Amber was used in folk medicine and by old apothecaries as a healing agent for maladies involving pain and inflammation typically of the neck, throat, mouth and head. I haven’t been able to find information on exactly how the ancients used it but Wikipedia states ‘Amber and extracts were used from the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece for a wide variety of treatments through the Middle Ages and up until the early twentieth century.’
Recently Amber has been used for jewellery and as teething accessories for infants, the latter use is where my interest lies. There is no apparent, hard evidence for the medicinal properties of Amber. All is anecdotal, reported verbally and via reviews form parents, guardians and carers of little people experiencing teething problems. Is there some, albeit small justification for the claims? This is what I found:
According to Wikipedia there are different classes of Amber. The 1st of which is Baltic Amber mostly harvested in Gdansk in Poland. This particular type of Amber is especially high in succinic acid.
Succinic Acid (Butanedioic Acid) is a dicarboxylic acid. It occurs naturally in all living organisms. It plays a significant role in intermediary metabolism in the TCA/citric acid cycle (formerly the Krebs cycle) This cycle is a biochemical ballet of enzyme reactions in which a two-carbon acetyl unit (that’s carbohydrate or sugar to normal people) is oxidized to carbon dioxide and water to provide energy in the form of high-energy phosphate bonds. Succinic acid is produced approximately midway in this cycle. (ref Chemicalland21.com)
Succinate is used in medicines of sedative, antispasmodic, antiphogistic(anti-inflammatory-the one we are probably most interested in for teething), contraception and cancer-curing agents. I have not been able to find out what processes it under goes before being incorporated into these medicines but the presence of succinate in relatively high concetrations in Baltic Amber seems a plausible explanation for the centuries old belief that Amber has healing properties. I imagine the apothecaries of old processing it in some delicate and complicated way to enhance and distil its beneficial compounds. (Ref Chemical land21.com)
Teething jewellery for infants is suggested to work thus. The warmth of the skin warms the Amber and allows oils to be liberated from the Amber and absorbed via the skin into the body where it is then transported via the blood and lymph and effects its healing properties. (Ref Hazelaid.com)
My draw to Amber - mystical healing properties, subtle or otherwise is down to the fact that it is originally derived from trees. Thousands of years ago before pollution as we know it existed and before man made strains on nature were effected. Amber is fossilised solidified tree resin, which is sap. Sap is essentially tree blood and blood is considered by many, to be our life force. It flows, carrying nutrients to and degradation products away from our cells and it flows constantly through our hearts. Amber is thus in my mind the life force from the heart (of a tree) from a time of purity and innocence and that to me is very analogous to children. Adorning my child in Amber was a symbolic show of maternal warmth and affection and an affirmation of the life force she represents.
The Amber jewellery sold by Toys Naturally is minimally processed (no heating or compression, just cutting and polishing) and is Baltic Amber from Poland.