Myrrh Essential Oil – The Rule Breaker
Oil of Myrrh: The Rule Breaker – There are many compounds in oils that, by themselves, are potentially toxic, but when combined in balance and synergy with other compounds, as they are in natural oils, they are not only harmless, but possess healing powers. Some ingredients normally misbehave when alone, but behave nicely in an oil due to the good influence of their companion compounds. In aromatherapy this is called ‘quenching’. In chemistry it would be called ‘buffering’. For example, 1,8 cineole (C10H18O) is the major ingredient in several species of eucalyptus oils. When 1,8 cineole is isolated and tested under lab conditions, it proves hazardous. Yet eucalyptus oils are among the safest of natural substances and offer great relief for respiratory difficulties and other conditions.
Oil of Myrrh: The Rule Breaker – A particularly interesting oil is myrrh. It contains many compounds that are individually toxic, yet myrrh is one of the safest, mildest, gentlest oils in nature. In the Bible (Ester 2:12), Esther is massaged with oil of myrrh every day for six months prior to her marriage to the king. Some aromatherapists of the British school don’t believe this actually happened, saying that the Bible must be wrong on this point since studies of the individual components of myrrh suggest it would be quite hazardous to apply undiluted to the skin, especially when repeated day after day.
Myrrh contains more furanoid compounds than any other oil. Furanoid compounds can amplify ultraviolet light and can make an oil photo-toxic – i.e. causing sunburn and skin damage when exposed to UV sources following application. Yet myrrh is actually a sun-shield, protecting one from the sun. Egyptians used it for that purpose for thousands of years. Myrrh also contains phenols and ketones, compounds which are greatly feared by many aromatherapists of the British school.
Myrrh is also unique in that it contains traces of certain acids, like acetic (C2H4O2) and formic (CH2O2). Formic acid is the poison that causes the painful burning and stinging from many insect bites. Myrrh also contains up to 3% xylene (C8H10) which is listed in the top three toxic compounds environmental engineers look for in hazardous waste sites. But as a constituent in myrrh, it is harmless.
Single component studies would contraindicate the use of myrrh except in highly diluted applications. However, those who use pure therapeutic grade myrrh know that despite its intimidating chemistry, it is harmless and possesses many wonderful therapeutic qualities. it was the oil most commonly used by the peoples of ancient times and is mentioned directly or indirectly more than 150 times in the Bible. It was a customary ingredient in almost every healing ointment of the Bible and a fixing agent in almost every perfume. Myrrh is an ingredient in both the holy anointing oil and holy incense described in Exodus 30, which are both used, by Jews, even to the present day. Myrrh was routinely added, by Romans, Greeks, and Hebrews to most wines of Biblical times. As the bride to-be for King Ahasurerus, Esther was massaged with oil of myrrh daily for six moths in preparation for her wedding. (Esther 2:12) For more on ancient applications of myrrh, see Healing Oils of the Bible, in the bibliography.
Myrrh illustrates how chemical compounds that are dangerous alone can be safe and beneficial in the company of other compounds that mitigate their harsh personalities. Despite all of its unruly and potentially harmful components, myrrh also contains 60-80% terpenes – compounds well known for their coordinating, mitigating and quenching qualities.
Reference: The Chemistry of Essential Oils made Simple by David Stewart Ph.D
Notes from Suzanne: A good comparison would be that of arsenic. Most people know that arsenic is a poison. However, arsenic occurs naturally in a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains and fish. It is also detected in drinking water. Most recently, low levels of arsenic have also been detected in rice and juice products – however, as part of the ‘whole’ fruit, vegetable or fish, it is harmless, and we wouldn’t decline an apple because ‘it contains arsenic’.
This is why it is so important to only buy your essential oils from companies/therapists you know and trust. Some companies distill their oils too quickly and at too high a temperature to cut costs. By employing this method of too quickly and too hot some of the compounds that make the whole therapeutic oil may not enter the finished product. Other companies distill for longer at lower temperatures, thereby getting all the compounds that make up that essential oil. Sometimes it is the last of the compounds that are distilled into the whole that give that oil its therapeutic effects.