During the California gold rush of the 1850’s, myrrh was more valuable by weight than gold. As San Francisco was being built, quality dental treatment was scarce. An infected tooth could prove excruciatingly fatal overnight. As one miner wrote, “No place can hardly be worse for a sick man than California.” Myrrh was widely known to be an effective tooth powder to both fight and prevent infection. As a consequence of the crush between supply and demand, the price of this African import skyrocketed.
Although the price of myrrh has stabilized, it is still in great demand. The tree resin is still found in antiseptic toothpaste and mouth rinses. The anti-inflammatory properties the 49ers valued for reducing the swelling around infected teeth can still be relied on to ease pain for modern patients. This aromatic herb also stimulates the body to make more white blood cells that battle infection.
Myrrh’s antimicrobial ingredients occur in greater concentration when the tree waxy sap is harvested with out damaging the tree. Thorny myrrh trees ooze the therapeutic resins naturally. Wildcrafters have been collecting myrrh from the same trees in Northeastern Africa for generations.
Myrrh from these trees was tested by 19th century miners the same way it is tested today. The resin should be clear, dark and bitter with enough potency to stick to the teeth. Whether myrrh is being paid for with gold nuggets or cash, this reliable medicine is worth every penny.
Author – Sue Sierralupe
Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website
Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”