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(English) : common myrrh, gum myrrh, myrrha
(Somali) : didin
Commiphora myrrha is a sturdy, spiny, glabrous shrub or small tree, usually with a distinct short trunk up to 4 m tall. Outer bark silvery, whitish or bluish grey, peeling in large or small papery flakes from the greener under-bark; exudate hardly scented, viscid, producing a hard translucent yellowish gum-resin. All branches are spine tipped and knotted. Leaves trifoliate, chartaceous, greyish green or glaucous, very variable in shape and size; petiole 1-10 mm long; a few lateral leaflets, sometimes very minute may be found on both short and long and short shoot leaves, the leaves may be elliptic, spathulate or lanceolate, attenuate, cuneate, rounded or truncate at the base, rounded or acute apically, 6-44 mm long, 3-20 mm wide, with 3-4 rather weak main veins, margin entire or 6-toothed on each side. Male flowers usually precocious, 2-4 in dichasial cymes 3-4 mm long which are often sparsely glandular; bracteoles pale brown. 0.5-0.7 mm long and wide, often lightly attached at the base and forming a fragile detachable collar; receptacle beaker-shaped, petals oblong, tapering pointed and recurved at the tip, 4.5 mm long, 1.5 mm wide; filaments 1.4 and 1.2, anthers 1.2 and 1.0 mm long. Fruits 1-2 on jointed stalks, ovoid, flattened and beaked 2-4 mm long. Seed smooth with gentle swellings. C. myrrha is a very variable species, both in its leaves and in its pseudaril. The different forms seem to merge so impercetibly that the recognition of infraspecific taxa is often difficult. Forms in which the lateral leaflets are half as large as the terminal leaflet seem to occur only in the northern part of the area of the species and have not been seen in Kenya. The generic epithet is derived from Greek ‘kommis’ and ‘phora’ meaning gum bearer.
Ecology and distributionHistory of cultivation
Myrrh has been an important trade item for more than a thousand years, mainly as a primary ingredient in cosmetics and incenses; in the holy oil of the Jews and the Kyphi of the Egyptians for embalming and fumigations. According to legend Greek soldiers took myrrh into battle to treat their wounds. The earliest recorded African plant collection expedition with obvious economic and domestication intention by Queen Hatshepshut of Egypt in 1495 to the Land of Punt (Somalia) was to obtain living specimens of the trees whose fragrant resin yielded the precious frankincense. The expedition from Deir el Bahr by boat down to the Nile, across by canal to the Gulf of Suez and down the whole length of the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden; brought back 31 trees carefully packed in wicker baskets slung on poles and carried between two sometimes three pairs of slaves. The trees were planted in the temple garden at Thebes.
C. myrrha is normally found in open Acacia, Commiphora bushland on shallow soil, chiefly over limestone.
Native : Ethiopia, Kenya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia
Biophysical limitsAltitude: 250-1300 m Mean annual rainfall: 230-300 mm Soil type: Prefers shallow soil, chiefly over limestone.
Propagation and managementPropagation methodsPropagation is by seed.
The stem is cut, gum-resin gathered and then carbonized.
Functional usesProductsGum or resin: The oleo-gum resin from the stem has an aromatic taste and odour, may be acrid and bitter. It is inflammable, but burns feebly. Its products are highly prized in Asia. Essential oil: Myrrh oil is deep amber in colour with a warm, spicy, bitter and smoky aroma. Today myrrh oil is still considered helpful for meditation, and aromatherapists recommend the naturally antiseptic essential oil for skin and mouth problems. Poison: This herb is contraindicated during pregnancy because of its emmenagogic activity. It is advisable to dilute myrrh before use and administer moderate doses. Allergic reactions have been observed. Medicine: Myrrh stimulates the production of gastric juices, tones the digestive tract and used to treat diarrhoea, flatulence, dyspepsia, loss of appetite. Stimulates the production of menstrual blood (emmenagogue). Also used to treat genital infections, leucorrhoea, thrush, scanty periods, used for haemorrhoids, arthritis has expectorant activity and is also used for flu, catarrh, bronchitis, asthma, sore throat. Stimulates the production of white blood cells regeneration of skin cells, assists in the healing of wounds. Myrrh treats eczema, wounds, wrinkles and has very good mollifying qualities. Use of myrrh imparts a cooling, calming effect, combating apathy and increasing mental clarity and focus. Myrrh is also administered as horse tincture in veterinary practice for healing wounds. Because of its anti-fungal properties it can be used as a vaginal wash for thrush or in a footbath for athlete's foot. Other products: Myrrh is a common ingredient of toothpowder, and is used with borax in tincture, with other ingredients, as a mouth-wash. The thick, pale yellow oil contains myrrholic acid and heerabolene, a sesquiterpenene.
Erosion control: An important species protecting soil in wind erosion prone areas. Other services: Myrrh essential oil has been used since antiquity to inspire prayer and meditation, and to fortify/revitalize the spirit.
BibliographyGillett JB. 1991. Burseraceae. In: Flora of Tropical East Africa. Balkema, Rotterdam.
Nada SA, Bashandy SAE and Negm SA. 1997. Evaluation of the hypoglycemic activity of a traditional herbal preparation in male diabetic rats. Fitoterapia. 68(3): 240-244.
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