Myrrh (Commiphora spp.) is a great herb to study during this time of year because it is readily available during the winter months (hard to find fresh chickweed in many places) and because of its close association with many different religions and celebrations that occur around the winter solstice.
Myrrh is mentioned in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim texts. While myrrh has several references in the Old and New Testament, those familiar with the Christian religion will recall that gold, frankincense, and myrrh were the gifts brought to the birth of Jesus by the wise men. By the seventh century, myrrh had made its way to East Asia, where it was favored and has remained an important part of the materia medica.
Where Does Myrrh Come From?
In the horn of Africa, a small native tree, covered in spines, grows in the arid deserts. When the bark is wounded through to the sapwood, the tree exudes an aromatic, oily, yellow oleo gum resin which eventually hardens into a hard yellow-reddish opaque globule that can be easily harvested from the side of the tree.
Medicinal Benefits of Myrrh
While the rich resinous smell of myrrh has long been treasured, myrrh has also been used for a variety of ailments such as mouth cankers or sores, wounds, pain, digestive problems, and upper respiratory infections. If you are interested in learning more about myrrh, check out the featured article on HerbMentor.com.
Today’s recipe focuses on myrrh’s healing qualities for the mouth. Myrrh is commonly used for a variety of problems with the mouth, including for improved gum health (e.g., against gingivitis) and for healing mouth ulcers. It’s commonly used as an ingredient in tooth powders and mouth washes. Dioscorides (40–90 C.E.), author of De Materia Medica, even mentions myrrh diluted in wine as a mouthwash to strengthen teeth and gums.1
More recently, a clinical trial compared the difference of using an aloe gel, a myrrh gel, or a placebo on patients with recurring canker sores. The researchers concluded that, “Aloe was superior in decreasing ulcer size, erythema, and exudation; whereas myrrh resulted in more pain reduction.”2
Before we get to our recipe, let’s take a look at some of the other herbs in this blend.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.)
Cinnamon is antimicrobial and astringent, making it a great ally for gum health. It is readily available and cheap. I learned about using cinnamon as a tooth powder from Lesley Tierra and have used it ever since. It tastes great and leaves my teeth feeling smooth.
There have been a couple of in vitro tests that have shown cinnamon essential oil to be effective against pathogenic bacteria in the mouth including Candida strains and Streptococcus mutans (a major cause of dental plaque).3,4 In the future we’ll hopefully see cinnamon’s abilities verified in human clinical trials using cinnamon powder.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice root powder is antimicrobial and sweet. It can support healthy gums and gives this powder a sweet taste. Science is beginning to validate this traditional use of licorice. In 2014, an in vitro study showed that licorice root was actually more effective against oral pathogens than the pharmaceutical solution of chlorhexidine.5 It would be interesting to see this put to the test in human clinical trials.
While licorice is commonly contraindicated for people who have high blood pressure, it is used in such small amounts in this recipe that it’s highly unlikely to cause any adverse effects. If you don’t like the taste of licorice powder, you can simply omit it from the recipe. If you still want the powder to taste a bit sweet, then try adding a small amount of stevia powder.
Myrrh and Cinnamon Tooth Powder
Brushing your teeth with powdered herbs may sound strange, but this was the normal practice long before we had liquid toothpaste. Making your own homemade tooth powder is simple and you’ll be able to brush your teeth without any harsh chemicals found in commercial toothpastes. This powder will not foam, but it will make your teeth feel clean and support the health of your gums.
What you’ll need…
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon powder
- 1 tablespoon myrrh powder
- 2 teaspoons licorice root powder
- Blend all the powders together and store in a small container with a lid.
- To use the powder, wet your toothbrush. Then, using a small spoon or wooden stirring stick, heap a small mound of powder onto your toothbrush. I do this over the small container holding the powder so that I can trap any falling powder; however, you want to avoid getting drops of water into your powder.
- Lightly brush your teeth as you would with a toothpaste. As long as the powder is stored properly, this mixture should last indefinitely. If you regularly use this recipe, consider making it in larger batches.
- Osbaldeston, Tess Anne, trans. De Materia Medica: Being an Herbal with Many Other Medicinal Materials : Written in Greek in the First Century of the Common Era: A New Indexed Version in Modern English. Johannesburg: IBIDIS, 2000.
- Mansour, Ghada, Soliman Ouda, Ahmed Shaker, and Hossam M Abdallah. “Clinical Efficacy of New Aloe Vera- and Myrrh-based Oral Mucoadhesive Gels in the Management of Minor Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis: A Randomized, Double-blind, Vehicle-controlled Study.” Journal of oral pathology & medicine: official publication of the International Association of Oral Pathologists and the American Academy of Oral Pathology 43, no. 6 (2014): doi:10.1111/jop.12130.
- Carvalhinho, Sara, Ana Margarida Costa, Ana Cláudia Coelho, Eugénio Martins, and Ana Sampaio. “Susceptibilities of Candida Albicans Mouth Isolates to Antifungal Agents, Essentials Oils and Mouth Rinses.” Mycopathologia 174, no. 1 (2012): doi:10.1007/s11046-012-9520-4.
- Gupta, Charu, Archana Kumari, A Pankaj Garg, R Catanzaro, and F Marotta. “Comparative Study of Cinnamon Oil and Clove Oil on Some Oral Microbiota.” Acta bio-medica : Atenei Parmensis 82, no. 3 (2011): 197-9.
- Ajagannanavar, Sunil Lingaraj, Hemant Battur, Supreetha Shamarao, Vivek Sivakumar, Pavan Uday Patil, and P Shanavas. “Effect of Aqueous and Alcoholic Licorice (glycyrrhiza Glabra) Root Extract Against Streptococcus Mutans and Lactobacillus Acidophilus in Comparison to Chlorhexidine: An in Vitro Study.” Journal of international oral health : JIOH 6, no. 4 (2014): 29-34.