What Is Boswellia?

Can this herb ease inflammation and pain?

Boswellia, also known as Indian frankincense, is an extract from the Boswellia serrata tree that is found in parts of Asia and Africa. It is an herbal remedy that is often used in Ayurveda, one of the oldest alternative health practices in the world.

Boswellia is rich in boswellic acids that are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. The herbal extract is made with the Boswellia resin from inside the tree, which contains boswellic acid.

Some people use Boswellia to reduce inflammation and treat other health issues.

This article will explore the purported uses of Boswellia and available research. It'll also cover the potential side effects, precautions, drug interactions, and dosage information for this herbal supplement.

 Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. 
However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

Active Ingredient(s): Boswellic acid

Alternate Name(s): Indian frankincense, Boswellia serrata, Boswellic acid

Legal Status: Legal in the United States and available over the counter.

Suggested Dose: Dosage varies based on use and product. The average dose of Boswellia is 300 milligrams (mg) three times a day.

Safety Considerations: Boswellia is likely safe, and side effects are typically minimal. Boswellia may interact with various medications.

Uses of Boswellia

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Boswellia has many proposed uses. The resin from the Boswellia tree is commonly used to make oral supplements and topical creams.

Some studies suggest that Boswellia may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. But large-scale, independent clinical trials are needed.

Osteoarthritis

A meta-analysis from 2020 looked at various trials that studied the effect of Boswellia on osteoarthritis. In total, 545 study participants were included in the meta-analysis.

From these participants, researchers were able to conclude that Boswellia could be both effective and safe in treating osteoarthritis. Boswellia was found to relieve pain associated with osteoarthritis while also improving function in affected joints. It was noted in the analysis that using at least 100 to 250 milligrams (mg) of Boswellia for at least four weeks was best.

However, the researchers wrote that additional higher-quality, large trials studying varying dosages are needed.

Asthma

A small 2015 study showed promise for using Boswellia as a complementary treatment for asthma. Study participants had mild to severe asthma and were randomized to use either an asthma inhaler plus an oral formulation of Boswellia extract or the inhaler alone.

After four weeks, those who took the Boswellia extract needed to use their inhalers about half as often as those who did not take the supplement.

Boswellia is thought to suppress inflammation that is present in asthma, opening up a path for normal breathing.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

It has been suggested that Boswellia could improve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, because the research is limited, Boswellia's usefulness in IBD is still debated.

One clinical study found the gum resin from the Boswellia serrata tree to be an effective treatment option for chronic colitis, a type of IBD. For six weeks, study participants with colitis took 900 milligrams divided into three doses a day of a Boswellia serrata gum resin preparation. Out of 20 participants, 90% saw improvements in their colitis, and 70% went into remission. However, the sample size in this study was small.

Another study using a Boswellia serrata extract found it to be no better than placebo in maintenance therapy of Crohn's disease remission. Crohn's disease is a type of IBD. However, the result suggested Boswellia serrata was generally safe and well tolerated, even with long-term use.

Larger, higher-quality studies are needed before recommending Boswellia for use in IBD. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement.

The anti-inflammatory effects of Boswellia have led some researchers to suggest chewing Boswellia gum could reduce mild lung symptoms of COVID-19. However, more research is needed to confirm this add-on therapy.

Other Purported Uses

Boswellia supplements have also been studied for:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding: One study found that using ginger and Boswellia alongside a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may help reduce menstrual bleeding when taken alongside ibuprofen.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): Results regarding Boswellia's use in RA have been mixed. More research is needed in this area before we can definitively say that Boswellia is effective in treating RA.
Boswellia tablets

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

What Are the Side Effects of Boswellia?

It's also important to note that Boswellia supplements are not to be used in place of medical treatment for these and other uses. Instead, Boswellia may be used as a complementary treatment.

Boswellia is generally considered safe to use. However, it is possible to experience side effects when using Boswellia.

Common Side Effects

Boswellia may cause side effects, such as:

You may not experience any side effects at all. When they do occur, side effects are often mild and temporary. It's important to use Boswellia as directed to lower your risk of side effects. Be sure to talk with a healthcare provider before starting Boswellia supplements.

Severe Side Effects

On rare occasions, allergic reactions can occur when taking Boswellia. This may be more likely when using topical Boswellia.

It has been reported that taking high doses of Boswellia while pregnant may cause a miscarriage. Boswellia is thought to increase blood flow to the uterus, and this increased blood flow could potentially lead to pregnancy complications, including miscarriage. However, valid evidence supporting this claim is not available.

Regardless, it may be best to avoid Boswellia while pregnant. A healthcare provider can help you understand what supplements are safe to take while pregnant.

Precautions

Boswellia has been deemed a safe supplement to use in various studies. It comes with few precautions.

Boswellia may also be safe for children to take. But it would be best to have a pediatrician evaluate your child to know if Boswellia is the right choice.

If you have any existing medical conditions or are pregnant or breastfeeding then talk with a healthcare provider before starting Boswellia. It may not be suitable for everyone.

Dosage: How Much Boswellia Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage is appropriate for your individual needs.

There is no standard recommended dose of Boswellia. Different doses have been used in studies exploring the potential health benefits of Boswellia.

Many Boswellia products and supplements are made differently, making dosage standardization a challenge. Dosage may also depend on how much active boswellic acid is present in the supplement.

One review suggested a recommended dose of Boswellia be 250 to 500 milligrams two to three times per day. However, it did not state for which conditions this dose would be best.

For osteoarthritis, a Boswellia dosage of at least 100 to 250 milligrams for four weeks has been used in clinical studies.

Boswellia has also shown benefits for people with chronic colitis when used at a dose of 900 milligrams per day, divided into three daily doses over six weeks.

In one study looking at people undergoing radiation, a cream that contained 2% Boswellia was used. The cream was applied twice daily during radiation therapy and was found to reduce both skin reddening and the need for topical steroids.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Boswellia?

Boswellia is not an essential nutrient that your body needs for daily living. Because of this, there is no recommended daily intake or upper limit (UL).

No events of Boswellia overdose or toxicity have been reported.

Regardless, it's important to take Boswellia still as directed and avoid taking more than you should. As with other supplements, side effects become more likely with higher doses of Boswellia.

Interactions

Boswellia may interact with certain medications. However, there may not be enough strong evidence to support certain claims regarding interactions. Therefore, it's best to talk with your healthcare provider about taking Boswellia if you are taking any medications.

One in vitro study looking at potential drug interactions with Boswellia found that the risk of drug interactions was low. However, researchers cautioned that people taking warfarin, a blood thinner should use Boswellia with caution. 

It's important to quickly note here that because this study was performed in vitro, we cannot know for sure if the same results will be seen in humans. More high-quality human studies using Boswellia are needed to make further conclusions.

Regarding warfarin, two case reports describe elevated INR in people taking the blood thinner along with Boswellia. INR, or international normalized ratio, is a test used to measure how long it takes blood to clot. Boswellia was considered the probable cause for the increase in both cases, possibly due to inhibiting an enzyme in the body needed to metabolize warfarin.

It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of your Boswellia supplement label to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this label with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

How to Store Boswellia

It's important to store your supplements in a cool, dry place. Boswellia supplements should not come into direct contact with sunlight. You should also avoid letting your supplements become exposed to extremely hot or cold temperatures.

The best place for your supplements may be in a cabinet that is out of reach of children and pets.

Discard Boswellia supplements once expired and as indicated on the packaging. Some supplement bottles may be recyclable.

Similar Supplements

If Boswellia isn't the right supplement for you, there may be other options. Supplements have become more popular over the years, and typically, there is more than one that may benefit you.

For osteoarthritis, other supplements have been studied. These include:

IBD is another condition that has been well-researched when it comes to supplements.

Supplements besides Boswellia sometimes used to help manage IBD include:

Regardless of your health conditions, you should always consult with a healthcare provider before starting a new supplement. You want to make sure it's the best choice for you and your specific needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Boswellia used for?

    For centuries, the versatile extract has been used in:

    • Religious ceremonies
    • Perfumes and cosmetics (thanks to the distinctive scent of the essential oils in the resin)
    • In Ayuverdic medicine for a range of health conditions, including arthritis, asthma, diarrhea, mouth sores, hemorrhoids, and jaundice.

    Some studies suggest Boswellia may have anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant effects. The extract has been evaluated for its use in conditions such as osteoarthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. However, more research is needed.

  • How long does it take for Boswellia to relieve osteoarthritis symptoms?

    In at least one study, researchers recommended taking the herb for four weeks. However, the supplement has not been studied enough to guarantee the timing of results.

  • Can I take Boswellia with curcumin?

    Some research has looked at using Boswellia and curcumin together for certain diseases. In one study, a combination supplement containing both curcumin and Boswellia was found to be more effective than curcumin alone in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Sources of Boswellia & What to Look For

Boswellia is not naturally found in foods, but you can take it as an oral supplement or use it as a topical cream. It can also be found in soaps, lotions, detergents, and perfumes.

Boswellia Supplements

You can find oral Boswellia supplements in the form of capsules, tablets, and powders. You can also find it as a topical cream.

The quality of Boswellia supplements may be an issue. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way as it does conventional food products and drugs. Therefore, what's in some products may differ from what the label says.

If possible, choose a Boswellia supplement that has been approved by an independent agency such as USP, ConsumerLab.com, or NSF International that has reviewed the label for accuracy.

Although Boswellia may provide some benefits for your health conditions, don't use them in place of any medications prescribed by your healthcare provider. Some conditions can have long-term health effects if they aren't treated properly.

Many Boswellia supplements are gluten-free, vegan, and/or vegetarian, making them an acceptable choice for various diets.

Summary

Boswellia supplements are rich in boswellic acids and come from the extract of the Boswellia serrata tree.

There's some evidence to suggest Boswellia may help with arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel conditions. There are few side effects associated with taking Boswellia, and it is generally considered to be a safe supplement to use.

Although Boswellia shows promise overall, more research is needed. If you want to try Boswellia, speak with your healthcare provider first to see if it's safe for you.

16 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Brittany Lubeck, RD
Brittany Lubeck, RD, is a nutrition writer and registered dietitian with a master's degree in clinical nutrition. 

Originally written by Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process