RETRACTED CHAPTER: Apharsemon, Myrrh and Olibanum: Ancient Medical Plants
Among the most reputed ancient medical plants were the: olibanum – frankincense, derived from Boswellia spp., myrrh, derived from Commiphoras spp., both from southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa, and apharsemon of Judea, derived from Commiphora gileadensis that had its origin also in these territories. The demand for these medical plants that were also important spices was met by scarce and limited sources of supply. The incense trade and trade routes were developed to carry this precious cargo over long distances through many countries to the important foreign markets of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The export of the frankincense and myrrh made Arabia extremely wealthy, so much so that Theophrastus, Strabo, and Pliny all referred to it as Felix (fortunate) Arabia. At present, this export hardly exists, and the spice trade has declined to around 1,500 t, coming mainly from Somalia; both Yemen and Saudi Arabia import rather than export these frankincense and myrrh.
Apharsemon, known also as the Judaean balsam, grew only around the Dead Sea Basin in antiquity and achieved fame by its highly reputed aroma and medical properties but has been extinct in this area for many centuries. The resin of this crop was sold, by weight, at a price twice that of gold, the highest price ever paid for an agricultural commodity. This crop was an important source of income for the many rulers of ancient Judea; the farmers’ guild that produced the apharsemon survived over 1,000 years. Currently there is interest in a revival based on related plants of similar origin. These three ancient plants now are under investigation in many countries for medicinal uses. Many publications and patents on these three plants appeared in recent years.