Frankincense and myrrh are two things we can’t help but associate with Christmastime. What are they?
Aromatic resin gums which are produced by small trees native to the Middle East and northern Africa. The two are different, as each comes from different tree species. Yet they remain closely related, as all are members of the Burseraceae plant family.
Most famously, these two natural plant gums, along with gold, are mentioned in the Bible as gifts from the magi. We discuss the intriguing spiritual meaning those might have in our examination of frankincense oil.
You probably won’t see it at your local supermarket, but yes, you can buy myrrh gum on Amazon.
Both before and after the birth of the Christ, these two types of natural tree gums are found many other places throughout the scriptures. Contrary to what you may assume though, most of the time they are not mentioned together. That affirms there are different uses for myrrh versus frankincense and each should be evaluated on its own.
There are a total of 16 instances you can find myrrh in the Bible.
Today, you can find hundreds of medical studies and papers about it. Much of the scientific research is recent. While it has not been conclusively proven for any given health benefit, the resin extract and oils made from it have shown intriguing preliminary results.
Below we review 25 of the most fascinating topics being looked at, many of which are from studies published within just the past year or so.
The scientific name for the myrrh tree is the Commiphora genus. The most common species is the Commiphora myrrha (also known as Commiphora molmol). There are a few others you will hear about but regardless of the exact species, all of them produce a gum which is very similar.
There is only one type of tree sap which earned a spot on our list of natural antibiotics. Yes, frankincense and other types do demonstrate similar activity in vitro (in the lab), but the effectiveness of myrrh appears to leave others in the dust.
It was so powerful that in some tests, it even destroyed multidrug-resistant strains – those are bacteria which our medications are no longer effective against (or have little effect against).
Even though you hear of people using myrrh for gum disease and other infections, it is not medically approved for those uses. Even though it shows promise in the lab, keep in mind it is not ready for prime time.
Only a couple small human clinical trials have evaluated it and they were done for the purpose of learning, not as part of a drug approval process.
The FDA approval process involves four major phases of research, cumulatively spanning several years, with its use studied in thousands of patients (1). That’s needed to find out if something is safe, if it works, and what the best dosage amounts are if it does.
No one has begun any of those phases using the gum or essential oils made from it.
To be motivated to do so – spending all that money – a pharmaceutical or biotech company would likely need to isolate and patent a proprietary compound derived from the plant. That might then provide a financial incentive to develop a drug using it.
So when we refer to it as a natural antibiotic, it should not be confused with antibiotic prescription medications. You should not use myrrh to treat infections.
Maybe someday that answer will change, but as of today the research is preliminary and mostly taking place in Petri dishes. Contrary to what some other websites claim, it is not proven in humans yet.
If it ever is developed into a medication, it will almost certainly be active compound(s) which will be isolated and used, rather than the unrefined raw natural myrrh gum.
With those caveats said, here’s a look at infectious diseases it is being studied for.
1. Staph infections
Caused by strains of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, these skin infections are some of the nastiest and continue to get more dangerous. Our current prescription medications are losing their effectiveness against them.
Terpenes, a category of organic compounds which contributes to myrrh’s fragrance, appears to be what works against a staph infection in a Petri dish. Researchers at the University of London isolated the terpenes and found some to have strong antibacterial activity against several strains tested, including SA1199B which is multidrug-resistant (2).
Perhaps it’s more than just the myrrh resin terpenes that does this.
In 2016 researchers at a university in Nigeria studied extract from the stem bark of the tree. They found that a newly detected flavonoid, in combination with one that’s widely known (epicatechin), was effective against 9 out of 12 different microorganisms. Among those were Staphylococcus aureus (3).
Which plant part or extract might be the most potent against staph infections might be myrrh essential oil. A study out of South Korea found tested it vs many others (4):
Out of 83 different essential oils tested, it was found the myrrh, black pepper, and cananga were the most effective against Staphylococcus aureus.
This intestinal bacterial infection should not be confused with the similar-sounding enterovirus, but the side effects of both can be quite similar; it causes diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and other awful things.
This rod shaped bacterial – Enterococcus faecalis – can cause problems throughout many parts of the body.
Meningitis, urinary tract infections, tooth infections after a root canal, and much more. The worst part is that it can be life threatening in some circumstance, since it is often resistant to the currently available antibiotic medications.
In a study using 50 dental specimens infected with E. faecalis, researchers found that the inhibition of the bacteria using myrrh powder extract was equal to chlorhexidine 2% solution, which is a prescription oral antiseptic rinse used for tooth infections (5).
3. Bacillus cereus (incl. food poisoning)
This is another nasty rod-shaped bacterium. It’s most frequently associated with food poisoning, however it can also cause infections unrelated to the digestive system
Why it’s so dangerous to eat in your food (or through another route) is because the B. cereus bacteria produce tissue-destructive enzymes. Aside from GI tract side effects, this can cause severe eye infections, central nervous system infections, and even “anthrax-like progressive pneumonia” (6). The photo you see
A university in South Africa recently tested frankincense and myrrh essential oils together on this type of bacteria. While both seem to demonstrate effectiveness on their own, they said (7):
“…enhanced efficacy when used in combination against a selection of pathogens.”
The combo of frankincense and myrrh in the Bible was certainly not for that kind of purpose, but these findings add to the intrigue and mystery of these two plants!
4. Mouth infections, various bacteria
Commiphora gileadensis is one you don’t hear much about. More commonly known as the Arabian balsam tree, the balm of Gilead, and Mecca myrrh. Historically it had been used to make a rare perfume.
If you’re Christian or Jewish and know your Bible, the word Gilead should ring a bell. Gilead was known for their healing eye ointment which was made from this tree.
In modern times, that rich medical history associated with the region inspired the decision to choose the name Gilead for a biotech company. Today they are a $100+ billion leader who was first to cure hepatitis with their groundbreaking Sovaldi and Harvoni medications. But to be clear, those drugs are not made from this tree.
Using the stem parts of the tree, researchers at a university in Saudi Arabia air dried the raw branches and then ground them into a fine powder. They tested it against (8):
- Staphylococcus (staph)
- Streptococcus (strep)
- Lactobacillus casei
- Fusobacterium nucleatum
They concluded that…
“…exhibited useful alternatives, or auxiliary antibacterial agent with no toxicity to improve mouth hygiene and treat uncomplicated superficial mouth infections…”
5. Perineal infection and healing
It goes without saying that during pregnancy that’s not by C-section, a woman’s vagina and surrounding area can go through extreme stress. This area is called the perineum. Among research which sought to find the best uses for myrrh oil, the healing of post-birth tissue trauma was studied.
Most of what we’ve discussed took place in lab, but this was an actual human clinical trial which took place in South Korea (9). It was conducted by the school of nursing at Eulji University.
Unfortunately it was not just myrrh oil. A soap included it, along with the oils of rose, grapefruit, mandarin, lavender, neroli, orange, and roman chamomile. That makes it difficult to know which oil(s) were actually beneficial.
The mothers were divided into 3 different groups:
- aroma-sitz bath group
- aroma-soap application group (the essential oil group)
- placebo/control group
According to the scale they used to measure wound intensity, they found it was…
“…significantly low in the experimental group at postpartum 5th and 7th days”
The experimental group = essential oils. As far as bacteria levels, most patients were said to have “few” which meant only 5-10 bacteria per tested field.
6. Acne related to bacteria
Right off the bat it’s important to say that the root cause of acne is not bacteria. Actually if you can believe it, scientists know very little about exactly why we get pimples.
Yes, the can tell us things that correlate with their occurrence (like puberty) but they still can’t say precisely what’s causing it.
Aside from age, another thing which often correlates with acne is the presence of the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. That’s why dermatologists will often prescribe antibiotics as a treatment.
Among the very early research – over 20 years ago – researchers in India pitted myrrh against one of the most common antibiotics for acne; tetracycline (10).
The form used is what they call gugulipid. It’s part of their ancient Ayurvedic medicine practices. Most often referred to simply as guggul, this resin extract is made from a specific species of the tree – mukul myrrh (Commiphora wightii).
- 20 patients with acne participated.
- Each was randomly assigned either tetracycline 500 mg or 25 mg of guggul to take twice daily.
- They were checked after 3 months.
The average reduction of inflammatory lesions was the same; 65.2% reduction using the antibiotic and 68% using the gugulipi (statistically insignificant difference). However they did suggest that the guggul seemed to help better for those with oily skin:
“An interesting observation was that the patients with oily faces responded remarkably better to gugulipid.”
7. Skin infections
While not specific to any one type of bacteria, a pilot study was conducted using Amish patients living in Central Ohio (11).
Between 2011 and 2013, a total of five Amish people who had experienced 1st and 2nd degree burns were given an ointment which included myrrh, among other herbs. The result? None got a skin infection where they were injured and on average, healing times were less than 2 weeks. That’s what lead the researchers to conclude:
“The use of this herbal remedy appears to be an acceptable alternative to conventional burn care for these types of burns. The trauma of dressing changes was virtually nonexistent. Nurses working in communities with Amish residents should be aware of this herbal-based method of burn care and monitor its use when feasible.”
Keep in mind this was only 5 people. They said it “appears” to be an alternative, it is not yet proven to be. Plus, the ointment contained aloe vera gel, burdock leaves, honey, lanolin, marshmallow root, and others… many of which have their own anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It’s unknown how much the myrrh was playing a part in the results, if any.
8. H. pylori stomach infections
If you’re not familiar with Helicobacter pylori, it’s a spiral-shaped bacteria which is big league problem; it is found in two-thirds of the world’s population at one time or another. It’s especially problematic in developing nations with unclean water and inadequate food safety standards in place (12).
Aside from what you eat or drink, poor hand washing after using the bathroom can cause infection. The side effects of it can include peptic ulcers and even stomach cancer.
Researchers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia recently looked at volatile oils (essential oils) coming from various plant compounds. Myrrh was one, along with cloves, pepper, pomegranate peel, and ginger essential oils. They tested these in the lab to see if they had antimicrobial activity against H. pylori (13).
Based on their results, they created 4 different mixes of these oils which they thought would be most effective.
Out of those 4, the one that was said to work best was mix #2, which consisted of the essential oils of myrrh, ginger, licorice, and pomegranate peel.
“The most potent mix (mix2) was chosen and mixed with baby milk as a new combination for H. pylori infections treatment in babies.”
However they mentioned that on a stand-alone basis “both myrrh and licorice were chosen in mix 2 preparation in spite of their undetected antibacterial activity.” So it’s really unclear if there’s any benefit of it for H. pylori and if there is, it might require the synergistic effects of other oils to work.
While there is a fair amount of research out there suggesting that it has antibacterial properties, there is very little about it being antiviral.
In fact if you search the NIH’s PubMed database for the myrrh antiviral, you only get 2 results. If you replace the word antiviral with virus, you get only 3 (1 being a duplicate).
In short, it’s one of the very preliminary uses.
That makes the idea of using myrrh essential oil for colds even more farfetched. Yet that’s exactly what a lot of dubious herbal remedy sites are claiming. It appears they are mixing up the research about it possibly being antibacterial and assuming that translates to the common cold.
Both the cold and influenza are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Regardless, we will highlight the research about the flu to show just how little exists…
To find research about using myrrh for the flu involves going all the way back to 1947 (14).
That lab study looked at gum myrrh and gum acacia, as well as several forms of complex carbs (apple pectin, citrus pectin, flaxseed mucilage).
They seemed to all inhibit the agglutination (clumping together) of the influenza A virus in chicken red blood cells, but only apple pectin was found to inhibit the multiplication of the virus in chicken eggs.
In 2012, Italian researchers tested extracts from the Commiphora erythraea species for antiviral activity against parainfluenza type 3 virus (PIV3). Only 2 out of 5 tested extracts showed any effects against the PIV3 and the results for them were not impressive (15).
So that’s all there is related to the flu. There’s literally no research published for the common cold caused by the rhinovirus or coronavirus. As far as the novel COVID-19 coronavirus, there are no clinical studies on such. It should NOT be used for that, nor any other viral infection.
10. Newcastle disease virus (NDV)
This is thought of as a bird virus, but is also believed to infect humans. What’s interesting is that it has been found to replicate better in human cancer cells versus healthy cells.
As a result, NDV-based cancer treatments have been under development as a hope of modifying the virus to not only spread, but also hopefully kill human cancer cells. Research is on-going (16).
Commiphora swynnertonii, a species of myrrh, has been found to have “strong antiviral activity against NDV” in 9-day old chicken eggs which were infected with the virus. That means it could someday prove to have benefits for chickens, birds, and perhaps other animals which are harmed by NDV infections (17).
We’ve gone over the antibacterial properties (most promising) and the antiviral (least promising), but how about effects against fungal infections?
The body of research falls somewhere in the middle of those two things. There’s certainly more evidence compared to antiviral, but a smaller body of research than the seen for antimicrobial.
Here’s a look at the types of fungus is has been tested against.
11. Skin and nail fungus
What is the best essential oil for toenail fungus? You almost never see myrrh listed on the purported herbal remedy websites. Instead they often list tea tree, oregano, cinnamon, clove oils, and others.
While still unproven, it is true some of those others have better research to suggest them being plausible for fungal infections of the nailbed. Myrrh hasn’t really been researched much for this issue, but during 2016 something was published. Myrrh oil made from the Commiphora molmol species was tested in the lab against the following skin infections (20):
- Trichophyton rubrum
- T. mentagrophytes
- Microsporum canis
- M. gypseum
- T. verrucosum
Nail infections can be caused by a dermatophyte fungus, included those listed above. For example, T. rubrum is a common cause of undernail fungus versus that growing on the top surface. It, along with T. mentagrophytes, are the two most common fungus types which cause athlete’s foot.
While both the myrrh oil and ethanol extracts seemed to work, the oil did the best job. That led the researchers to conclude:
“The results of our investigation confirmed the traditional uses of C. molmol [the myrrh species used] as a poultice for the treatment of cutaneous fungal infections.”
You never see it on those purported lists of the best essential oils for athlete’s foot. Many cite tea tree oil which does have some interesting properties. Though with some of these other oils claimed, they actually have no research to support antifungal activity.
It would be great to see a clinical trial using humans to evaluate it for athlete’s foot and other skin conditions. Doing trials for aesthetic and semi-aesthetic purposes like nail fungus tend to be easier to get green lit, since they’re normally not a serious disease like cancer or blood pressure. With those, having a wrong or ineffective treatment can easily mean a life or death outcome.
12. Candida albicans
Commonly known as a Candida yeast infection, this is a huge problem, particularly for women.
Aside from being a leading cause of vaginal yeast infections and oral thrush, this fungus is known to run rampant in the digestion tract of some people. It’s a normal part of gut flora, but for some it seems to get out of balance and that can lead to a number of side effects.
Worse yet, the antifungal medications on the market today demonstrate little effectiveness, or at least for a large number of sufferers who deal with it as a chronic problem. That’s why scientists are studying antifungal herbs and other possible natural remedies.
Upon testing 40 different strains of Candida albicans, myrrh essential oil was one which was found to show efficacy (18).
A more recent study from 2016 done at a university in Serbia found that (19):
“All tested Candida spp. clinical isolates and ATCC strains showed susceptibility to tested essential oils in a dose dependent manner.”
The essential oils tested were:
- 1 type of myrrh oil (Commiphora myrrha)
- 1 type of elemi oil (Canarium luzonicum)
- 2 types of frankincense oils (Boswellia carterii)
These all come from the Burseraceae family of plants. While myrrh oil for Candida did seem to work well, it was actually frankincense oil which was said to be most effective. However since all showed some ability to stop the fungus, they concluded:
“This study supports the possible use of essential oils from the Bursecaceae family in reduction and elimination of Candida spp. populations in patients with oral cavity fungal infections.”
We started with what many consider to be the most primitive life forms like bacteria and worked our way up to those which are more evolved. That brings us to parasites.
There are differences between parasitic and fungal infections. In parasitism, one species (the parasite) will get beneficial things (i.e. food) at the expense of the host.
Sometimes the advantages go both ways, other times they don’t.
It is true that many forms of fungi and insects fall under the parasitic umbrella, along with other types of living organisms. But the lifeforms we typically call parasites are more advanced than a simple bacteria. Tapeworms and fleas are good examples.
Treating microscopic parasites is often times a lot harder than bacteria. Here’s a look at some of the research for this purpose.
13. Schistosomiasis (snail infection)
Schistosoma mansoni, which is also known as bilharzia, is an awful type of parasitic worm, which live in shell. They’re actually a type of freshwater snail found in the tropics, the United States is not a habitat for them (thankfully).
More immediate symptoms can include itchy skin and rashes. After 1 or 2 months, there can be fever, muscle aches, chills, cough, and more (21). People can actually go years with this disease, leading to an enlarged liver, bloody stools/urine, and even bladder cancer.
People catch this when the Schistosoma eggs are in freshwater. That can happen when an infected person’s urine or feces ends up in it. Even if you’re not drinking the water, bathing or swimming can lead to infection.
Myrrh has been looked at for this, but hit roadblocks (22):
“A plethora of plant-derived oils and extracts were found to effectively kill juvenile and adult schistosomes, yet none was progressed to pre- and clinical studies except an oleo-gum resin extracted from the stem of Commiphora molmol, myrrh, which action was challenged in several trials.”
A pharmaceutical medication branded as Mirazid was actually developed using myrrh stem extract (from Commiphora molmol). But the World Health Organization said in 2010 that it was ineffective in humans (23).
Research published in 2016 still suggested it might work, at least in mice (24):
“The results demonstrated that, artesunate or myrrh treatment could give a level of protection against S. mansoni infection and modulate the levels of some Th1 and Th2 cytokines in mice infected with S. mansoni.”
So as of today, it’s ineffective. But the door doesn’t seem to be closed on continuing the research for this awful parasite.
14. Trichomoniasis STD
This is a very common sexually transmitted disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas vaginalis (25). A primary medication used to treat it is metronidazole, but there are resistant strains and side effects associated with that drug.
A human study was done in Egypt involving 33 females with the medication-resistant form of the parasite. They were given myrrh supplements using the previously discussed Mirazid medication. Two capsules (600 mg) before breakfast, taken for 6 to 8 days in a row. The researchers concluded (26):
“The anti-trichomoniasis vaginalis activity of both P. granatum (in-vitro) and C. molmol (in-vivo) extracts gave promising results.”
But that was using the medication Mirazid, which as mentioned was found to be ineffective for snail infections.
This may be the most known – and feared – parasites affecting humans. No one had really looked at using myrrh for malaria, but a paper published in 2015 suggests it might be worth further investigation. Researchers in Kenya looked at (27):
- 99 plant species which showed promise in lab experiments for being antiplasmodial (a behavior which means they might work against malaria).
- 24 of those who shown to “were considered to have potential for isolation of antimalarial compounds.” Meaning, there might be compounds in them which could help if they were more concentrated.
- Only 8 of the 99 showed “moderate antiplasmodial activity” even before isolation. Among those was a species of myrrh; Commiphora africana.
That’s only a lab study. It has yet to be studied in animals, humans, or even in other experiments.
16. Tapeworm and flatworm
Fasciola gigantica is a species of flatworm found in tropical climates, including Hawaii. A few years ago, researchers looked at using the now discontinued Mirazid, as well as the myrrh volatile oil (essential oil). What was interesting was that the oil actually seemed to work better than the medication (28):
“Flukes showed swelling after these treatments, but its level and blebbing were much greater with myrrh volatile oil; in which patches of tegumental sloughing were observed in the apical cone and the posterior mid-body region of flukes. This was not observed after treatment with Mirazid oleoresin extract.”
Their conclusion was that Mirazi – which was made using the oleo resin extract – was experiencing benefits from the volatile oils in it, rather than the other parts of the gum.
17. Coccidia infections in cats, dogs, etc.
Some pet remedy websites propose using myrrh for dogs gums. While it’s not a canine periodontal disease, the coccidial infection is caused by a one-cell parasite (Coccidiasina) which commonly manifests itself in chickens, cattle, dogs, and cats.
The most common side effect is watery, mucus-heavy diarrhea and over time, this can damage the animal’s intestinal tract. That’s why prompt treatment from a veterinarian is important. Perhaps someday, they will be able to isolate compounds from myrrh to make a natural home remedy for coccidia infections.
A study took place in Tanzania involving 80 chickens, divided into 5 different treatment groups (29). Some received a resinous extract from a species of myrrh (Commiphora swynnertonii). Prior to treatment, all had been intentionally given the infection. Based on the results, they said:
“These findings clearly indicate that resinous extract from C. swynnertonii has significant anticoccidial effect against experimental Eimeria spp. infection in chickens. A larger field trial to validate the use of the extract in chickens naturally infected with Eimeria spp. is required.”
Chickens aside, it would be interesting to see some sort of study involving pet dogs or cats.
Other potential uses in healthcare
Aside from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, what is myrrh used for?
It is being studied for other non-infectious diseases. Additionally, there are the more subjective health advantages like aromatherapy, which might help with relaxation and sleep.
If you’re a fan of Doterra or Young Living essential oils, you probably have heard – either from the companies directly or those who sell their products – that some have a high amount of antioxidants.
That is true, not just with those brands, but others as well.
The ORAC value, which measures antioxidant activity, actually registers very high for myrrh essential oil. When you compare essential oil ORAC values for 72 different types, second place goes to myrrh.
With a value of 379,800, when compared on an equal weight basis, it’s around 80x higher than blueberries!
If you were curious who took the numero uno spot, it’s clove oil. Either way, a silver medal is nothing to sneeze at!
19. Mouth sores
Stomatitis is a generic term for inflamed mouth sores and inflammation, often times it’s a recurring issue. While it can be caused by an infection, most cases are not. It could be an unidentified allergic reaction or food irritant, but usually the cause is never known.
These painful sores can make it difficult to eat and talk. When they’re really bad, even simple daily activities and sleep are disrupted by the painful distraction.
A university in Saudi Arabia looked into whether myrrh for mouth sores and ulcers might be an effective treatment option (30).
- Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
- 90 participants who had minor recurrent aphthous stomatitis (MiRAS)
- Participants were divided into 3 groups; a natural myrrh gel (0.5% concentration), an aloe vera gel (0.5%), and a placebo treatment.
- When a fresh ulcer less than 48 hours began, each person was instructed to apply their gel 4x daily, for a total of 5 days of treatment.
- On days 4 and 6, they were evaluated for ulcer size, pain level, redness, and other symptoms.
“The new formulated aloe- and myrrh-based gels proved to be effective in topical management of MiRAS. Aloe was superior in decreasing ulcer size, erythema, and exudation; whereas myrrh resulted in more pain reduction.”
20. UV skin damage
The oily and waxy substance that comes out of the sebaceous glands in your skin is called sebum.
Squalene is found in sebum.Both it and sebum are highly susceptible to photo oxidation during UV exposure. Researchers in France wanted to see if two natural substances might help reduce that oxidation (33):
- A free radical scavenger (butyl hydroxyl toluene and an olive extract rich in hydroxytyrosol)
- Myrrh essential oil, a singlet oxygen quencher (made using Commipora myrrha)
Based on their lab tests, they had this to say:
“Our results clearly show that essential oil of Commiphora myrrha provides the best protection against squalene peroxidation. These results demonstrate that squalene peroxidation during solar exposure is mainly because of singlet oxygen and not due to free radical attack. This suggests that sun care cosmetics should make use not only of free radical scavengers but also of singlet oxygen quenchers.”
More natural health products are starting to use this ingredient, but for different reasons. Myrrh skin benefits touted are often purely cosmetic, like being a natural astringent that temporarily tightens your face. Perhaps the advantages are more than initially thought?
21. Gastric ulcers
Since it is purported to have anti-inflammatory and wound healing benefits, researchers studied rats for the effect myrrh supplements might have. Some rats had skin injury, some had gastric ulcers, while other had both. Myrrh was found to enhance their white blood cell counts, which “have been used as an indicator by clinicians to monitor progress of healing in patients” (31).
An earlier rat study used myrrh extract (from Commiphora opobalsamum). It seemed to offer protection against stomach ulcers which were intentionally inflicted on them (32):
“Pretreatment with Balessan extract provided a complete protection of gastric mucosa through supporting both the offensive and defensive factors. Balessan extract was also showed a large margin of safety without any apparent adverse effects in rats.”
While there were no side effects of myrrh noted, it’s not like you can ask a rat if they’re having a headache or other non-visual symptom.
Here’s one beneficial thing being studied you probably haven’t heard about. Maybe because the study came out of Shahed University in Iran (34).
Before starting treatment, a baseline of symptoms was established; bleeding, constipation, pain, reflux, and flatulence (gas).
- 99 patients with hemorrhoids, ranging in age from 32 to 56 years. Both men and women participated.
- 49 of them received lactolose syrup and a daily anti-hemorrhoid suppository (these are typical treatments).
- 50 received 3 grams per day of myrrh gum (from Commiphora mukul).
- Treatment period lasted 4 weeks, followed by another medical evaluation 4 weeks after ending treatment.
The results? Many symptoms “significantly decreased” in those receiving the myrrh, relative to what was seen in the other group. This led them to conclude it was more effective than the lactolose syrup and the daily anti-hemorrhoid suppository.
They also noted that only a low dose of myrrh was used (3 grams daily) and that if they increased the dosage comparable to previous studies, and continued treatment for longer, they would expect even better results.
23. Cancer research
Researchers at Texas Southern University described why the gum resin from the Commiphora wightii species (guggul) appears to inhibit tumor cells in the lab. They said (35):
“Recent research indicates that the active components of gum guggul, E- and Zguggulsterone have the potential to both prevent and treat cancers.”
Research published in 2016 by UK scientists found that myrrh oil (made from Commiphora guidottii) exhibited toxicity against several mice and human breast cancer cell lines. They called out ß-bisabolene, which makes up 5% of the oil, as being the suspected active compound (36).
They saw a 37.5% reduction in the volume of mice mammary tumors.
Chinese researchers found other compounds which they claim had an antiproliferative effect against human prostate cells (PC3 type) in experiments (37).
A case study was published of a man in South Korea with metastatic bladder cancer in both lungs. He decided to forgo chemotherapy and instead, use a combination of Korean alleged herbal medicines as treatment. Those included myrrh, along with around a dozen other natural plant extracts (38).
A = January 11, 2014, before treatment.
B = March 13, 2014, tumors increased after 2 months of treatment with various pharmacopunctures, Soramdan, Gunchildan and Cordyceps sinensis distillate intake, and Soram nebulizer solution inhalation.
C = April 10, 2014, slight improvement after 1 month of treatment with Hyunamdan and Hangamdan S intake and Soram nebulizer solution inhalation.
D = May 17, 2014, significant increase after another month of same treatments.
While he was said to experience a reduction in the number of metastatic nodules in the lungs, it seems they only followed him for a short period of time. You can’t read too much into a short term effect like that.
Studies like these are fascinating to read, but keep in mind there are many plant compounds (lots, actually) which show anti-cancer properties in the lab, only to not work in humans.
For a better understanding, please read our recent frankincense and cancer update.
24. Inflammatory digestive diseases
Because of its believed anti-inflammatory benefits, some herb-based regimens – like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine – use myrrh for indigestion, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Those uses haven’t been researched and only a couple studies exist which even look at gastrointestinal problems.
As part of traditional Iranian medicine, using myrrh gum for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a treatment but there is little to no research on that alleged benefit (39).
At a university in Saudi Arabia, they tried to replicate the effects of ulcerative colitis (UC) on 36 male rats using acetic acid. Next, they treated them with one of three myrrh dosages (125, 250, of 500 mg per kg of body weight, per day), or the prescription UC drug, mesalazine (300 mg/kg/day) (40).
After comparing the medication vs. the gum extract:
“In conclusion, the results of the present study provided support for the beneficial effects of myrrh against acetic acid induced experimental colitis. The protective properties of myrrh may be attributed to its ability to inhibit free radical production and potentiate the endogenous enzymatic or nonenzymatic antioxidant system.”
They also said that its anti-inflammatory effects might have something to do with it.
What does myrrh smell like? Many describe it as having a latex-like aroma but in a good way. Its hint of sweetness is subtle, being earthier like that of leather. Many say the smell is like a floral black licorice scent.
As with any scent, our noses are all different so some people love it and others don’t. You won’t know until you try!
While many use it by itself, myrrh essential oil blends well with frankincense (even the Bible seems to hint at that), lavender, and sandalwood.
Whether used in the oil form or as an incense stick, if it offers you stress relief that is reason enough, right?
And that’s not even factoring in any potential antioxidant activity it may have if used topically on your skin.
Using it as food and flavoring
Remember the research is all preliminary. Health benefits have not been proven. However you can still enjoy it as a food, for its unique flavor.
Is myrrh edible? Yes, but not the essential oils, since those are therapeutic grade for topical use and aromatherapy. None of the oils for sale are organic, but that’s not the issue. Rather it’s because they’re not food grade, so they may have been manufactured using inedible solvents.
Eating myrrh resin in very small quantities is done in some cultures. It tastes bitter, yet aromatic and cooling, which is why some mouthwashes use it. Similar to licorice, it’s used as a flavoring for candy and baked goods to add those characteristics. In regions where the tree grow, locals are even known to chew it like gum. The popular spice brand Frontier sells it on Amazon.
So you can use this as an exotic flavor in your cooking or even on its own, in the form of a gum or to make a hot tea. Please remember it should NOT be used for any disease or medical condition.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.