What Is Boswellia?

Can this herb ease inflammation and pain?

Boswellia is an extract from the gum resin of Boswellia serrata, a tree native to Africa and Arabia. It's also known as "Indian frankincense" or "olibanum."

The herb is used in Ayurveda, one of the oldest traditional health practices in the world. Boswellia is rich in boswellic acids. These acids may have anti-inflammatory effects. 

This article explores the benefits of Boswellia. It also discusses where you can find it and what interactions and side effects to expect.

What Can Boswellia Be Used to Treat?

Verywell / Hilary Allison

What Is Boswellia Used For?

Boswellia is used in essential oils or burned as incense. The oil is also used in food, cosmetics, soaps, and drinks. It is often taken by mouth or applied to the skin for:

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

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

Osteoarthritis

In a 2014 research review, experts analyzed trials of herbs used for osteoarthritis. They found evidence that Boswellia reduced pain and improved physical function compared to a placebo. A placebo is a treatment that doesn't contain active medication, like a sugar pill.

Asthma

A small 2015 study said Boswellia may help reduce the need for inhaler use in people with asthma. People in the study had mild to severe asthma. They used either asthma inhalers with an oral Boswellia supplement or the inhalers alone.

After four weeks, those who took the Boswellia supplement needed to use the inhalers less often compared to those who didn't take the supplement.

Inflammatory Bowel Conditions

Research suggests that combining Boswellia and curcumin (turmeric) could help relieve pain in some bowel conditions. It could also improve gut health.

In one small study, people with diverticulitis took 500 milligrams (mg) of curcumin and Boswellia twice daily for thirty days. After 30 days, 21 of 27 people reported less pain. Some felt relief in 10 days.

In a lab study, researchers treated colon cells with a blend of curcumin and Boswellia. They suggested that the two herbs together might have a protective effect on the lining of the gut.

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

Possible Side Effects

Boswellia may be safe when taken by mouth for up to six months. It could be safe when applied to the skin for up to five weeks. But follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

Boswellia may cause side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Allergic reactions

It may increase blood flow in the uterus. Pregnant and nursing women shouldn't take it.

Boswellia may interact with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like ibuprofen. It may also interact with these drugs:

  • Calcium channel blockers that treat high blood pressure
  • Antibiotics such as cyclosporine and erythromycin
  • Protease inhibitors used to treat HIV

It's important to talk to your healthcare provider before using Boswellia. If you have gastritis or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you may not be able to take the herb.

Boswellia may interfere with blood clotting. Two case reports describe dangerously high INR in people taking the blood thinner Coumadin (warfarin) and Boswellia. INR 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.

If you're taking a blood thinner or have a condition that affects blood clotting, talk to your healthcare provider before taking Boswellia. Don't take it within two weeks of surgery.

Boswellia tablets

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dose

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

In arthritis studies, 100 mg to 1000 mg of Boswellia extracts or 300 mg to 600 mg of Boswellia with other herbs were used daily. A cream containing 2% Boswellia was used on skin during radiation treatment. The cream was applied twice daily during therapy.

What to Look For

Boswellia can be found in many health food stores. It's sold as a supplement and blended with curcumin (turmeric) and other herbs.

The quality of Boswellia supplements is an issue. Dietary supplements are not regulated in the U.S. For that reason, what's in some products may differ from what the label says.

For example, some Boswellia products don't contain the six acids considered to be the active ingredients. That suggests the products may have been made from something other than Boswellia serrata.

Although some natural products may reduce inflammation, 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.

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

Although Boswellia shows promise, more research is needed. If you want to try Boswellia, speak with your healthcare provider first to see if it's safe for you. You may also want to discuss using Boswellia with other herbs like ginger and turmeric.

Summary

Boswellia is the extract of the Boswellia serrata tree. It's been used in traditional health systems for centuries. The supplement may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. But more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

There's some evidence to suggest Boswellia may help with arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel conditions. Larger studies would need to be done to understand the health effects.

Boswellia has some side effects. It's hard to verify the quality of the ingredients in Boswellia supplements. And isn't recommended for people who are pregnant or nursing. Boswellia can also interact with some drugs, so it's vital that you talk with your healthcare provider before taking it.

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)
    • Traditional medicine (especially Ayurveda) to treat a range of conditions including inflammatory diseases like arthritis, colitis, and asthma; swelling of the brain; and skin damaged by radiation
  • Is it OK to take Boswellia every day?

    Probably, as long as you aren't taking any medications that may interact with it, such as certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and Coumadin (warfarin). People who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have gastroesophageal reflux disease likely should not take Boswellia at all.

  • How long does it take for Boswellia to relieve arthritis?

    In at least one study, researchers recommended taking the herb for 4 weeks. It's important to note the supplement has not been studied enough to guarantee the timing of results.

  • How much Boswellia should I take for arthritis?

    There's no standard dosage of Boswellia for any medical condition as there's such wide variation among products that contain it. However, some studies suggest taking 300 milligrams (mg) to 400 mg three times a day of an extract containing 60% boswellic acids for inflammatory diseases or asthma.

15 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 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.