I get a lot of questions about using herbs, both medicinally and magically. (Surprise?) A lot of beginners want to know which herbs they ought to start out with. I did a post on Top Ten Herbs but one of those, Myrrh, and a few similar herbs need some more attention. I’m not talking about flowers, leaves, bark or roots; today I’ll focus on resins.
For the most part ‘resin’ and ‘gum’ can be and are used interchangeably, so ‘Benzoin Gum’ is the same thing as ‘Benzoin Resin’. Resin is exuded from trees but shouldn’t be confused with tree sap – although just as sticky & gooey as sap before it dries, it’s not the same thing. Botanists haven’t figured out why certain trees exude resins but they do, and we can make use of them.
The most widely-known are Benzoin, Copal, Dragon’s Blood, Frankincense and Myrrh. (Amber falls into this category, too, but is fossilized, not quite as easy to come by and can be quite high in price. There are others, as well, such as some Pine resins, Gum Mastic, etc., but I won’t address those.)
When you mention a resin, most people think of incense and how good it smells. However, most resins are useful in a medicinal sense, as well.
Resins have been used for millenia. There is evidence that Myrrh was used in the embalming process in Egypt. The Kohl that Egyptian women used to line their eyes was made of charred Frankincense. And of course, there’s the story that Frankincense & Myrrh were two of the three gifts the Magi brought to the baby Jesus. Why resins along with gold? At that time, they were as precious and expensive as gold. Not so much anymore if you follow the precious metals market, eh?
All resins are antibacterial; some more than others. Myrrh has made its way to the forefront of commercial ‘herbal’ preparations because of its medicinal properties. I’ve even seen it as an ingredient in toothpaste. Benzoin has been used for ages as a preservative – if you look on product labels you may see “benzoic acid” listed. That’s a particular extract of benzoin gum. Although not usually used today for anything other than incense, Copal was used by ancient Mezoamericans (including the Maya) as a remedy for loose teeth and stomach pains.
Recent studies suggest that Dragon’s Blood could have an effect on memory loss … leading to the possibility that it could help with some forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
There is a caution when using resins. There have been reports of contact sensitization (allergic dermatitis) when using skin preparations with Benzoin as a preservative. As well, some people react badly to extracts of Myrrh. A skin patch test will easily show you if you have this problem prior to using a product all over.
All resins extract better in alcohol than water so if you want to make a water preparation (such as an infusion), be sure your resin is well-powdered and that you have a good strainer, like a coffee filter, on hand. The best way to use them is to purchase a liquid extract or essential oil. If you want to tincture Copal, beware: this particular resin melts in alcohol and although you’ll get a fair-quality tincture, the resin will be a gloppy mess that’s difficult to clean out of your jar.
All resins have a wonderful magical property: cleansing & protection. Maybe it goes along with the medicinal-antibacterial property? Anyway, passing your magical tools (or yourself) through resin smoke does a wonderful job of purifying.
I know a lot of folks burn a resin-based incense during meditation or divination. (Use only a little bit at a time – resin puts out a lot of smoke!) Dragon’s Blood is the only resin you can make into a magical ink. The others will come out rather clear and impossible to see on your writing surface.
Experiment with resins. You may have some wonderful results!