The Mukul Tree—the Botanical Source of Guggul

Guggul (Commiphora mukul or wightii) grows predominantly in the Thar desert in the Rajasthan state in India, areas of Pakistan, and eastern Iran. A knotty-branched tree related to myrrh, it has brick-red colored flowers and only grows to between three and under six feet. It prefers dry, rocky soil and produces the resin called guggul when it is 5-7 years old—a yellow, brown, or green bitter substance that smells like balsam. Because the tree’s resin is important for medicinal purposes and also makes the wood valuable as fuel, C. mukul has been over-harvested and is now considered a rare and endangered species. 7-10

Mukul tree resin is often blended with other ingredients for traditional medicinal use and referred to as collectively as guggulu.1 Historically guggul was one of many Indian herbs and botanicals important to the spice trade, and was introduced to different countries like China via the Silk Road.8 It was often deliberately mixed with more expensive gum resins by Arab and Persian merchants from Iran to China during medieval times, grouped together and sold as Parthian aromatic or anxixiang.8

Guggul is not a pure resin—it is actually a gum resin. The difference is in the chemistry: pure resins are frequently composed of molecules called diterpenoids, which dissolve in fats (not water) and have strong flavors. Gums are usually mixtures of different polysaccharide molecules. As the term suggests, gum resins contain both substances, and both have been shown experimentally to have a number of medicinal effects in humans and animals.11

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