WHAT IS GUGGUL? INDIAN BDELLIUM OR FALSE MYRRH: HEALTH BENEFITS OF GUGGUL AND USES
GUGGUL, INDIAN BDELLIUM, COMMIPHORA MUKAL
Guggul in Urdu, Indian Bdellium of false myrrh in English, and is known by several botanical names, Commiphora mukul and wightii, or Balsamodendron mukul. It is related to myrrh and is sometimes added to it to adulterate it. Interestingly, bdellium is the only word in the English language to begin with ‘bd’. Guggul is a tree or shrub with thorns on its branches, which is native to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and parts of Africa, although different genuses grow there. It has an ash-coloured bark which flakes off to reveal an under bark which also peels off in thin paper-like rolls.
Pliny, in his “Natural History” describes guggul in this way: -
“Adjoining India in the Bactrian country, in trees of which is produced the highly esteemed bdellium. The tree is black in colour and the size of the olive (tree), its leaf resembles that of the oak and its fruit that of the wild fig… It ought to be transparent like wax, to have a scent, to exude grease when crumbled and to have a bitter taste, though without acidity. When used in religious ceremonies it is steeped in wine, which makes its scent more powerful. This tree is native to Arabia and India, but also to Media and Babylon…Almonds are used to trade adulterated Indian bdellium”
You have to remember that Pliny never actually saw a tree such as he describes here, but had to rely on descriptions of travellers and traders.
In the Middle Ages Indian Bdellium reached Europe with the Radanite traders, the “wandering Jew” described by Shakespeare and Marlowe. Without these traders, who took long routes to sell their spices, incense and other wares, Europe would have been cut off from the rest of the world, as it had been in the Dark Ages. The commodities which entered Europe were often brought only by these traders. This changed during the Renaissance as Europe redeveloped and reestablished links with the Arabs, albeit that this was through their conquering of parts of the Iberian Peninsula.
The tree is tapped so that it exudes an oleo resin which has been found to help, in laboratory in vivo trials, to protect against atherosclerosis. It has anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory properties and can help lower cholesterol levels.
Guggul has been used in traditional medicine for centuries in the Indian subcontinent and the Arab world, and is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It has astringent, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, and aids the digestive processes as well as stimulating the appetite. It is a diaphoretic, expectorant, diuretic and emmenogogue, and is used in lotions for skin problems such as acne and as a gargle for chronic sore throats, including pharyngitis, and chronic tonsillitis as well as for ulcerated throats. Because it is an emmenogogue and useful in the absence of, or to control irregular, menstruation, pregnant women should avoid it as a medicine.
Its extract has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries and it can help with erectile dysfunctions and increase the sperm count and the quality of sperm, so helping infertile men.
Indian bdellium is moister than myrrh and comes in irregular dark brown masses which soften in the heat of the hand. If you chew a piece it will stick to your teeth and it smells a little like myrrh. The wax-like pellets resemble pearls and were carried by ancient Egyptian women as perfume.
The United States Food and Drug Administration have classified it as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) and today it is viewed as a possible health booster. It is also believed that it boosts the action of sluggish thyroid glands, but trials are still ongoing.
You can buy it in capsule form, as there are guggulsterones supplements on the market which claim to lower the levels of unhealthy cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) which builds up in the arteries and may lead to heart problems. It is thought that these guggulsterones may also reduce levels of triglycerides (a type of fat which accumulates in the blood and causes cardio-vascular diseases.