Common Name


Botanical Name

Boswellia serrata


Boswellia carterii
Boswellia frereana
Indian olibanum
Olibanum gum
Boswellia serrata
Boswellia carterii
Boswellia frereana
Indian olibanum
Olibanum gum
Share on Facebook
Share via Twitter
Pin on Pinterest
Post on Linkedin
Send via Email
Share via ShareThis

In India, Boswellia gum is also a highly prized incense whose use dates back to antiquity.

What Is It?

Boswellia refers to the gum, or resin, of various species of Boswellia, which are shrubs and small trees. Native to the Red Sea region and northeastern Africa, boswellia is also found in the mountains of central India.1,2

The gummy resin of the boswellia tree has a long history of internal use in Indian herbal medicine as a treatment for arthritis, bursitis, nervous diseases, urinary disorders, and diarrhea. Externally the gum and its oil preparations are used for ulcerations and sores. Orally boswellia allays foul breath. Additional traditional uses include relief of dysmennorhea (painful menstruation), soothing sore nipples, and treating gonorrhea and ringworm.1

Boswellia gum is also a highly prized incense whose use dates back to antiquity. The incense burned in a censer or thurible during the rituals of Roman and Greek Catholic churches is a mixture of frankincense imported from India, Egypt and Somalia.

Medicinal History

The aromatic resin from boswellia, frankincense, was once highly prized from Rome to India, and considered essential for a host of uses ranging from religious to cosmetic to medicinal. According to Christian belief, the three wise men who traveled to Bethlehem to worship the Christ Child brought gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts. Ancient caravan routes, including the Silk Road, evolved to transport the priceless resins from areas where the trees grew, to the markets where kings and emperors vied for the finest grades.

Frankincense was used by the Egyptians for embalming, and for cosmetic purposes. In 1400 BC, Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt sent a plant-collecting expedition to the eastern coast of Africa. Among the botanical prizes garnered were 31 boswellia trees that were subsequently planted at the Temple Of Karnak along the Nile.3

According to the Oman Ministry of Information, the Dhofari of Oman began large scale exploitation of frankincense 8000 years ago. Dhofari frankincense has played a very important role in commercial enterprises between the Arab regions and the Asian and African civilisations. Ancient Sumerian inscriptions refer to bokhur (incense) and it is thought that this incense traveled by ship from Oman to Sumer, Bahrain and parts of Iraq. 4

Boswellia was considered a stimulant, and was used in China to treat leprosy.5 Additionally the Chinese employed boswellia for relieving menstrual pains, as a wash for complaints of the mouth and throat, and topically for injuries and skin eruptions.6

More recent investigation into boswellia shows that the gum is beneficial in cases of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and ulcerative colitis.

Habitat & Cultivation

Boswellia gum is collected primarily in India, Egypt and Somalia. At the beginning of April, collection begins by making incisions in the bark. The freshly exuded gum initially appears as a milky-white resin. This resin solidifies upon exposure to air, and turns into white to yellow crystals. Boswellia crystals are harvested about two weeks after the gum exudes from the cut bark, are cleaned by hand to remove debris, and are graded according to color and fragrance. One tree can yield between 10 - 20 kg of frankincense per season.4,7

How It Works

The means by which boswellia works is not fully understood. However, boswellia has been analyzed extensively, due to its traditional medicinal uses, and its use in perfumery and fragrances. Boswellia contains a broad range of phytochemicals in its gum, including a group called the boswellic acids, which are terpenes. These compounds possess anti-inflammatory properties, which may possibly explain the contemporary and traditional anti-arthritic uses of boswellia.8,9 Interestingly, boswellia also contains a number of anti-cancer compounds, though it is not used for cancer inhibition.9

Contemporary Uses Approved by Authoritative Bodies

No authoritative body currently approves the use of boswellia.

Potential Risks

Safety Issues and Concerns

There are no safety issues or concerns associated with boswellia.

Contraindications – based on conditions and medication intake, etc.
• There are no known contraindications for boswellia use.

Potentially harmful drug interactions
• There are no known harmful drug interactions associated with boswellia.

Allergy precautions
• There are no known allergies associated with boswellia.

Usage Tips

A typical dose of boswellia is 400 mg 3 times a day of an extract standardized to contain 37.5% boswellic acids.

Product Choosing/Buying Tips

Look for boswellia products standardized to specififed levels on boswellic acids.

Science Update

Boswellia Relieves Rheumatoid Arthritis:

According to a recent review of unpublished studies, preliminary double-blind trials have found boswellia effective in relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.² Two placebo-controlled studies, involving a total of 81 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, reportedly found significant reductions in swelling and pain over the course of 3 months.10

Boswellia Relieves Mild Asthma:

A 6-week double-blind placebo-controlled study of 80 individuals with relatively mild asthma found that treatment with boswellia at a dose of 300 mg 3 times daily reduced the frequency of asthma attacks and improved objective measurements of breathing capacity. The data show a definite role of gum resin of Boswellia serrata in the treatment of bronchial asthma.11

Boswellia Benefits Ulcerative Colitis:

In patients suffering from ulcerative colitis grade II and III the effect of Boswellia serrata gum resin preparation (350 mg thrice daily for 6 weeks) was studied. All parameters tested improved after treatment with Boswellia serrata gum resin, the results being similar compared to controls: 82% out of treated patients went into remission.12


1. Nadkarni, A., Dr. K. M. Nadkarni’s Indian Materia Medicia 3rd ed. (Popular Prakash Pvt. Ltd. Bombay India 1994) 211-212

2. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, 2nd ed., (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1996).

3. Simpson, B., Ogorzaly, M., Economic Botany 3rd ed. (McGraw Hill New York 2001) 259

4. Frankincense, Govt Of Oman http://www.omanet.com/frankincense.htm

5. Evans, W.C., Trease and Evans’ Pharmacognosy, 13th ed., (Philadelphia, Bailliere Tindall, 1989) 475

6. Bown, Deni. The Herb Society Of America Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses. (1st ed., (New York: Dorling Kindersley,1995) 250

7. Extracting Frankincense Gum In somalia http://www.aromatrading.co.uk/frankin/

8. Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. 2nd ed., (Paris: Lavoisier Publishing 1993).

9. Agricultural Research Service, Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/

10. Etzel R. Special extract of Boswellia serrata (H 15) in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Phytomedicine.1996;3:91–94.

11. Gupta I, Gupta V, Parihar A, Gupta S, Ludtke R, Safayhi H, Ammon “Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with bronchial asthma: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 6-week clinical study.” HP Eur J Med Res 1998 Nov 17 3:11 511-4

12. Gupta I, Parihar A, Malhotra P, Singh GB, Ludtke R, Safayhi H, Ammon HP “Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with ulcerative colitis.” Eur J Med Res 1997 Jan 2:1 37-43