Wednesday, October 25, 2017

On the Use of Bdellium

Bdellium also called bdellion (Commiphora Africana or Commiphora wightii) is a gum resin from trees growing in India, Babylon, Ethiopia, Eritrea and sub-saharan Africa.  It is sometimes used in perfume, medicine and incense in place of more costly resins such as frankincense, myrrh and stacte. 

Theophrastus reported that Alexander expedition in the region called Aria discovered a thorn tree which produces a tear of resin that liquefies in the sun and resembles myrrh in appearance and odor.  Plautus referred to it in a play, and Pliny the Elder described it in his Natural History.  According to Pliny the best Commiphora wightii came from Bactria.  The bdellium tree is black in color and about the size of an olive tree.  Its leaves resemble oak leaves and its fruit looks like a wild fig.  The Bactrian variety is known among Arabs as mokul.  Another form of bdellium coming from Nubia was identified as Commiphora Africana.

The form of bdellium called Jewish bdellium described by Dioscorides in De Materia Medica, 1:80 was probably Hyphaene thebaica, a species of palm that grew in Petra.
Bdellium is the common English translation for the Hebrew word bedolach mentioned in the Bible.  Genesis 2:12 speaks of bdellium and other precious stones that could be found in the land of Havilah near Eden.  “The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there.”  In Numbers 11:7 when the Israelites and Moses begin to complain about their situation in the desert, the manna they have been given to eat is described as being “like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium.”

In China both bdellium and an East Indian benzoin from Sumatra were known called Parthian incense. Isidore of Seville reports in his Etymologiae that bdellium comes from trees in India and Arabia, the Arabian variety being better as it is smooth, whitish and smells good; the Indian variety is a dirty black.

Commiphora Africana has been used to treat a wide range of ailments.  The fruit is used for typhoid fever and stomach problems.  The bark is used to treat malaria, and the resin for convulsions, for disinfecting wounds, as an insecticide and as an aphrodisiac. Commiphora wightii has been a key component in the Ayurvedic system of medicine and is an ingredient in the prescriptions of ancient physicians in India and Arabia for nearly 3,000 years.  Resin from Commiphora wightii, called guggal in India contains a powerful steroid that prevents plaque build-up on the arterial walls thereby preventing atherosclerosis. 

Other compounds in guggal activate thyroid hormones that increase the metabolic rate of the body and aid in weight loss.  It contains anti-inflammatory alkaloids, tannins and steroids that make it a perfect natural aid to fight infections and eliminate harmful toxins and free radicals from the body.  It is used to treat degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, skin inflammations, acne, wrinkles and other skin related problems. 

Heart disease is mainly caused due to high blood cholesterol levels, and a steroid found in bdellium was believed to aid in cholesterol synthesis because it acts as an antagonist to the farnesoid X receptor.  However, studies have proven there is no overall reduction in total cholesterol in people treated with bdellium extract and levels of so-called bad cholesterol actually increased.

Because of its overuse in Indian medicine, bdellium has become extremely scarce in its two main habitats, and the World Conservation Union has listed it as an endangered species.  India's National Medicinal Plants Board launched a project to cultivate more bdellium and a grass-roots conservation movement led by an associate of the World Conservation Union begun educating bdellium growers in sustainable harvesting methods.