What is Boswellia Serrata?

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  • Written By: Stephany Seipel
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 28 March 2020
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Boswellia serrata, also called frankincense, is a medium-to-large tree grown in India, Somalia, Egypt and Pakistan. It yields a fragrant resin that is often used as incense. Boswellia resin has anti-inflammatory properties and is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of illnesses.

The trees usually grow 29-49 feet (9-15 m) tall. They have short trunks, ash-colored bark, pendulous branches and open, spreading crowns. They have oval or lance-shaped leaves and produce clusters of white blossoms.

Frankincense has a long history of use. The people of Oman are believed to have begun harvesting and selling boswellia resin 8,000 years ago. Traders sold frankincense along ancient trade routes that stretched from India to Italy. Ancient Egyptians used it to create cosmetics and incorporated it into their embalming procedures.

Ancient Israelites used frankincense in their religious rituals. The Greeks used it as medication and as incense for the home. Modern aromatherapists have recommended it to relieve stress.

Modern harvesters collect Boswellia serrata resin by hand just as they did thousands of years ago. They make small cuts in the bark, and the resin exudes through the cuts as a white, milky sap. Oxygen hardens the sap into yellow or white crystals.


The harvesters return several weeks later to collect the hardened chunks of resin. They clean the crystals and sort them by smell and color. The crystals are processed into oil and are used to create perfumes, incense and medication.

Boswellia serrata resin contains substances called boswellic acids that might help reduce inflammation. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat conditions such as arthritis and asthma. It might also help people who suffer from Crohn's disease.

Boswellic acids might work by improving the body's circulation and helping blood flow more easily to the joints. It also might keep white blood cells from entering inflamed or injured tissues. Boswellia might also contain compounds that help fight cancer.

People who use Boswellia serrata products can suffer from occasional side effects such as upset stomach or nausea, heartburn or diarrhea. Some people also experience serious allergic reactions to the product. Several of the symptoms of an allergic reaction might include difficulty breathing or a sense of constriction in the chest or respiratory system, as well as itching, rash and swelling.

Boswellia serrata might also increase the effects of certain medications. Women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid boswellia products. Patients who want to use boswellia should consult a physician.


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Post 3
@alisha-- Oh yeah, lots of people use frankincense/boswellia incense for religious purposes. I have seen not only Christians, but also Muslims and Hindus use it as well. It's definitely very popular in Hindu temples and homes.

Have you noticed that the word "incense" is a part of "frankincense". This might actually be where the word incense came from in the first place! It's so interesting.

Post 2

My church always uses frankincense incense. I think it's really nice and sometimes I burn it at home while I pray or on certain holidays. I don't know if this is just a Catholic thing or if other people use boswellia incense for religious purposes as well.

Post 1

I took boswellia serrata extract for several weeks as a supplement for my arthritis. A friend of mine also takes it and recommended it to me for inflammation. I'm not sure if it really helped or not because I couldn't take it as long as I had planned to. The supplements gave me upset stomach and acidity so I had to stop taking them after two weeks.

I've heard that there are also creams that contain boswellia. I might look into that because I don't think it can give me upset stomach when it's absorbed through the skin. It will probably be more effective for my arthritis anyway.

Has anyone used creams or lotions with boswellia in it?

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