How does it feel?
Boswellia resin requires a high content of alcohol for extraction into liquid (ideally 90%). For this reason, it is more conveniently available as a tablet or capsule. If you can find either form and take a little in your mouth you will be struck by the powerful acrid, resinous and bitter tastes that linger uncomfortably. Above that there is a significant aromatic high note due to its content of essential oils which give boswellia its use as incense.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of boswellia’s key qualities below to learn more:
Boswellia is clearly stimulating, and this can be felt in increased warming or circulation, and also as a mental stimulant. From what we now know about how key ingredients cross into the central nervous system we can better understand the ancient link between incense and its spiritual and psychological applications.
What can I use it for?
Consider boswellia as a natural alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. It can be tried for long term inflammatory joint problems like osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, especially when any pain is relieved by heat. There is a long tradition in India of combining boswellia with turmeric for this purpose.
There are both traditional reputations and modern research to consider using it in chronic lung problems, especially if there are asthmatic elements.
The ability of this plant when externally applied to exposed tissue to reduce inflammation and to aid granulation means that it will target the combination of pain and inflammation in improved wound healing.
There is new and so far little explored potential of boswellia in managing inflammation in the gut. An affect in reducing disturbances of gut flora (the microbiome) is also possible.
Into the heart of boswellia
Boswellia has the dual energetic reputation of being both heating and cooling. It heats by stimulating circulation and cools with its anti-inflammatory action.
Boswellia resin contains triterpene constituents collectively known as ‘boswellic acid’. This fraction has anti-inflammatory properties that is quite distinct from conventional non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. NSAIDs reduce enzymes called cyclo-oxygenases (COXs) that produce prostaglandins. However they leave unchanged an enzyme called 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) that produces leukotrienes, which can damage the stomach wall (and induce asthma). Boswellic acid inhibits 5-LOX (not COX) and can therefore protect the gut wall from damage and also improve asthmatic like respiratory problems.
There is a persistent traditional reputation for boswellia affecting the brain and central nervous functions. It has had a long-term connection with the spiritual realm and religious ceremony. It is also used in psychiatric and mental conditions. We now understand that unusually among anti-inflammatory remedies that some of its constituents can cross the ‘blood-brain barrier’. This puts boswellia into contention for a wide range of neurological and psychiatric conditions, depression, dementia, and even chronic fatigue, all linked by elements of ‘neuroinflammation’.
In traditional Indian medicine boswellia is used as as a stimulant and expectorant (internal use) and an astringent and anti-inﬂammatory agent (topically). It was used for pulmonary diseases, especially if chronic, rheumatic disorders, diarrhoea, dysentery, painful periods and liver disorders. It is also used for general weakness and to improve appetite.
The plants essential oils are said to support the spiritual body and work where we would now place the pituitary and hypothalamus gland.
What practitioners say
Inflammation: useful in inflammatory diseases, especially of the joints (osteo and rheumatoid arthritis), lungs (especially asthma), inflammatory bowel disease (eg Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) and skin (eg psoriasis.
Gut health: boswellia can be considered in long-term inflammation gut disease, like Crohns and ulcerative colitis or any other persistent low gut problem with inflammatory or dysbiosis elements.
Pain: all types of pain, specifically arthritic or post trauma where there is inflammation and congestion. Energetically applied to cold and damp types of pain and swelling (ie. where the pain is relieved by heat).
Women’s health: a traditional remedy in the treatment of fibroids, cysts, painful periods with clots and pain caused by congestion the uterus.
Men’s health: a specific herb for impotence and sexual debility; it brings blood to the reproductive organs and therefore facilitates issues such as erectile function.External uses: used to hasten the healing of wounds, broken bones and bruises, especially it there is local inflammation.
Did you know?
Indian frankincense can grow up to 15 metres and is a popular avenue tree in Indian cities.
No problems are expected.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
- Rasa (taste) Bitter, pungent, astringent, sweet.
- Virya (action) Heating and cooling.
- Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Pungent.
- Guna (quality) Dry, light, penetrating.
- Dosha effect balances vata, pitta and kapha, in excess may aggravate either pitta or vata.
- Dhatu (tissue) Plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerve, reproductive.
- Srota (channel) Circulatory, nervous, reproductive.
From laboratory studies it appears that boswellic acid inhibits the inflammatory enzyme 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) with little effect on cyclo-oxygenase (COX). COX enzymes produce inflammatory prostaglandins and are the main target of conventional non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. 5-LOX generates leukotrienes. These are also potent inflammatory agents that particularly are involved in asthmatic problems, but perhaps even more significantly in damage to the gut wall. One reason conventional NSAIDS can damage the stomach is that they upset the COX/LOX balance and allow more leukotrienes to be produced. Boswellia’s mechanism of action is therefore quite distinct from NSAIDs and are not likely to have their complications. Other immunological and anti-inflammatory mechanisms have been identified, including the inhibition of NFkappaB activation and consequent down regulation of proinflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha and decrease of IL-1, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6 and IFN-gamma. There is additional evidence pointing to an intriguing possible role on another anti-inflammatory marker, cathepsin G, this demonstrated against placebo ex vivo, that is in blood taken after oral consumption.
A double-blind trial on 48 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee with a boswellia extract or placebo for a period of 120 days, revealed that boswellia treatment significantly improved the physical function of the patients by reducing pain and stiffness compared with placebo. Radiographic assessments showed improved knee joint gap and reduced spurs. Boswellia also significantly reduced the serum levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker associated with osteoarthritis.
Inflammatory mediators are strongly associated with ischaemic stroke. Unlike NSAIDs, boswellic acids cross the blood-brain barrier and there is a case for appropriate modulation of inflammatory pathways in aiding stroke recovery. A double-blind placebo-controlled pilot trial randomized 80 ischaemic stroke patients within 72 hours of onset of neurological signs, for a month follow-up. Patients who were allocated to the boswellia group had a significant recovery in neurological function during the 1-month follow-up, compared with the placebo. The levels of plasma inflammatory markers were significantly decreased after 7 days of intervention in TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, and PGE2.
Patients irradiated for brain tumours often suffer from cerebral oedema and are usually treated with dexamethasone, which has various side effects. To investigate the activity of boswellia a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, pilot trial was conducted. Forty-four patients with primary or secondary malignant cerebral tumours were randomly assigned to radiotherapy plus either boswellia 4200 mg/day or placebo. Compared with baseline and measured immediately after the end of radiotherapy and treatment, a reduction of cerebral oedema of >75% as measured by MRI was found in 60% of patients receiving boswellia and in 26% of patients receiving placebo.
Local effects in reducing inflammation has been supported in an uncontrolled clinical trial that showed boswellia can reduce the use of topical corticosteroids and is able to reduce skin rash and other superficial symptoms after radiation for breast cancer.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
2.5-5 grams of powdered resin per day, or equivalent in high alcoholic extract.
- Oleo-gum resin including pentacyclic triterpene (boswellic) acids and tetracyclic triterpene acids (including tirucallic acid).
- Essential oil including alpha-thujene, pinene, dipentene and other monoterpenes, as well as sesquiterpenes