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myrrh (mûr) noun
1. An aromatic gum resin obtained from several trees and shrubs of the genus Commiphora of India, Arabia, and eastern Africa, used in internal linkperfume and internal linkincense. Also called balm of Gilead.
[Middle English mirre, from Old English myrrha, from Latin, from Greek murrha, probably of Semitic origin.]

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Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
This small, scrubby tree from the Middle East and northeast Africa isn't very handsome, but it makes up for its lackluster looks with the precious gum it exudes. An important trade item for more than a thousand years, myrrh was a primary ingredient in ancient cosmetics and incenses. The internal linkEgyptians mummified their dead with it.

Medicinal Action: Myrrh improves digestion, diarrhea and immunity. It treats coughs, gum disease, wounds, candida, overactive thyroid and scanty menstruation.

Cosmetic/Skin Use: Myrrh is an expensive treatment for chapped, cracked or aged skin, eczema, bruises, infection, varicose veins and ringworm.

Emotional Attribute: Myrrh has been used since antiquity to inspire prayer and meditation, and to fortify and revitalize the spirit.

Associated Oils:
Opopanax (Illicium verum) --This oil from Somalia and Ethiopia is sold as a low-grade myrrh. Lumps that exude from the root and stems are steam-distilled after hardening. Opopanax gives liquor a winelike taste and is a fixative. The herb that bears the name Opopanax chironium is a Sudanese and Arabian plant similar to parsnips, and isn't made into oil. To add to the confusion, cassie (Acacia farnesiana) is sometimes called "opopanax."

Copaiba Balsam (Copaiba officinalis) --This South American oleoresin (not really a balsam), called copal, is similar to myrrh. In Central and South America, where it has been used for centuries as internal linkincense, the Catholic church uses it in place of myrrh, and herb vendors sell it in almost every market.

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Scientists research healing properties of myrrh
December 31, 2001 8:10 CDT

Myrrh may actually have some amazing medical capabilities, scientists are now discovering. Researchers at Rutgers University have found two compounds in myrrh that are strong painkillers, another compound that helps lower cholesterol, and most recently, a potent anti-cancer agent that shows great potential for treating
breast and prostate cancer.

The scientists report their findings in the Journal of Natural Products. They wrote that a compound in myrrh  effectively killed all human breast tumor cells in a lab culture dish, even though the cells are resistant to other anti-cancer drugs. "It's a very exciting discovery," said Mohamed Rafi, an assistant professor of food science at Rutgers and co-author of the study. "I'm optimistic this compound can be developed into an anti-cancer drug" that could have fewer toxic side effects than other cancer drugs, although it has yet to be tested in animals or humans.

Myrrh is an aromatic gum resin harvested by cutting gashes in the bark of the dindin tree, a small desert tree also called Commiphora myrrha. The myrrh hardens into teardrop-shaped chunks, which are then ground up and used in ointments or perfumes. Many herbalists already consider myrrh to be a powerful immune system stimulant and anti-inflammatory medication, even promoting it as a "supportive" supplement for people battling several types of cancer.

Until the last century, myrrh was commonly prescribed for worms, coughs, colds, sore throats, asthma, indigestion, bad breath, gum disease and gonorrhea, and as a painkiller. It is still a common ingredient in some types of toothpaste and mouthwash. Myrrh has been used in Chinese medicine for bleeding and to treat wounds, and was even in ancient times used in the internal linkprocess of embalming or anointing the dead.

Rafi and his research team tested a concentrate of myrrh extract as part of a larger search for anti-cancer compounds in plants. They isolated myrrhís active components and found a previously unknown compound called sesquiterpenoids, part of a growing class that has been found to be toxic against various lines of cancer cells, although none has been brought to market as a drug.

The investigators are also performing research to see if myrrh attacks cancer through some other chemical path. "Based on our initial lab tests, the compound does not appear to be as strong as traditional chemotherapy drugs like paclitaxel (Taxol), vinbalstine or vincristine, which are highly toxic to healthy cells," Rafi said. Rafi estimates that the compound is about 100 times less potent than Taxol, but within the strength range of other recently discovered cancer-fighting compounds isolated from plants such as resverotrol (from grapes), genestein (from soy) and catechins (from internal linktea).

Rafi says that the reason these compounds are worth pursuing is that since they come from food, they're less likely to be toxic to healthy cells and should make for fewer side effects if they're used for chemotherapy.

Source: Scripps Howard News Service

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