Health Benefits of the Herb Boswellia

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Boswellia tree
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Also known as "Indian frankincense", boswellia is an extract sourced from the gum resin produced by the Boswellia serrata tree. Commonly used in ayurveda, boswellia is rich in boswellic acids, substances that may have anti-inflammatory effects. 

Common Uses

In herbal medicine, boswellia is typically used to manage the following:

  • Asthma
  • Collagenous arthritis
  • Crohn's disease
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ulcerative colitis

Boswellia serrata and other species of boswellia are also used in essential oils or burned as incense. 

What Research Shows

Some studies suggest that boswellia may have some anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects, but large-scale, industry-independent clinical trials are needed.

Here's a look at several findings from the available research:

Osteoarthritis Pain

For a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2015, researchers analyzed previously published trials testing the effects of herbal supplements for osteoarthritis. Their analysis of studies involving boswellia found evidence that it reduced pain (as measured by a pain scale) and improved physical function compared to a placebo.


A a small 2015 study published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, Boswellia may help reduce the need for inhalation therapy in people with persistent asthma. Participants in the study (who had mild-to-severe persistent asthma) received either inhalation therapy with an oral boswellia supplement or inhalation therapy alone.

After four weeks of treatment, those who took the Boswellia supplement in addition to the inhalation therapy had a decrease in the number of inhalations needed compared to those who had inhalation therapy alone.

Crohn’s Disease

A study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases found that a boswellia extract may not help people with Crohn’s disease who are in remission. After 12 months of treatment with a boswellia extract, there was no significant difference in relapse time, severity of symptoms, or maintenance of remission.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

In a 2007 study involving 31 people with collagenous colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic diarrhea), researchers found that taking a boswellia extract three times daily for six weeks was not more effective than a placebo when comparing clinical remission, lab testing, or quality of life.

Possible Side Effects

Boswellia has been known to cause nausea, diarrhea, bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, and allergic reactions. It may stimulate blood flow in the uterus. Pregnant and nursing women shouldn't take boswellia.

Boswellia may interact with medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs like ibuprofen and drugs that are substrates of P-Glycoprotein (P-Gp), so be sure to consult your healthcare provider before using it. If you have gastritis or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you may not be able to take boswellia.

Two case reports describe dangerously elevated INR (a test used to measure blood clotting) in people who were taking warfarin (Coumadin), a type of drug often referred to as a "blood-thinner". Boswellia was considered the probable cause in both cases. If you're taking any type of blood thinner or have a condition that affects blood clotting, be sure to consult your doctor before taking boswellia. It shouldn't be taken within two weeks of a scheduled surgery.

The quality and purity of boswellia supplements is an issue. Due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. For example, boswellia products have been found not to contain any of the six boswellic acids (considered to be the active ingredients), suggesting the use of a different species instead of boswellia serrata.

Although some natural approaches may help to reduce inflammation, it's important to not delay treatment or stop taking your prescribed treatment, as certain conditions can have longer-term health effects if they aren't treated properly.

Where to Find It

Available in many health food stores, boswellia is sold in supplement form and in formulas containing curcumin (turmeric) and other herbs.

The Takeaway

If you have an inflammatory condition, your symptoms may be keeping you from doing everyday activities. You may be seeking ways to further manage your pain and find relief.

Although boswellia shows promise for certain conditions, further research is still needed from large-scale clinical trials to confirm these effects. If you're still thinking of trying boswellia, speak with your doctor first to see if it's appropriate (and safe) for you and whether it can become a part of your treatment plan, possibly in combination with other herbs with anti-inflammatory properties, like ginger and turmeric.

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Article Sources
  • Cameron M, Chrubasik S. Oral herbal therapies for treating osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 May 22;(5):CD002947.
  • Ferrara T, De Vincentiis G, Di Pierro F. Functional study on Boswellia phytosome as complementary intervention in asthmatic patients. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2015 Oct;19(19):3757-62.
  • Holtmeier W Zeuzem S, Preiss J,et al. Randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of Boswellia serrata in maintaining remission of Crohn's disease: good safety profile but lack of efficacy. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2011 Feb;17(2):573-82.
  • Madisch A, Miehlke S, Eichele O, et al. Boswellia serrata extract for the treatment of collagenous colitis. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Int J Colorectal Dis. 2007 Dec;22(12):1445-51.