By P. L. Simmonds, F.L.S.
B. Ehrenbergi, Berg [Commiphora gileadensis].—This species of the deserts of Arabia yields myrrh, and some other species produce the same resin. Professor Oliver unites this with B. opobalsamum, Kunth [Commiphora gileadensis], which furnishes Mecca or Gilead balsam.
B. africanum, Arnott [Commiphora africana]; Heudelotia africana, Rich.; Amyris niottout, Adans.
African bdellium is translucent, but has a dull fracture. The taste is slightly bitter.
B. kataf, Kunth; [Commiphora kataf] Amyris kataf, Forsk., furnishes the gum resin or African bdellium, which reaches Bombay from Berbera, the purer kinds very much resembling myrrh in perfume. The opaque bdellium of Guibourt is used for the extraction of the Guinea worm. It is of a yellowish white color, resembling ammoniacum.
B. mukul, Hooker [Commiphora wightii], of Scinde and Beloochistan, furnishes the Indian bdellium, or "Gugul," which is used in native medicine as a demulcent, aperient, carminative and alterative; especially useful in leprosy, rheumatism and syphilitic disorders. It is also prescribed in nervous diseases, scrofulous affections, urinary disorders and skin diseases, and is employed in the preparation of an ointment for bad ulcers. A fragrant balsam is obtained in Arabia from the fruit of this species. The African bdellium is the product of another species.
B. myrrha, Nees [Commiphora myrrha].—This tree of Arabia and Africa yields the myrrh of commerce, which occurs in the form of tears, of irregular shape, of variable size, and of a yellow or reddish-yellow color, light, brittle, somewhat translucent, and at times shining. Fracture vitreous or conchoidal, of a bitter aromatic taste and peculiar smell. It contains a volatile oil, was used in ancient times as "frankincense," and is still so employed in China. Myrrh is used as a stimulating medicine, and as an ingredient in tooth powders. Bombay is the chief port at which myrrh is received and shipped. Four kinds are imported there: the African or true myrrh, which is considered the best quality; the Arabian, the Persian (source unknown), and the Siam. On the bags arriving at that port, they are opened and sorted into the different kinds.
The Aden agents of Bombay houses attend the annual fair at Berbera, and exchange goods for the gum resins. The bags or bales, when opened in Bombay, are found to be made up of (i) a large proportion of roundish masses of fine myrrh; (2) of a considerable proportion of small, semi-transparent pieces of myrrh of irregular shape; (3) of numerous pieces of dark-colored myrrh, mixed with bark and other refuse; (4) a small proportion of an opaque bdellium. When sorted the best myrrh goes to Europe, the darker pieces form a second quality and the refuse is exported to China, where it is probably used as incense.
Myrrh is beneficial in dyspepsia, amenorrhoea and chlorosis, and a useful astringent to all ulcerations or congestions of the mucous membrane. It makes a valued wash for the mouth and gums and a gargle in ulcerated sore throat. It is a stimulant, expectorant, and much admired as a remedy for pulmonary affections, especially the asthma of the aged. Hakims, in India, use it for intestinal worms. It is detergent, siccative, astringent and aperient, a disperser of cold tumors and one of the most important of medicines, as it preserves the humors from corruption. Dissolved in milk it is dropped in the eye in purulent ophthalmia. It is useful in humid asthma and chronic catarrh, also in chlorosis and defective menstruation. Dose, in pill, powder or emulsion, 10 to 30 grains; of tincture, 1/2 to 1 fluiddrachm.—Dr. George Watt.
B. opobalsam, Kunth [Commiphora gileadensis]; Amyris opobalsam, Lin.—This tree furnishes the balsam or balm of Gilead, which is not a true balsam, but an oleo-resin of a consistence like that of Chian turpentine. It has a fragrant odor and warm, aromatic taste, and was held in high esteem by the ancients, and accredited with a variety of medicinal properties. As a cosmetic and perfume it is still largely employed by Turkish ladies. There are references to it by many ancient writers, among others, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Pliny and Galen, and also many mentions of it in the Bible. So highly prized was this balsam that, during the war of Titus against the Jews, two fierce contests took place for the orchards in Jericho, where it was produced, the last of which was to prevent the Jews from destroying the trees that the trade might not fall into the enemy's hands. The gardens were taken formal possession of as public property, an imperial guard was appointed to watch over them, and it appeared that the emperor increased their size and endeavored to propagate the plants. The imperial care was unavailing, for not a branch of the balsam tree is now to be found in all Palestine. The shrub was taken to Arabia and grown in a recess in the mountains between Mecca and Medina, whence the balsam is now exported, not as balm of Gilead, but balsam of Mecca. The substance is still eagerly sought for in Egypt and the East under this name. It is obtained by making incisions in the trunk or branches, but the yield is very small, only averaging three or four drops per diem. This fact accounts for the comparative rarity and the great costliness of the genuine article, as also for the numerous substitutes and imitations of the original. There are three qualities produced by art; the first and best is the opobalsam, expressed from the green berry and leaves; the second is the carpobalsam from the ripe seed or berry; and the last is obtained by bruising and boiling the young wood. The twigs, possibly after boiling, are sent to Venice, where they enter into that heterogeneous compound—Venice treacle.
B. Roxburghii, Lin [Commiphora wightii].—This yields a gum resin of a greenish color, moist and easily broken, having a peculiar cedar-like odor.
Boswellia Carterii, Birdwood [Boswellia sacra].—The Frankincense of commerce. This stimulating gum resin is also obtained from B. Frereana and other species; it is used medicinally and as a perfumery incense. The European frankincense is, however, distinct, being a resinous exudation from the spruce fir, used in the composition of plasters.
Olibanum consists of tears, often an inch in length, of an ovate or oblong clavate or stalactite form, and mixed with impurities. The pieces are light yellow to brown, pale green or colorless. There are two varieties, one of which is far inferior to the other. The best is found in pieces as large as a walnut, of a high yellowish color, inclining to red or brown, covered on the outside with a white powder, the whole becoming a whitish dust when pounded. It burns with a clear and steady light, not easily extinguished, and diffuses a pleasant balsamic and resinous fragrance. This drug is constantly burnt as incense in the Hindu temples, under the names of "Khomda" or "Kunda" and "Luban," and also in Roman Catholic churches.
Bombay is the port from whence the greatest quantity is exported. England receives from 7,000 to 8,000 packages yearly, Olibanum is rarely used in medicine in Europe, but in India it is regarded as a demulent, aperient and alterative, acting chiefly on the lungs and as a purifier of the blood. It is there used in rheumatism, nervous diseases, scrofulous affections and skin diseases. It is regarded as a diaphoretic and astringent, and is employed in the preparation of an ointment for carbuncles, boils, ulcerations and other sores. As a fumigating agent, it is employed to overpower unpleasant odors and to destroy noxious vapors.
B. glabra, Roxb. [Boswellia serrata], also yields this fragrant resinous substance. It is bitter and pungent; mixed with "ghee" or fluid butter, the native doctors prescribe it in gonorrhoea and other complaints.
B. serrata, Stackh., is sometimes called the Indian olibanum tree. Of this there are two varieties, one being the B. thurifera of Roxburgh and Colebrooke, and the other B. glabra, noticed above. The gum resin occurs as a transparent golden yellow semi-fluid substance, which hardens with time. It has a slightly aromatic and balsamic resinous odor.
B. thurifera, Coleb. [Boswellia serrata]; B. serrata, Stackh. This and some other species yield the gum resin. It has astringent and stimulant properties. Externally, it is useful as a rubefacient and antispasmodic, especially as a plaster in cramps of the stomach.
The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 67, 1895, was edited by Henry Trimble.