What is Boswellia Indian Frankincense? History, Benefits, & Side Effects

Published on December 20, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Boswellia, also known as Indian Frankincense, Frankincense, Shallaki, or Boswellia serrata, is a tree gum resin extract harvested from Boswellia trees grown in India, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Although it is best known for its mention in the Bible and other religious texts, Boswellia/Indian Frankincense is also used in various supplements, essential oils, and skincare products.

Ayurvedic and integrative practitioners tout its benefits for supporting normal inflammatory response, immune function, and skin health…but does it work, and is it safe to try?

In this article, you’ll learn its fascinating history and traditional uses, what research has uncovered about how it works, its benefits, side effects, and contraindications.

The Colorful History and Traditional Uses of Boswellia/Indian Frankincense

Of all the traditional herbs, the history of Boswellia/Indian Frankincense is one of the most captivating.

Boswellia has been used in traditional Indian (Ayurveda), Asian, and Middle Eastern wellness systems for thousands of years, where it is revered for its health-supportive properties.*

As previously mentioned, it comes from the gummy resin of the Boswellia tree, a desert shrub that grows throughout North Africa, India, and the Middle East.

So prized was this gummy resin that its use was reserved for royalty, religious practices, and even as a natural preservative to embalm the bodies of departed pharaohs. 

Boswellia trees were also home to several varieties of poisonous snakes, which required medicine people and shamans to risk their lives to harvest the precious resin for their prestigious clientele.

Today, several varieties of Boswellia trees are endangered, so it’s important to consider sourcing when purchasing Boswellia Indian Frankincense supplements and essential oil.

Traditional Uses of Boswellia Indian Frankincense

Boswellia/Indian Frankincense has been used in traditional Ayurveda, Asian, and Middle Eastern wellness systems to support various aspects of well-being.

The following are examples of Boswellia/Indian Frankincense’s traditional uses: REF#3238

  • Cardiovascular support
  • Immune function
  • As a natural beauty aid
  • Menstrual support
  • Hair loss
  • Digestive support
  • Oral health support
  • Liver support
  • Muscle and joint support
  • Respiratory support
  • Minor pain management

Boswellia/Indian Frankincense’s rich history of traditional use and anecdotal evidence have made it the subject of several research studies.

Next, we’ll explore what scientists have learned about how Boswellia/Indian Frankincense works and six potential benefits.

6 Boswellia/Indian Frankincense Benefits

Scientific analysis of Boswellia/Indian Frankincense has revealed several active compounds believed to be responsible for its benefits.

These include:

  • Boswellic acids (pentacyclic triterpenic acids)
  • Monoterpenes (α-thujene)
  • Diterpenes 
  • Triterpenes (such as α- and β-amyrins)
  • Tetracyclic triterpenic acids

Of these, boswellic acids appear to be the primary mechanism by which Boswellia may support health.

Although several studies have been conducted on Boswellia/Indian Frankincense, we still don’t know much about its potential benefits.

The following are six potential benefits of Boswellia/Indian Frankincense based on traditional use, anecdotal evidence, and modern research.

#1: Boswellia/Indian Frankincense May Help with Minor Pain Management

Boswellia/Indian Frankincense has long been used in Ayurveda, for example, to support various aspects of normal inflammatory response, including minor pain management.*

This is why you’ll often find it in supplements targeting joint or muscular health, minor pain management, and/or menstrual cramps.

Preliminary research suggests a potential benefit and mechanism behind Boswellia’s reputation as an inflammatory-support supplement.

Human and animal studies REF#3239 REF#3240 REF#3241 REF#3242 REF#3243 suggest Boswellia serrata extract may help with minor pain management via its effects on promoting normal inflammatory response via supporting the normal function of pro-inflammatory enzymes and pain signaling function.

There is also evidence Boswellia’s benefits may be enhanced by the addition of Curcumin (the active compound in Turmeric).REF#3244

More research is needed. However, preliminary studies, traditional wisdom, and anecdotal evidence suggest Boswellia/Indian Frankincense may be worth trying for minor pain management.

#2: Boswellia/Indian Frankincense May Support Heart & Cardiovascular Function

Boswellia/Indian Frankincense is often recommended in traditional wellness systems for cardiovascular support.*

Emerging research suggests this may be true. 

Studies have shown the antioxidants in Boswellia may promote various aspects of cardiovascular and metabolic function, including: REF#3245

  • Normal blood pressure
  • Normal cholesterol
  • Normal inflammatory response
  • Normal blood flow
  • Normal sugar metabolism

More research is needed to determine the effectiveness, mechanisms, and optimal dose of Boswellia for cardiovascular support.

#3: Boswellia/Indian Frankincense may Support Normal Immune Regulation and Function

Boswellia/Indian Frankincense resin and essential oil were prized by the ancients for many reasons, one being its purported ability to keep people healthy.

Modern research has shown Boswellia may provide broad-spectrum immune support via its potential to support: REF#3246 REF#3247 REF#3248 REF#3249

  • Normal immune regulation
  • Normal inflammatory response, which involves various immune cells
  • Normal respiratory function

More research is needed. 

However, Boswellia/Indian Frankincense’s rich history of use as an immune support tonic, coupled with emerging research, makes a compelling case for including Boswellia supplements and/or essential oils in your seasonal health arsenal.

#4: Boswellia/Indian Frankincense May Help with Acne and Wrinkles

Boswellia, or more specifically, Frankincense essential oil, is one of the world’s most ancient beauty secrets for clear and youthful skin.

It’s also popular in modern natural skin care products targeting acne, scarring, and wrinkles.

The research on how Frankincense essential oil may benefit the skin is in its infancy.

However, a small double-blind, placebo-controlled trial showed it was effective when used topically on photoaged skin for reducing tactile roughness and fine lines, increasing elasticity, and decreasing sebum excretion.

Another study showed it reduced skin irritation and redness while promoting a more even skin tone.REF#3250

As you’ve learned, Frankincense essential oil is rich in several active plant compounds, including boswellic acids and various antioxidants, that are likely responsible for its skin-nourishing and inflammation-balancing benefits.

Frankincense essential oil can be added to DIY skin care products, added to a carrier oil for gua sha treatments, or found in various high-quality, non-toxic skincare products.

#5: Boswellia/Indian Frankincense May Offer Liver Protection

The liver is one of the body’s most essential and hard-working organs.

In addition to protecting us from various toxins and poisons, it’s also responsible for a myriad of functions, from conjugating hormones and filtering blood to producing digestive enzymes and helping regulate cholesterol.

Traditional herbalists understand the importance of optimal liver function and have specific herbs to help, such as Dandelion, Milk Thistle, Turmeric, and others.*

In Ayurveda and other Eastern systems of herbalism, Boswellia has been used to promote liver function and as a protective aid.

Emerging research suggests this traditional use may be productive, showing the antioxidants in Boswellia may have a protective effect on the liver via its impact on normal nitrous oxide production, hepatic lipid peroxidation, and glutathione levels.REF#3251 REF#3252 REF#3253

Although more research is needed, you may find Boswellia/Indian Frankincense in various supplements targeting liver support.

#6: Boswellia/Indian Frankincense May Help with Menstrual Cramps

If you experience menstrual cramps, you know how disruptive and painful they can be.

Unfortunately, most women and menstruating people have no idea there are natural solutions to help take the edge off.

For example, a double-blind placebo-controlled study of a Turmeric-Boswellia-Sesame formula suggests it was a safe and naturally effective alternative for relieving menstrual cramps.REF#3254

This is consistent with its traditional use for supporting women during their menstrual cycle.

Are you new to the idea of using herbs for menstrual cramps? Their effects can be powerful. Learn more in: 18+ Natural Solutions & Herbs for Menstrual Cramps, PMS, Cravings, & More.

Side Effects & Possible Contraindications of Boswellia/Indian Frankincense

Boswellia/Indian Frankincense and Frankincense essential oils have been used for centuries and are considered very safe.

The gum resin of Boswellia is also included in the list of safe substances, and its use is permitted by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) as a food additive.REF#3255

The most common side effects documented in studies include mild gastrointestinal upset, but it was unclear if this was caused by Boswellia or the subject’s pre-existing condition.REF#3256

Some literature from India suggests Boswellia is not appropriate during pregnancy due to a possible increased risk of miscarriage. Plus, Boswellia has not been studied in pregnancy or nursing mothers. Therefore, its use is not recommended.

Like all essential oils, Frankincense essential oil should be used sparingly and with common sense, as applying it undiluted to the skin or taking it internally could cause irritation.

Boswellia has no known severe interactions with other drugs.

Talk to your doctor or healthcare practitioner before taking Boswellia/Indian Frankincense supplements or essential oil.

Where to Buy Boswellia/Indian Frankincense 

You can find Boswellia/Indian Frankincense supplements at natural food stores, online, or through your integrative healthcare practitioner.

Since Boswellia is subject to unethical harvesting, always purchase from a company that is transparent about sourcing and sustainable growing practices.

The same goes when sourcing Frankincense essential oil, which should be 100% pure, steam-distilled, and sustainably sourced.

How to Take Boswellia/Indian Frankincense

Boswellia/Indian Frankincense is usually taken as a powdered supplement or an essential oil.

Some experts recommend taking Frankincense essential oil internally. Purity and proper dosing are critical if you choose to try this method.

Your healthcare practitioner can recommend Boswellia's best dosage and form based on your needs and health goals.

As with all herbs and natural substances, it may take some time to notice the effects of Boswellia. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately experience the results you want. 

The exception may be if you try Boswellia and/or Boswellia with Turmeric or Curcumin for minor pain management. These results can happen quickly and/or become more noticeable over time.

When using Frankincense essential oil for skin care, always start with less versus more and see how your skin reacts. You can always increase the amount over time.

With just a little time, sound sourcing, and persistence, you, too, can experience the many benefits of this more revered and sacred ancient resin.


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