Balsamodendron Myrrha. Myrrh, Gum myrrh.

Botanical name: 

Description: Natural Order, Amyridaceae. Stem shrubby, with rough branches terminating in spines, covered with alight ash-gray bark. Leaves ternate, short petiolate, smooth; leaflets obovate, obtuse. Flowers unknown. Fruit a little larger than a pea, short-stalked, ovate, brown, and smooth. This small tree is a native of Arabia Felix, where it grows abundantly in acacia and euphorbia forests. It is also found in Abyssinia.

The medicinal portion of this plant is a gummy resin, which exudes spontaneously from the bark; at first pale-yellow, soft, clear, and oily; but afterward turning dull reddish-yellow, and becoming more opaque and hard. It was an object of trade nearly four thousand years ago, and was employed in medicine by Hippocrates. As it appears in commerce, it is in irregular tears or masses; varying in size from a small pea to a large walnut; of color ranging from a reddish-yellow to a reddish-brown; having an irregular and somewhat oily fracture, and with a pleasant aromatic and balsamic smell. The taste is warming and somewhat bitter, but not unpleasant. Heat slowly softens it; and it will burn at a high temperature. The best qualities are imported from Turkey; are generally in large masses, covered with more or less fine yellow powder, soft and fatty within, and mostly pale in color. A second quality is darker in color, harder, and always in quite small tears. A quality shipped from the East Indies is nearly brown-red, in pieces about the average size of a walnut, and frequently intermixed with foreign substances.

Though classed as a gum, this substance contains about 40 percent of resin, and 2.5 percent of a volatile oil. Only a portion of its gum is soluble in water; alcohol does not dissolve any but its resinous qualities, and takes up less of its virtues than water will; but dilute alcohol will solve most of its strength. An alcoholic solution added to water becomes milky, but does not deposit its resin. Alkaline solutions, as carbonate of potassa, increase its solubility in water. By being broken into fragments, it will slowly dry, and then may be pulverized.

Properties and Uses: An excellent antiseptic, a slow and mild stimulant, possessed of moderate astringency, and acting as a stimulating tonic. Its use occasions an agreeable sense of warmth in the stomach, large quantities causing decided gastric excitement. It slowly increases the fullness and force of the pulse, and exerts a well-marked influence on the capillary circulation. It diminishes mucous discharges, leaves a sense of warmth in the respiratory passages, arrests decomposition, and removes foul odors from sores. It is also a very good styptic in passive hemorrhages. Emmenagogue properties have been attributed to it; but it merely arouses the uterine blood vessels in common with the rest of the circulation, and has no specific influence on this organ, except as it lends its influence there in concert with distinct emmenagogues. (§265.)

It is an article seldom used alone: and it should never be used at all during febrile excitement; in inflammatory affections, where there is sensitiveness of the mucous membranes either of the stomach, bowels, lungs, uterus, or renal organs; nor where the mucous discharges are deficient. It is indicated where there is feebleness of the vascular apparatus, and a tendency to congestion with nervous prostration; and phlegmatic temperaments admit it more readily than the nervous or sanguine. In atonic conditions of the stomach and bowels, giving rise to particular forms of indigestion, flatulence, colic pains, and coldness, it is of use combined with tonics. In excessive mucous discharges, with debility of the membranes and the general system, it exhibits its virtues to great advantage; as in chronic leucorrhea and catarrh, when the secretions have become offensive; likewise in low ulcerations of the bowels and the bladder, providing no inflammatory excitement be present. It may be used directly to the vagina, in bad leucorrhea; and when combined with bayberry or a little capsicum, forms a potent injection to the bowels in passive hemorrhages following typhus. As a local application in degenerate ulcers, it is of great value–especially in phagedaena, malignant and foetid sores, carbuncles, malignant scarlatina, putrid sore throat and diphtheria, and after an indolent bubo has been opened. In these cases it is best to combine it with capsicum or other stimulant, but seldom with astringents. I have found it of good service in phagedaenic chancres, along with lobelia seeds and a little capsicum. In all such local cases it may be used in powder, tincture, or watery solution. It is a favorite appliance in aphthous sores, and bleeding or spongy gums. Many make use of its tincture in liniments; but being so largely resinous, it soon forms a layer of varnish upon the surface–thereby shutting in the perspiration that should escape at the part, and preventing the subsequent applications from reaching the structures.

The dose of this article usually directed, is from ten to twenty grains. I consider this by far too large. The powder is not a very heavy substance; and from two to five grains, repeated three or four times a day, are usually enough. Ten or twelve grains may be given in extreme cases. It is best given in powder; but may be made into a bolus with gum tragacanth solution.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Tincture. Bruised myrrh, four ounces; alcohol of 85 percent, three pints. Macerate for fourteen days, and filter. This preparation is used only as a wash to ulcers; or internally as an adjuvant to emmenagogues and tonics for atonic conditions.

II. Compound Tincture of Myrrh, Hot Drops, No. 6. Myrrh, one pound; capsicum, one ounce; alcohol of 85 percent, one gallon. Digest at a very moderate warmth, with occasional agitation, for ten days. This is one of the most famous preparations of Dr. Samuel Thomson; and though over-fastidious practitioners may seek to ignore it, it is one of the most powerful antiseptic and stimulating-tonic compounds ever offered to the profession. It is not surpassed by any preparation for atonic, sinking, and putrid tendencies; malignant diseases of the throat, receding variola, gangrenous conditions about sores and wounds, absorption of pus, etc. The addition of the capsicum to the myrrh greatly intensifies its action. Dose, half to a whole fluid drachm in water, every two hours, hour, or half hour, as needed. The dregs of this preparation are the most powerful of all local antiseptics.

III. Compound Tincture of Myrrh and Cypripedium. Bruised myrrh and cypripedium, each one pound; ginger and xanthoxylum, each four, ounces; capsicum, one ounce; oil of sassafras, two drachms. Macerate the drugs for twenty-four hours in a sufficient quantity of 85 percent alcohol; transfer to a percolator, and treat with alcohol till two gallons have passed over. Dissolve the oil in four ounces of 98 percent alcohol, and add to the tincture. This makes a less pungent preparation than the No.6 but one that is much more diffusive, pleasant, and nervine. It may be used in the same general way as the other; though larger doses may be given if required.

IV. Solution. Myrrh, twenty grains; sugar, half an ounce. Triturate thoroughly, and add boiling water, four fluid ounces. Trituration with a sharp-grained brown sugar increases the solubility of myrrh in water. This preparation is one of the pleasantest forms in which the article can be given. It may be used in doses of half a fluid ounce, or more, every six, four, or two hours. The stomach will often receive it kindly when in a condition of sluggish turgescence, bordering on a state that precedes gangrene; and also in that form of gastric irritation which ushers in peritoneal effusion and typhoid ulceration. An equal quantity of cypripedium may be used in the preparation.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at