Boswellia (Boswellia serrata), also known as Indian frankincense, belongs to a family of resinous trees renowned for their aromatic oil. Boswellia trees are native to North Africa and the Middle East, but the particular species Boswellia serrata grows in the dry, mountainous forests of western and central India.
Boswellia trees have a thick, papery bark that yields a gum containing natural sugars, essential oils, and several triterpene acids known as boswellic acids. These acids are the source of boswellia’s medicinal properties.
Since ancient times, frankincense has been used in Africa, China, India, and the Middle East for the prevention and treatment of various illnesses, especially chronic inflammatory diseases .
Resins from this herb have been traditionally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease .
Boswellia serrata is one of the most valued ancient herbs in Ayurveda. In the Indian system of medicine, it has been used as an anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, and analgesic agent .
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, frankincense of B. carterii is commonly used as a remedy for improving blood circulation and relieving pain .
Modern medicine and pharmacology support some of the Boswellia’s anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory, heart-friendly, pain-relieving and liver-protecting properties.
Osteoarthritis. Some research shows that taking certain extracts of boswellia (5-Loxin, Wokvel, ApresFLEX, formerly known as Aflapin) can reduce pain by up to 65% and improve mobility in people with osteoarthritis in joints. Other research shows that taking combination products containing boswellia and other herbal ingredients can also reduce pain and improve function in people with osteoarthritis.
Skin damage caused by radiation therapy. Some research shows that applying a skin cream containing 2% boswellia (Bosexil by Indena SpA) during radiation treatment helps prevent severe skin redness from developing.
Ulcerative colitis. Taking boswellia seems to improve symptoms of ulcerative colitis in some people. For some people, boswellia seems to work as well as the prescription drug sulfasalazine. Some research shows that it can induce disease remission in 70% to 82% of people.
Aging skin. Early research shows that applying boswellia cream to the face reduces fine surface lines, roughness, and sun damage in women with sun-damaged skin. But skin coloring and wrinkling are not improved.
Asthma. Early research shows that taking boswellia extract (S-compound by Rahul Pharma) might help improve breathing, reduce sudden attacks, and decrease some symptoms in people with asthma.
Brain tumors. Early research suggests that boswellia might benefit people with brain tumors. Taking 4200 mg of boswellia daily seems to reduce tumor size.
Cluster headache. Limited evidence suggests that boswellia might reduce the frequency and intensity of cluster headaches.
Inflammatory bowel disease that affects the colon (collagenous colitis). Early research shows that taking 1200 mg of boswellia daily for 6 weeks increases remission rate in people with collagenous colitis.
Crohn's disease. Some early research shows that taking boswellia extract reduces symptoms of Crohn's disease. But other research that is more reliable shows no benefit.
Diabetes. Research suggests that taking boswellia 800 mg daily after a meal improves levels of blood sugar and cholesterol in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Joint pain. Early research shows that taking a specific product containing glucosamine sulfate, methylsufonlylmethane, white willow bark extract, ginger root concentrate, boswellia extract, turmeric root extract, cayenne, and hyaluronic acid (Instaflex Joint Support, Direct Digital, Charlotte, NC) three times daily for 8 weeks reduces joint pain. But this product doesn't seem to help joint stiffness or function.
Neurological trauma. Early research suggests that taking boswellia 360 mg three times a day for 6 weeks does not help patients following a traumatic brain injury.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Research results are mixed so far about the effectiveness of boswellia in the treatment of RA.
More evidence is needed to rate boswellia for these uses.