A quick search on "boswellia" will yield many pages — after all, there are 16 known boswellia species. Boswellia serrata,1 or Indian frankincense, is mostly used for medicinal purposes.2 It's extracted from a moderate- to large-sized tree3 that's native to India, Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia.4,5
Resin made from boswellia serrata extract was utilized in Asian and African folk medicine for disease treatment,6 and was highly prized during the peak of Roman and Indian civilizations.7 This boswellia herb shouldn't be confused with boswellia sacra (commonly known as frankincense) that can be identified by its papery and peeling barks and clustered leaves at the ends of its tangled branches,8 or boswellia carterii, which is often used to make frankincense essential oil.9
Health Benefits of Boswellia
Boswellia serrata is abundant in benefits such as reducing body inflammation10 and helping treat conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. It's also a painkiller, and can help inhibit cartilage loss.11 Boswellia can be used to alleviate asthma and may have protective effects against diseases like leukemia and breast cancer.12,13
The boswellic acid in the herb assists with preventing leukotriene formation in the body. Leukotrienes have been identified as a cause of inflammation and may trigger asthma symptoms. Four other acids located in boswellia were found to help impede the development of a leukotriene-producing enzyme called 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO). Out of these four, the acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA) is the most powerful.
What Is Boswellia Used For?
Boswellia use is divided into three categories: religious, cosmetic and medicinal. The Egyptians used boswellia serrata gum, or frankincense, to embalm their dearly departed, while Egyptian women made heavy kohl eyeliner by grinding frankincense into a fine powder.
Roman and Greek Catholics also used frankincense as incense in rituals.14 However, boswellia was most prominently utilized for its medicinal properties. The Chinese used boswellia as a stimulant, a topical ointment for injuries, skin eruptions and leprosy sores, mouthwash for mouth and throat problems, and pain reliever for menstrual discomfort.15 In India, the Ayurvedic practice relied on boswellia to help treat:16,17,18,19
Today, you can purchase boswellia either as a resin, pill, cream or powder. The resin itself is even added to perfumes and cosmetics.20,21,22
Tips for Growing Boswellia
Boswellia grows best in warm climates and under full sun, especially in dry and hilly areas, or with well-drained to dry and alkaline soil.23 Avoid planting boswellia in cold weather, as the trees can't handle frost.24 Its seeds are rare and expensive, so grow boswellia from large and stem cuttings.25 Prior to placing the plant in the ground, make sure there's at least 15 feet of open space around it. Here's an eHow tutorial on how to grow this plant at home:26
Things You'll Need
- Boswellia sapling
- Tree fertilizer
- Tree stake
1. Use the shovel to break up the ground where you want to plant the tree. Remove large rocks and pieces of debris, although the soil doesn't need to be fine.
2. Mix a single application of tree starter fertilizer into the ground. Although adult boswellia are hardy and may grow in nutrient-deficient soil, an initial fertilizer application can be beneficial for new saplings.
3. Take the shovel and dig a hole in the prepared and fertilized dirt. The hole's measurements should match the width and depth of the boswellia's root ball. To get measurements, place the sapling in the hole. The base of the sapling must be level with the hole's sides.
4. Place the sapling in the hole and fill the sides with soil. Push a stake into the ground near the sapling, then take the rope and tie the sapling to the stake. This is important since it'll help support the boswellia until it's established. Afterward you can remove the stake and the rope.
When planted, water the young plants daily (twice a day27) until root systems are established. Reduce this to at least a few times a week once the root systems are in place. Don't forget to trim the plant from time to time as well.28 Boswellia trees grow up to 9 to 15 meters (29.5 to 49.2 feet) tall.29 You can harvest boswellia resin once trees are 8 to 10 years old.30 Harvesting usually occurs in the beginning of April, although the extract can be gathered in late October, too.31,32
To harvest boswellia resin, a 15- to 20-centimeter-wide (5.9 to 7.78 inches) incision is made on the tree's bark. The milky-white resin will ooze out and solidify when exposed to air. It turns into white to yellow crystals. Two weeks after this gum is released, harvest these crystals and clean them by hand to remove debris.
Try These Boswellia Recipes
Traditionally, small boswellia doses were taken internally to help alleviate chronic cough and cold.33 If you get approval from your physician to consume boswellia, try making this anti-inflammation boswellia smoothie recipe:34
Anti-Inflammation Boswellia Smoothie Recipe
1. Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend for one minute until smooth. If smoothie is too thick, thin with purified water. Serve immediately.
This recipe makes 1 serving.
You can purchase boswellia powder online, although it's quite difficult to find.35 Search for boswellia products that are standardized to specified levels on boswellic acids.36 Just be careful when starting out, and try using little portions first.37
Try Boswellia Oil Today
Resin from the boswellia serrata tree can be used to make boswellia serrata essential oil, also called olibanum.38 The plant's volatile oil contains compounds like p-cymene, d-limonene, terpinolene, bornyl acetates and methylchavicol. This is not to be confused with frankincense essential oil, which is made from Boswellia sacra or Boswellia carteri.39 While boswellia serrata oil is different from other essential oils of boswellia trees, it's just as beneficial because of these properties:40
This clear to pale yellow essential oil is great for boosting your mood, clearing your body and mind, providing a fragrant aroma to surroundings and treating joint pain, tendonitis, asthma, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis and rheumatism.41 Here are some ways to use this:42
• Mouthwash to treat bad breath caused by gum disease or other dental issues: Mix a few drops of boswellia oil, one-fourth teaspoon Himalayan salt and four drops of peppermint essential oil into a cup of pure water.43
• Massage oil: Add boswellia oil to your massage oil to soothe skin and relax your body and mind.
• Skincare cream: Combine some drops of boswellia oil into your preferred cream for clearer and more lustrous skin.
• Cold compress: Add a few drops to apply as a cold compress to painful body parts.
• Topical application: Place a drop of boswellia oil on your palm, gently rub both palms together, bring towards your face and inhale deeply.
Prior to using boswellia oil, consult a physician or take an allergen test to check for potential allergies. Refrain from taking boswellia oil internally, and always dilute it in a safe carrier oil prior to use. You can also try blending boswellia oil with these other oils, too:44
Black pepper oil
Side Effects of Boswellia
Boswellia or boswellia oil has various side effects that can potentially disrupt your body. Pregnant women must avoid boswellia because it's an emmenagogue that increases blood flow to the pelvis45 and the uterus, encouraging menstruation, and an abortifacient, meaning it can induce a miscarriage.46 Breastfeeding women should avoid using boswellia, too.47 Furthermore, other side effects of boswellia serrata, albeit rare, may occur, including:48,49
Stomach discomfort, including nausea
Skin rashes and burning
A feeling of fullness in the stomach
Tightness in throat or chest
Skin hives, rashes or itchy skin
These medicines and supplements may interact negatively when taken alongside boswellia, so avoid these at all costs:50,51
Medicines that are substrates of P-Glycoprotein (P-Gp) (boswellia could affect how the body absorbs or metabolizes these)
Anticoagulant and/or antiplatelet drugs (boswellia could increase risk for bleeding)
Supplements with anticancer properties
Medications for joint diseases