Boswellia is the purified resin made from the gum from the Boswellia serrata or Boswellia carteri trees. For medicinal purposes, the products of these two trees are used in similar ways.
B. serrata is a moderately large branching tree that grows in the hilly regions of India. It grows to a height of about 12 ft (4 m). The sticky resin, or sap, from the tree is also called Indian frankincense, Indian olibanum, dhup, and salai guggul . B. carteri is a related tree that grows in parts of North Africa, especially Somalia, and in some parts of Saudi Arabia. The resin from this tree is called frankincense.
Boswellia is a significant herb in the Ayurvedic system of health and healing. Ayurvedic medicine is a Hindu-based system of individualized healing that has been practiced in India for more than 2,000 years. It is a complex system that recognizes different human temperaments and body types. Each of these types have different qualities that affect the health and natural balance of the person.
Disease can result from any of seven major causes: heredity, congenital, internal, external trauma, seasonal, habits, or supernatural factors. Disease can also be caused by misuse of the five senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. Diagnoses are made through questioning, observation, examination, and interpretation. Health is restored by evaluating the exact cause of the imbalance causing the disease or condition and then prescribing herbs, exercises, diet changes, and/or meditation to help restore the natural balance of body, mind, and spirit. Cures are highly individualized, so that the same symptoms may require different remedies in different people.
Boswellia is a guggul. A guggul (sometimes spelled guggal) is a sticky gum resin that comes from the sap of a tree. Ayurvedic healers have used boswellia for centuries to treat arthritis and rheumatism. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, it has many other uses. These included being used as an antiseptic, expectorant, and diuretic.
In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, many conditions are treated with boswellia. These include:
- arithritis and rheumatism
- ringworm and other skin diseases
- undescended testicles
Modern usage has focused on the use of B. serrata. This is most likely to be used by Western herbalists and found in natural products stores. Modern herbalists use boswellia primarily to treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Boswellia can be taken internally or can be applied as a component of anti-arthritis cream.
Some very promising scientific evidence backs up this traditional use of boswellia. Compounds isolated from boswellia have demonstrated anti-inflammatory in laboratory studies. In experimental animals they reduced swelling as effectively as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, Motrin) and produced none of the side effects such as irritation of the stomach seen with NSAIDs. This could prove important for people who must take anti-inflammatory drugs for a long period of time. Other animal studies have suggested that boswellia lowers cholesterol and triglyceride (a type of fat) levels in the blood.
In other controlled human studies, boswellia was shown to decrease the duration of bronchial asthma, possibly by blocking formation of the chemicals that cause the blood vessels to contract. It has also been shown to be safe and effective in human studies for the treatment of arthritis.
Boswellia is harvested from trees in late October by cutting away a flap of bark 6–8 in (15-20 cm) wide. For about two weeks, the gum is then scraped away from this wound. This material is then purified and used in healing.
Commercially available boswellia is standardized as an extract to a strength of 60–65% boswellic acid. Dosage varies depending on the patient's condition. For example, people with rheumatic conditions might take 150 mg of boswellic acid three times per day. Follow the directions on commercially available tablets. Creams containing boswellic acid can be applied externally.
Some herbalists suggest that pregnant women, people with immune system diseases such as AIDS , and the frail elderly not take boswellia.
Generally boswellia appears to be well tolerated with very few side effects. In rare cases it can cause diarrhea, nausea , and skin rash.
There are few, if any, studies of how boswellia interacts with traditional Western medicines. It has been used for many years in combination with other Ayurvedic herbs without incident. With interest in boswellia interest high in modern research laboratories, more information on drug interactions is likely to be forthcoming.
Graedon, Joe, and Teresa Graedon. The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Peirce, Andrea. The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines New York: William Morrow and Company, 1999.
PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, New Jersey: Medical Economics Company, 1998.
American School of Ayurvedic Sciences. 2115 112th Avenue, NE, Bellevue, WA 98004. (425)453-8002.
The Ayurvedic Institute. P. O. Box 23445, Albuquerque, MN 87112. (505)291-9698.