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Myrrha. U. S., Br. Myrrh. [Gum Myrrh]

"A gum-resin obtained from one or more species of Commiphora (Fam. Burseraceae)." U. S. "Myrrh is an oleo-gum-resin obtained from the stem of Commiphora Myrrha, Holmes, and probably other species." Br.

Arabian or Somali Myrrh, Herabol Myrrh; Gummi Resina Myrrha; Myrrhe, Fr. Cod.; Myrrha, P. G.; Myrrhe, G.; Mirra, It., Sp.; Murr, Ar.; Bowl, Hindost.

Though myrrh has been employed from the earliest times, it is still uncertain by what plant it is yielded. The Amyris Kataf of Forskhal, seen by that traveller in Arabia, was supposed by him to be the myrrh tree, but without sufficient proof. Afterwards Ehrenberg met on the frontiers of Arabia Felix with a plant from the bark of which he collected a gum-resin precisely similar to the myrrh of commerce. From the specimens of the plant taken by Ehrenberg to Germany, Nees von Esenbeck referred it to the genus Balsamodendron of Kunth, and named it Balsamodendron Myrrha. It was not thought by De Candolle sufficiently distinct, but is now generally recognized under the name of Commiphora, first given it by Jacquin in 1797, and therefore preceding the name of Kunth by some 27 years. Berg found another species in Ehrenberg's collection, to which was attached a label by the discoverer, stating that he had collected myrrh from it, and proposed to call it Balsamodendron ehrenbergianum. (A. J. P., 1873, 314.) Both Oliver and Trimen agree that this plant is not specifically distinct from B. Opobalsamum. It is probable that there are gum resins from several species of the Commiphora which furnish commercial myrrh. Hildebrand (P. J., 1878, ix, p. 893) collected the C. Myrrha on the north Somali coast in 1873, and presents evidence to show that it yields myrrh. Although this view has been disputed, E. M. Holmes (Y. P. B., 1913, p. 453) supports it and this species is recognized by the British Pharmacopoeia. Deflers and Schweinfurth (Ber. d. Pharm Ges. zu Berlin, 1893), however, believe that genuine myrrh is yielded by Commiphora abyssinica (Berg.) Engl, which is found in Southern Arabia, Erithrea, and Northern Abyssinia. C. Schimperi (Berg.) Engl, occurring in the Yemen, Abyssinia, and from Kern to Tigre, is likely also to yield some of the commercial Arabian myrrh. It appears to be established that C. Myrrha produces myrrh, but it is probable that it is also yielded by other trees belonging to the genus Commiphora, which genus includes more than 60 species, natives of Arabia and Africa.

Commiphora Myrrha (Nees) Engler (Syn. C. Myrrha Holmes) is a small tree, with a stunted trunk, covered with a whitish-gray bark, and furnished with rough abortive branches terminating in spines. The leaves are ternate, consisting of obovate, blunt, smooth, obtusely denticulate leaflets, of which the two latter are much smaller than the one at the end. The fruit is oval-lanceolate, pointed, longitudinally furrowed, of a brown color, and surrounded at its base by the persistent calyx. The tree grows in Arabia Felix, in the neighborhood of Gison, in dwarfish thickets, interspersed among the Acaciae and Euphorbiae. The juice concretes spontaneously upon the bark.

Formerly the best myrrh was brought from the shores of the Red Sea by way of Egypt and the Levant, and hence received the name of Turkey myrrh, while the inferior qualities were imported from the East Indies, and were commonly called India myrrh. These titles have ceased to be applicable, as myrrh of all qualities is now brought from the East Indies, whither it is carried from Arabia and the northeastern coast of Africa. Aden in the former region, and Berbera in the latter, would appear, from the statements of James Vaughan, to be the chief entrepots of the trade. (P. J., xii, 226.) It is usually imported in chests containing between one and two hundred-weight. Sometimes the different qualities are brought separate, but oftener more or less mingled. Only the best kind should be selected for medicinal use.

There are several varieties of myrrh recognized in commerce. The official description corresponds to that of that known as the Arabian myrrh or Somalian myrrh.

Another variety of myrrh coming from Arabia known as the Fahdi myrrh is described in the Pharmacographia as "occurring in irregular masses, seldom exceeding 1 ½ inches long, and having a somewhat gummy-looking exterior. The larger lumps seem formed by the cohesion of small, rounded, translucent, externally shining drops or tears. The fracture is like that of common myrrh, but less unctuous, and has not the whitish markings. The odor and taste are those of the ordinary drug." This myrrh is said to be collected on the hills about Shugraeea and Sureeae, east of Aden. "Meetiya," or Arabian Myrrh of Dymock, is said to be sold in India as true myrrh. It has a dull surface, a dark reddish-brown color, a more unctuous and waxy fracture, and has white marks like Somali myrrh, which it resembles in taste, but its odor is rather less fragrant. Yemen Myrrh, which is said by Hanbury to contain a resin which differs from that of Somali myrrh and the Arabian myrrh or Fahdi in that its solution in petroleum spirit does not give a violet color on the addition of bromine. This myrrh is said to enter commerce chiefly from Makulla via Aden and Bombay. It occurs in large pieces 1 to 3 inches long, irregularly rounded and characterized by a dark reddish-brown color with a similarly colored fracture free from whites streaks. Odor and taste similar to Somali myrrh, but stronger and more rank.

Mecca balsam, according to G. Schweinfurth, ia yielded by Commiphora Opobalsamum, from which it is collected in the valleys near Mecca. It is said to be the myrrh of the Bible, the error of translation having been made on account of the similarity of the old Hebrew word "mar" with the modem Arabic word "morr," the name of the true myrrh.

Properties.—Myrrh is "in rounded or irregular tears or masses, brownish-yellow or reddish-brown, and covered with a brownish-yellow dust; fracture waxy, somewhat splintery, translucent on the edges, sometimes marked with nearly white lines; odor balsamic; taste aromatic; bitter and acrid. The powder is yellowish-brown; 0.001 Gm. of the powder, when added to a drop of fixed oil on a slide and examined under the microscope, shows numerous angular fragments varying in color from pale yellow to yellowish-brown; when mounted in hydrated chloral T.S. the color of the yellowish fragments is intensified; the addition of iodine T.S. to the powder, previously mounted in hydrated chloral T.S., may show the presence of a few starch grains varying in shape from spherical, polygonal, and narrowly ellipsoidal to somewhat pear-shaped, from 0.01 to 0.035 mm. in diameter; when mounted in phloroglucinol T.S. and hydrochloric acid the powder may show a few fragments of lignified tissues consisting of either sclerenchymatous fibers, or of small groups of stone cells, the individual cells of the latter with very thick, porous walls and from 0.015 to 0.05 mm. in length. Not less than 35 per cent. of Myrrh is soluble in alcohol. Myrrh yields not more than 8.5 per cent. of ash." U. S.

"In rounded or irregular tears, or masses of agglutinated tears, varying much in size; reddish-brown or reddish-yellow externally, dry, and more or less covered by a fine powder; brittle, the fractured surface irregular, somewhat translucent, of a rich brown color, oily, and frequently exhibiting whitish marks. Aromatic odor; taste aromatic, bitter and acrid. Not more than 70 per cent. insoluble in alcohol (90 per cent.). The solution obtained by boiling 0.1 gramme of coarsely powdered Myrrh with 2 millilitres of alcohol (90 per cent.), evaporated in a porcelain dish so as to leave a thin film, yields a residue which assumes a violet color in contact with nitric acid diluted with an equal volume of water. Ash not more than 5 per cent." Br.

Under the teeth it is at first friable, but soon softens and becomes adhesive. It is inflammable, but does not burn vigorously, and is not fusible by heat. Its sp. gr. is stated as 1.36. The inferior kind is in pieces much darker, more opaque, less odorous, and often abounding with impurities. We have seen pieces of India myrrh enclosing- large crystals of sodium chloride, as if the juice had fallen from the tree and concreted upon the ground where this mineral abounds. Pieces of bdellium, and other gummy or resinous substances of unknown origin, are often mixed with it. Among these is a product which may be called false myrrh. It is in irregular pieces, of a dirty reddish-brown color, a vitreous brownish-yellow fracture, semi-transparent, of a faint odor of myrrh, and a bitter balsamic taste. Myrrh is best purchased in mass, as in powder it is liable to adulterations not easily detected. It is sometimes admixed with small stones which are added when the myrrh is in a moist state. Much of the commercial article is contaminated with the so-called Somali myrrh which does not meet the Pharmacopoeia requirements. It is also adulterated with Senegal gum and chestnuts.

George F. Merson (P. J., Jan., 1900, 42) proposes as a test of the quality of myrrh that it should yield not more than 5 per cent. of ash, which should be almost entirely soluble in diluted hydrochloric acid, and that when, exhausted with 90 per cent. alcohol and dried at 100° C. (212° F.) one gramme should not afford more than 0.6 Gm. of residue.

Myrrh is partially soluble in water, alcohol, and ether. Triturated with water it forms an opaque yellowish or whitish emulsion, which deposits the larger portion upon standing. Its alcoholic tincture is rendered opaque by the -addition of water, but throws down no precipitate. According to Neumann, alcohol and water severally extract the whole of its odor and taste. By distillation a volatile oil rises, having the peculiar flavor of myrrh, and leaving the residue in the retort simply bitter. The gum-resin , is soluble in solutions of the alkalies, and, when i triturated with them in a crystalline state, forms a tenacious liquid. Hence potassium carbonate may be used to facilitate its suspension in water. Hirschsohn recommends as a reagent for myrrh, trichlor-acetal-chloroform, which is obtained by conducting chlorine into seventy-five per cent. alcohol until turbidity ensues and two layers are formed; the lower of these is shaken with an equal volume of water and then with calcined magnesia and filtered. In one part by weight of the trichloracetal thus obtained, four parts by weight of hydrated chloral are dissolved by heating. The syrupy reagent thus made, which fumes slightly in the air, gives a violet color with the smallest quantity of pure Herabol myrrh. Hirschsohn failed to get a similar reaction with any other resin, not even with Bisabol myrrh. (Ph. Centralh., 1903, 809.) An analysis by Buickoldt gave 2.183 per cent. of volatile oil, 44.760 of resin, 40.818 of gum or arabin, 1.475 of water, and 3.650 of calcium and magnesium carbonate, with some gypsum and ferric oxide. The volatile oil has been called myrrhol or myrrhenol, and, according to Buickoldt, has the formula C10H14O. Koehler (A. J. P., 1890, p. 346) confirms this formula, and states that this body, while isomeric with thymol and carvol, is distinct from them. He found 7 or 8 per cent. of essential oil, instead of 2.18 as previously given. Gladstone (J. Chem. S. [2], 2, 1) found that the oil had a sp. gr. of 1.0189 at 7.5° C. (45.5° F.), a boiling point of 266° C. (510.8° F.), and was laevorotatory. The resin, which he calls myrrhin, C48H32O10, is neutral, but becomes acid when kept for a short time in fusion. In the latter state Buickoldt proposes to call it myrrhic acid. (A. Pharm., lxi, 1.) Koehler has found in the portion soluble in alcohol an indifferent soft resin, to which he gave the formula C26H32O5. containing three replaceable OH groups, and two dibasic resin acids, of the formulas C26H32O16 and C26H32O9. An investigation of the essential oil of Bisabol myrrh from the interior of the Somali country was made by W. Tucholka. (Schism. Rep., Oct., 1897, 36.) He obtained by distillation 7.8 per cent. of an oil of 0.8836 sp. gr., boiling at from 220° to 270° C. 428°-518° F.). From this was separated, by means of the crystalline hydrochloride, a terpene boiling at from 259° to 260.2° C. (498.2°-500.36° F.), which the author calls bisabolene, and an oxygenated portion to which he gives the rather strange formula C56H96O. According to Bley and Diesel, myrrh containing a little volatile oil always has an acid reaction, which they ascribe to the oxidation of the oil. They also found formic acid in the specimen examined by them. The same investigators propose as a test of myrrh the production of a transparent dirty-yellow liquid with nitric acid, while false myrrh affords a bright-yellow solution in the same fluid, and bdellium is not dissolved, but becomes whitish and opaque. (A. J. P., xviii, 228.) According to Righini, if powdered myrrh, rubbed for fifteen minutes with an equal weight of ammonium chloride, and fifteen times its weight of water gradually added dissolves quickly and entirely, it may be considered pure. Chas. E. Escott (A. J. P., 1887) extracted a sample of myrrh with petroleum benzin, and on spontaneous evaporation of the solvent obtained 18.75 per cent. of oily residue. The gum left after treatment with alcohol had a barely perceptible odor of myrrh .and a slightly mucilaginous taste, was neutral to test paper, and, though of a pale color, gave with water a dark-brown solution. The insoluble portion amounted to 15 per cent., or 8.4 per cent. of the weight of the myrrh. The diluted solution acquired a purple color by ferric chloride, changed to reddish-yellow by ammonia. Stronger solutions were precipitated by alcohol, not gelatinized by borax, and the precipitate with lead subacetate was not redissolved. The gum makes a good mucilage, and, when making tincture of myrrh, the residue insoluble in the alcoholic menstruum should be saved for that purpose.

Uses.—Myrrh is a stimulant tonic, with some tendency to the lungs, and perhaps to the uterus. It is also employed as a tonic in dyspepsia, and as an expectorant and emmenagogue in debilitated states of the system, in the absence of febrile excitement or acute inflammation. The diseases in which it is usually administered are chronic catarrh, phthisis pulmonalis, other pectoral affections in which the secretion of mucus is abundant but not easily expectorated, chlorosis, amenorrhea, and the various affections connected with this state of the uterine function. It is generally given combined with chalybeates or other tonics, and in amenorrhea very frequently with aloes. It is used also as an application to spongy gums, the aphthous sore mouth of children, and various kinds of unhealthy ulcers.

A plaster of myrrh is made by rubbing together powdered myrrh, camphor, and balsam of Peru, of each an ounce and a half, then adding the mixture to 32 ounces of lead plaster previously melted, and stirring well until the plaster thickens on cooling. It is then to be formed into rolls. This plaster may be employed in all cases where a gentle and long-continued rubefacient effect is desired.

Myrrh may be given in the form of powder or pill, or suspended in water, as in the famous antihectic mixture of Griffith. (Mistura Ferri Composita.) The infusion is also sometimes given, and an aqueous extract has been recommended as milder than myrrh in substance. The tincture is used chiefly as a local application.

Dose, ten to thirty grains (0.65-2 Gm.).

Off. Prep.—Decoctum Aloes Compositum, Br.; Mistura Ferri Composita, Br.; Pilulae Aloes et Myrrhae, N. F. (Br.); Pilulae Rhei Compositae, U. S. (Br.), Tinctura Myrrhae, U. S., Br.; Pilulae Aloes, Hydrargyri et Scammonii Compositae (from Tincture of Aloes and Myrrh), N. F.; Pilulae Antiperiodicae, N. F.; Pilulae Antiperiodicae sine Aloe, N. F.; Tinctura Aloes et Myrrhae, N. F.; Tinctura Antiperiodica, N. F.; Tinctura Antiperiodica sine Aloe, N. F.; Tinctura Capsici et Myrrhae, N. F.


The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 1918, was edited by Joseph P. Remington, Horatio C. Wood and others.



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