Frankincense and Myrrh: bits of ancient wisdom

Yang Yifan, in her book Chinese Herbal Medicines Comparisons and Characteristics (1), says:


“Frankincense and Myrrh are aromatic herbs. They are very bitter and pungent, and move quickly. They can strongly disperse congealed blood, and direct it to descend, open up the meridians and collaterals, and are very effective for relieving pain. The two herbs are often used together to enhance the therapeutic effect. In clinical practice, they are often applied to reduce pain and swelling in trauma, arthritis, and fractures.

Frankincense is warm and pungent, and enters the heart and lung meridians. Compared with Myrrh, it promotes not only the blood circulation, but also the qi movement. It can also relax tendons. Frankincense is especially suitable for conditions where the joints and muscles are very stiff, swollen, and painful. It is also often used topically more than Myrrh.

Myrrh is neutral and it enters the liver meridians. Compared with Frankincense, it is more bitter and its dispersing action is also stronger. This herb is stronger than frankincense for breaking up congealed blood and is used not only in trauma and fracture, but also for hard masses, such as tumors.

Both of the herbs have a strong smell and may easily cause nausea and vomiting, and overdose may injure the stomach, so they are better used in pills and capsules.”

She has emphasized the strength of these herbs, and their ability to treat serious conditions, such as when joint and muscle pain is severe. Despite her comment that frankincense is used more often topically, myrrh is also commonly used for local therapies such as in plasters, liniments, and herbal washes.

Dr. Jiao Shude, one of the most famous Chinese herb doctors of the 20th century, described the similarities and differences between the herbs and the value of combining the two (2):

“Frankincense and myrrh both quicken the blood and relieve pain. However, frankincense moves qi to quicken the blood and also stretches the sinews, frees the channels, soothes the network vessels, and relieves pain.

Myrrh, by contrast, dissipates stasis to quicken the blood and also disperses swelling and settles pain. The former tends to act on qi, while the latter acts on blood. When the two medicinals are used together, the benefits of each are mutually enhanced. Therefore, these two medicinals are almost always used together in clinical practice.”


(1) Yang Yifang, Chinese Herbal Medicines Comparisons and Characteristics, 2002 Churchill Livingstone, London.

(2) Mitchel C, et al., (translators), Ten Lectures on the Use of Medicinals from the Personal Experience of Jiao Shude, 2003 Paradigm Publications, Brookline, MA.