Myrrha (U. S. P.)—Myrrh.

Fig. 174. Commiphora myrrha. Preparations: Black Powder - Tincture of Myrrh - Compound Tincture of Myrrh - Tincture of Aloes and Myrrh - Compound Myrrh Lotion - Pills of Aloes and Myrrh
Related entry: Olibanum.—Frankincense - Resina Draconis.—Dragon's Blood

"A gum-resin obtained from Commiphora Myrrha (Nees), Engler"—(U. S. P.). (Balsamodendron Myrrha, Nees.)
Nat. Ord.—Burseraceae.
COMMON NAME: Myrrh (Gummi-resina myrrha).
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 60.

Botanical Source.—The Commiphora Myrrha (Balsamodendron Myrrha), has a shrubby, arborescent stem, with squarrose, spinescent branches, a very pale-gray bark, and a yellowish-white wood. Its leaves are ternate, on short petioles; leaflets obovate, obtuse, somewhat tooth-letted at the apex, the lateral smooth. The flowers are unknown. The fruit is ovate, smooth, brown, somewhat larger than a pea, surrounded at base by a 4-toothed calyx, and supported on a very short stalk (Nees—De Candolle).

History.—Until recent years much doubt was entertained as to the true botanical source of myrrh. Nees von Esenbeck examined specimens of the supposed myrrh tree brought from Ghizan (Arabia), in 1826, by Ehrenberg, and named it Balsamodendron Myrrha. D. Hanbury, in 1873 (see his Science Papers, p. 378), described four districts, all situated around the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, which have been mentioned by various travelers as being the home of the myrrh tree. Still the species from which the bulk of commercial, especially Somali, myrrh is derived, is not as yet known with exactness. Authorities, including the U. S. P., however, accept that the drug is derived from Commiphora Myrrha (Nees), Engler. Mr. E. M. Holmes (see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1897, p. 110) believes that Arabian myrrh at least is derived from Balsamodendron Myrrha, Nees, and that in tracing the botanical origin of other commercial varieties, the taste and peculiar odor of myrrh may reasonably serve as a guide, since these qualities undoubtedly exist in the plants themselves. An exceedingly useful description of the plants possibly yielding myrrh and bdellium, by Mr. E. M. Holmes, is recorded in Pharm. Jour. Trans., 1898, Vol. VII, p. 547, and 1899, Vol. VIII, pp. 26 and 77.

The region south of the gulf of Aden, the country of the Somalis, furnishes almost the entire commercial drug. Formerly, myrrh was known in commerce as Turkey myrrh, as it formerly entered commerce from Egypt and the Mediterranean ports; but now it goes first to Berbera (ancient Mosylon) and Aden, and from thence to Bombay, where the bags are opened and sorted; the best grades going into European and American commerce, while the inferior sorts are sent to China to be used as incense. What was formerly known as India myrrh is the bissa bol of the Somalis (see Other Myrrhs). True myrrh is known in its native country as Mur (Arab), Mulmul (Somali), Heerabole (Indian), names also applied to an Arabian product from the tree known as Didthin, a tree identical with that furnishing African myrrh. (Also see commercial classification and description of the drug, by Mr. E. M. Holmes, in Pharm. Jour. Trans., 1898, Vol. VII, p. 547.) The juice flows naturally from the myrrh tree, like cherry-tree gum upon the bark; at first it is soft and pale-yellow, but by drying becomes hard, darker and redder, and forms the medicinal gum myrrh. Myrrh varies in size from that of a pea to that of a large walnut, and may be even larger.

Description.—Myrrh is "in roundish or irregular tears or masses, dusty, brownish-yellow or reddish-brown; fracture waxy, somewhat splintery, translucent on the edges, sometimes marked with whitish veins; odor balsamic; taste aromatic, bitter and acrid. When triturated with water, myrrh yields a browish-yellow emulsion; with alcohol it yields a brownish-yellow tincture which acquires a purple tint on the addition of nitric acid. Dark-colored pieces, the alcoholic solution of which is not rendered purple by nitric acid, and pieces of gum which dissolve completely, as well as those which merely swell in water, should be rejected"—(U. S. P.). Myrrh is friable and readily powdered in cold weather, but in a warm atmosphere it is difficultly pulverized, unless some of its oil and water have been extracted from it. When heated it softens, then froths up and at length ignites and burns with difficulty. Its proper solvent is rectified spirit. It is not wholly dissolved by water, ether, or proof spirit; water dissolves its gum, and the mucilage retains the oil and part of the resin in the state of emulsion; proof-spirit dissolves some of its resin. The tincture is transparent, and when poured into water forms a yellow opaque fluid, but does not form a precipitate, while the watery solution is always yellow and opaque. Alkaline solutions are good solvents for myrrh.

Chemical Composition.—Myrrh is composed of gum, 40 to 60 per cent, insoluble in alcohol; resin, about 27 to 40 per cent, soluble in alcohol, and volatile oil, 2.18 per cent, Ruickholdt; 7 to 8 per cent, O. Köhler, 1890. Upon incineration, myrrh leaves about 3.5 per cent of ash, principally calcium carbonate. O. Köhler (Archiv der Pharm., 1890, p. 291) found 57 to 59 per cent of gum which was ascertained to be a carbohydrate of the formula C6H10O5. The resins (myrrhin and myrrhic acid, of Ruickholdt) were separated by Köhler into an indifferent resin (C26H34O5) soluble in alcohol and ether, and having three replaceable hydroxyl groups, and two dibasic resin-acids. The essential oil (myrrhol, or myrrhenol of older observers) contains a volatile compound (C10H14O) not identical with thymol or carvol. The volatile oil of myrrh is laevo-rotatory. When exposed to air and light, it resinifies by oxidation and acquires the appearance and consistence of myrrh. Formic acid is said to be developed in this process.

Myrrhol, dissolved in carbon disulphide and subsequently treated with bromine or nitric acid, gradually assumes a permanent violet-blue coloration. The resin gives the same reaction due to the presence of some volatile oil. Flückiger also abstracted, by means of water, a bitter glucosid from the resin as obtained by alcohol. It is amorphous, brittle, and brown, and sparingly soluble in water, producing an exceedingly bitter, yellowish solution (Pharmacographia). Small amounts of pyrocatechuic acid and pyrocatechin are formed when myrrh is fused with potassium hydroxide. The gum makes a good non-decomposing adhesive paste, which is still more adhesive if molasses be added to it (Shuttleworth, 1871).

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Myrrh is stimulant, especially to mucous tissues. It also exerts an antiseptic influence, and is used to promote expectoration, as well as menstruation. It has also been used as a vermifuge. Internally, the smaller doses promote digestion. Large doses accelerate the pulse, augment the heat of the body, cause gastric heat and burning, great sweating and marked prostration; occasionally it causes nausea, vomiting, and purgation. It is not antispasmodic, and is contraindicated in internal inflammations. It is generally used in enfeebled conditions of the body, and has been found useful in cases of excessive mucous secretion, as in gleet, chronic gonorrhoea, and chronic catarrh; also in laryngitis, bronchitis, humoral asthma, and other diseases of the air-tubes accompanied with profuse secretion, but expelled with difficulty. Its property of restraining the mucous discharges is observed to be most pronounced upon the renal and bronchial tract. As an expectorant, it acts best by combining it with such agents as squill, giving to both an increased force possessed by neither alone. Chronic respiratory disorders are the cases for its exhibition, it being indicated in chronic bronchitis with unhealthy and exhausting secretions, relaxed mucous tissues, and difficulty in raising the sputa. It is contraindicated by arterial excitement or fever. For use in the above condition, the following combination, an excellent alterative expectorant and stimulating tonic, is recommended by Prof. Locke: Rx Syr. prunus virg., syr. senega, aa fl℥ij; Comp. tinct. of myrrh and capsicum flʒii. Mix. Sig. Teaspoonful every 3 hours. The same may also be used in the asthma of the aged. Cough and expectoration are lessened, the secretions reduced in quantity, and the consequent exhaustion incident to profuse expectoration prevented. Besides, it acts kindly on the stomach, and otherwise sustains the strength of the patient.

Myrrh has some reputation as an emmenagogue. It is adapted to female disorders accompanied with weight, dragging, and leucorrhoea. It is reputed useful in suppressed menses, and in some cases of anemia. In either instance, however, it is not efficient unless exhibited with some form of iron, aloes, etc. Locke recommends for amenorrhoea, and particularly if the uterine torpor be associated with constipation, the following prescription: Rx Pulv. myrrh, grs. xxx; aloes, grs. x; macrotin, grs. x. Mix. Make 20 pills. Sig. Dose, 1 or 2 pills three times a day.

Myrrh is of value in chronic gastritis and atonic dyspepsia with full, pallid tongue and mucous tissues, and with frequent, mucous alvine discharges accompanied with flatulence. Here myrrh and gentian act well, and if nervous symptoms are prominent, an equal quantity of valerian may be used with them. The dose of the combination of equal parts of these tinctures is from 5 to 20 drops. Chronic mucous fluxes, from the bowels or urinary tract, are benefited by myrrh.

Myrrh was formerly used as a dressing for indolent ulcers to promote granulation and alter the character of the discharges. It was at the same time given internally also. Topically, it is a very useful application to indolent sores, gangrenous ulcers, and aphthous or sloughy sore throat, spongy or ulcerated conditions of the gums, caries of the teeth, etc. In chronic pharyngitis, with tumid, pallid membranes, elongated uvula, and spongy, enlarged tonsils, it is an exceedingly useful topical agent. It overcomes the bad breath of dyspeptics and scorbutics. It is sometimes combined with hydrastis and capsicum, in aphthae. The dose of myrrh, in powder or pill, is from 5 grains to I drachm; of the tincture, from 20 drops to 2 fluid drachms.

Specific Indications and Uses.—Chronic bronchitis, with profuse secretion of mucus or muco-pus, with difficult expectoration; membranes lax and pallid, tonsils enlarged and spongy, throat pale and tumid; soreness and sponginess of the gums; reproductive disorders of women, with weight and dragging in the parts, and leucorrhoea.

Other Myrrhs.—BISSA BOL (Bysabole, Bhesabol), Hebbakhade, Habaghadi. This species of myrrh was formerly known as East Indian myrrh, and is regarded in eastern commerce as a very inferior quality of myrrh. The plant yielding it is now known as Balsamea erythrea, Engler (see Flückiger, Pharmacognosie, 3d ed., 1891, p. 43). This product resembles Héera ból or true myrrh, but has a somewhat different odor, recalling that of the mushroom. Its taste is almost acrid, and its resin is paler than that of myrrh. Carbon disulphide but sparingly dissolves it; it is almost insoluble in petroleum ether. Besides it differs from myrrh in being unaffected by bromine, the latter producing an intense violet hue with myrrh in carbon disulphide solution. W. Tucholka (Archiv der Pharm., 1897, p. 290) proposes the following characteristic test for Bisabol myrrh: 6 drops of a petroleum ether extract (its concentration not to exceed 1:15) are mixed in a test-tube with 3 Cc. of glacial acetic acid, and 3 Cc. of concentrated sulphuric acid are cautiously added so as to form a lower layer. A beautiful rose-red color becomes apparent at the zone of contact; shortly afterward the whole acetic layer will be of a permanent rose-red. If the petroleum ether extract is more concentrated, the resulting color is brown. True myrrh, under the same conditions, produces merely a faint rose-red coloration of the acetic layer, and a green coloration at the zone of contact, turning brown with green fluorescence upon standing. Analysis of bisabol showed the following percentage composition: Gum, soluble in water, 22.1; gum, soluble in soda solution, 29.85; resin, 21.5; bitter principle (crude), 1.5; ethereal oil, giving the above reaction plainly, 7.8; water, 3.17; vegetable and inorganic matter, 13.4.

ARABIAN MYRRH.—This product occurs in irregular pieces very much resembling common myrrh, though it lacks the whitish markings on fracture, is less unctuous, and has a gummy appearance externally. With bromine it reacts like myrrh. It comes from Aden, being collected in Arabia by the Somalis.

Related Drugs.—BDELLIUM. Chiefly two varieties of this product are known in commerce, Indian and African. Indian bdellium, or East Indian bdellium, is believed to be the product of Balsamodendron Mukul, Hooker (Balsamea Mukul, Engler), of India, and possibly Arabia. It forms large, rounded, dusty fragments; has a flattish shell-like fracture; in thin section translucent, but in mass dark, even deep-brown, and possesses the odor and taste of myrrh in a lesser degree. Nitric acid does not impart a purplish color to the tincture of this or the next variety.

African bdellium is the product of Balsamodendron africanum, Arnott (Commiphora africana, Engler), of western Africa. It occurs in oval or roundish, irregular translucent tears, breaking with a wax-like fracture, and ranging in color from yellowish to brownish-red. It also has a cedar-like odor and a slightly bitter taste. Bdellium is infusible, but inflammable. It consists of resin, 59 per cent; bassorin, 30.6 per cent; gum, 9.2 per cent; and volatile oil, 1.2 (Pelletier). The French use the African variety in plasters. Bdellium was once used for purposes similar to myrrh.

BALSAMUM GILEADENSE, Balsam of Gilead, Balm of Gilead, Opobalsamum, Mecca balsam.—This product is referred to a small, evergreen, non-thorny tree, the Balsamodendron Opobalsamum, Kunth (Commiphora Opobalsamum, Engler). The dried fruit of this species formerly went by the name carpobalsamum; the dried branchlets xylobalsamum; and the exudation, as opobalsamum. As it spontaneously exudes from the tree it is a whitesh or yellowish opaque, viscid fluid, having considerable fragrance. By exposure, it solidifies. Bonastre found in it volatile oil, 10 and hard resin, 12 per cent. Trommsdorff obtained of hard resin, 64 per cent. It is seldom found in commerce.

Balsamodendron Berryi.—An Indian thorn-tree, Mulu Kilivary, yielding a gum-resin in abundance, which contains 84 per cent of gum, soluble in water. This gum-resin is devoid of fragrancy and bitterness (see D. Hooper, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1889, p. 508, from Pharm. Jour. Trans., 1889).

King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.