You may have heard of myrrh from Biblical stories, as it’s one of the precious gifts (together with gold and frankincense) offered by the three wise men to the newborn Jesus. This valuable element actually has a long history of use, especially in ancient civilizations. Today, myrrh is most commonly known — and used — as an essential oil. Keep on reading to learn more about its many benefits.
What Is Myrrh Oil?
Myrrh oil comes from a dried resin extracted from the Commiphora myrrha tree, which belongs to the Commiphora plant genus.1 Like frankincense, myrrh comes from the Burseraceae plant family.2
Native to Northern Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Oman, Arabia and Yemen, the tree grows up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) high, and can be identified by its bluish grey, silvery or white bark and knotted branches.3,4 The word “myrrh” comes from "murr," which means "bitter" in Arabic, probably referring to the bitter taste of the resin.5
Myrrh was very popular among ancient cultures. The Chinese valued it as a medicine, while Egyptians used it not just for their sun-worshipping rituals, but also to embalm their pharaohs.6 In fact, myrrh was mentioned in “Ebers Papyrus,” one of the oldest Egyptian medical texts, which dates back to 1550 BC.7
Even the Greek soldiers made use of this resin, bringing it with them to battle to stop their wounds from bleeding.8 To extract myrrh, the bark of the tree is cut, and a pale yellow sap comes out. This gum is then allowed to dry, which then causes it to turn into a reddish-brown color.9 The dried pieces of resin are then steam-distilled to make myrrh oil. Myrrh oil has a yellow or greenish-yellow color, and a rich, balsamic and earthy aroma.10,11
Uses of Myrrh Oil
Both myrrh resin and myrrh oil have a long history of medicinal use, and are valued for their wound-healing properties. The Egyptians used myrrh to treat hay fever and heal herpes.12 The essential oil is also traditionally used to enhance emotional and spiritual well-being.13
Maintaining healthy skin is also one of myrrh oil’s renowned uses, as it helps restore the health of skin cells to help minimize the appearance wrinkles. It also has antibacterial properties that make it helpful against skin conditions like acne, eczema and athlete’s foot, to name a few.14 This is why it’s commonly added to many skin care products today. Myrrh oil is also used for:15
• Adding fragrance for perfumes
• Flavoring food products
Myrrh oil is also a valuable aromatherapy oil that can be used for massages, mixed in bathwater or simply applied on the skin. You can also:16
• Use it as a mouthwash to help eliminate dental infections
• Put it in a cold compress to help ease inflammation
• Dilute it with a safe carrier oil and use to promote the healing of wounds or ulcers
Composition of Myrrh Oil
There are many health-enhancing compounds in myrrh oil, such as terpenoids, a class of chemicals with inflammation-fighting and antioxidant effects. It also contains up to 75 percent sesquiterpenes, which are compounds that can affect certain parts of your brain, particularly your hypothalamus, pituitary and amygdala. These brain regions play an integral role in controlling your emotions and response to hormones in your body.17
Other components of myrrh include alpha-longipinene, beta-cadinene, eugenol, esters, cuminic aldehyde, acetic acid and formic acid.18,19
Benefits of Myrrh Oil
Myrrh oil’s benefits can be attributed to its powerful antioxidant, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, expectorant and antispasmodic properties. According to the book “The Essential Oils Complete Reference Guide,” it can help with many health conditions, such as:20
• Gum and mouth diseases: It helps relieve toothache, gingivitis and mouth ulcers, and also freshens your breath. Myrrh oil is even used as a natural ingredient in mouthwashes and toothpaste.
• Immune system health: A 2010 study published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal found that an emulsion made from myrrh may help protect against lead-induced hepatotoxicity, oxidative stress and immunotoxicity among animal test subjects.21
A study conducted by Chinese researchers, published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, also found that extracts made from myrrh resin may be effective against human gynecologic cancer cells.22
How Does Myrrh Oil Work?
Myrrh oil is said to promote the health of the limbic center of your brain, which plays a role in its emotionally soothing effects. It’s also said to stimulate the endocrine glands and chakra centers in the body. This essential oil helps stimulate cell tissues, support proper circulation and restore physical energy.23 You can use myrrh oil by:
• Diffusing or inhaling it: You can also add a few drops to hot water and inhale the steam.
• Applying it topically: Apply it on your skin to get its skin rejuvenating and healing properties. Mix it with a safe carrier oil and blend with other essential oils. Myrrh oil blends well with frankincense, bergamot, cinnamon, rosemary and sweet orange oils.24
• Taking it internally: Myrrh oil has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used as a food additive and flavoring agent.25 However, I do not advise ingesting it without the supervision of a qualified health care provider.
Is Myrrh Oil Safe?
If used in moderation and in the correct dosage (especially when ingesting it), myrrh oil is generally safe for adults. However, as with other essential oils, I advise you to use this oil with caution. Myrrh oil is not recommended for pregnant women and nursing moms.
A study in JBRA Assisted Reproduction journal noted that a pregnant woman experienced abdominal pain after using myrrh oil, which might indicate that the oil can act as a uterine stimulant.26 Young children and people with certain health problems should also refrain from using this oil. To make sure that myrrh oil will not have any allergic effects when applied topically, dilute it in a carrier oil and do a skin patch test on your inner arm first.
Side Effects of Myrrh Oil
WebMD states that if myrrh oil is consumed in excessive amounts — up to 2 to 4 grams — it may affect your heart rate and irritate your kidneys. Other possible side effects of myrrh and its essential oil include:27
Worsened systemic inflammation
Lowered blood pressure
Making a fever worse
Some people with sensitivities to myrrh oil may also experience allergic contact dermatitis28 when using this oil. Myrrh may also interfere with diabetes medications, leading to dangerously low blood sugar levels, as well as anticoagulants, so I advise that you avoid the essential oil it if you are taking these medications.29