehrenbergianum, in honor of the collector. The genus balsamodendron, by some referred to terebinthaceo2, is now placed in Burseracew, a small family of plants which have aromatic resinous juices, and are nearly related to the orange and rue families. About six species of the genus are recognized, all shrubs or small trees inhabiting Africa, Arabia, and other parts of Asia; the general character of their foliage and flowers is shown in the illustration.
The drug, which is probably the product of more than one species, is a natural exudation, which may be increased by wounding the bark of the tree; it is at first light yellow and soft, but becomes darker and harder as it dries. Like many other eastern drugs, myrrh is known in commerce by the names of the places whence it is exported rather than those which produce it, and we have Turkey or Smyrna, and East Indian or Bombay mvrrhs, though they are collected in Arabia and Abyssinia. Myrrh occurs in lumps or tears of variable size, which are whitish upon the exterior from the powder produced by attrition; it is brittle, reddish yellow or reddish brown, semi-transparent, and with a dull oily kind of fracture; its odor is aromatic, characteristic, and pleasant to most persons; it has an aromatic and bitter taste. Though known in commerce as gum myrrh, it is a true gum resin, containing nearly 28 per cent, of two kinds of resin, about 64 per cent, of gum, some volatile oil, etc. It is imported in chests of about 200 lbs., which contain lumps of various qualities; it is sorted by the dealers into myrrh of two or three grades.
The chests often contain inferior gums added accidentally or intentionally; one of the most frequent is a gum resembling Senegal, which is readily recognized by its shining fracture and lack of proper taste; bdellium, also found as an impurity, is distinguished by being softer and darker colored. Alcohol dissolves the resin and volatile oil of myrrh, leaving the gum, and a tincture represents the active portions of the drug. When triturated with water the gum dissolves, and the linely divided resin and oil are held in suspension and form a milky emulsion, one of the forms in which myrrh is administered. The Hebrews employed myrrh in preparing the ointment for the rite of consecration, and it is mentioned as one of the articles used in the purification of women, in embalming, and as a perfume. It is now employed in medicine as a stimulant and tonic; it is seldom prescribed alone, but with preparations of iron and vegetable bitters; it is given in doses of from 5 to 20 grains or more. Externally myrrh is employed to stimulate indolent ulcers and to dress wounds that are slow of healing, and is a popular remedy for soft and spongy gums, for which purpose the tincture largely diluted with water is used.
It has been proposed to utilize the residue after the preparation of the tincture for the manufacture of a coarse mucilage.
Myrrh (Balsamodendron Ehrenbergianuin).