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Boswellia serrata

Updated: Jun 14, 2022


Frankincense

Burseraceae

Actions: antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent

Qualities: Cooling, drying

Affinities: Skin, immune system

Constituents: Resin, pentacyclic triterpenoids (boswellic acid)


The plant is a small tree or shrub native to north east Africa and Asia, in the same family as the myrrh plant. It has a very long traditional use in ayurvedic medicine and the Middle East, especially for topical use. It was known to Pliny. It has been used as an anti-allergy remedy.

Leaves: deciduous, alternate towards the tops of branches, unequally pinnated; leaflets in about ten pairs with an odd one opposite, oblong, obtuse, serrated, pubescent, sometimes alternate; petioles short

Flowers: white or pale rose on short pedicels in single axillary racemes shorter than the leaves, a small five-toothed calyx and corolla formed of five obovate-oblong petals


There is considerable support from modern investigations. Frankincense has broad range anti-inflammatory effects, believed to be mainly due to the Boswellic acids. A high fat meal is likely to increase bioavailability. As it is highly resinous, it is extracted in 90% alcohol, so clinically effective levels would involve prohibitively high amounts of alcohol. Thererfore, internally best taken as a tablet or capsule. Most OTC products standardised to boswellic acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects. However, the analytical method is simple acid-base titration, which measures total acids in the extract. An unscrupulous supplier could add fruit acids to the extract to increase acid levels.


There are also clinical trials, some randomized, demonstrating its efficacy for dyspepsia, healing skin damage from age or sunlight, osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis (for OA may even have disease-modifying effects) with positive results. It displayed in vitro antitumor effects and in one open label trial it reduced inflammation in the brain for cancer patients. It is likely useful in reducing or mediating inflammatory conditions like IBD and asthma, and likely preventative in migraines.


Ammon, H. et al. (2010) Modulation of the immune system by Boswellia serrata extracts and boswellic acids, Phytomedicine:

  • Modulation of immune responses via various mechanisms including: increased antibody production, lymphocyte proliferation, increased phagocytosis, downregulation of proinflammatory cytokines, decreased leukotrienes (involved in chronic inflammation) all suggesting that it is not surprising that positive effects have been reported after use for rheumatoid arthritis, bronchial asthma, osteoarthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease

  • However, effective doses remain unclear, as differing effects recorded at different dosages

Hussain et al., (2017) Therapeutic potential of boswellic acids: a patent review, Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Patents:

  • Boswellic acid derivatives have a great potential in the treatment of cancer and inflammation

  • Unclear what the expert opinion is based on, no reference to clinical trias







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