Boswellia (Boswellia serrata), also known as Indian frankincense, belongs to a family of resinous trees renowned for their aromatic oil. Boswellia trees are native to North Africa and the Middle East, but the particular species Boswellia serrata only grows only in the dry, mountainous forests of western and central India.

Boswellia trees have a thick, papery bark that yields a gum containing natural sugars, essential oils, and several unique triterpene acids known as “boswellic acids.” These acids appear to be the source of boswellia’s medicinal properties.

According to the earliest Ayurvedic texts, boswellia was traditionally used to treat respiratory ailments, digestive disorders, joint pain, and inflammation. Recent clinical studies have confirmed the efficacy of boswellia for many of these traditional uses, including asthma, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Although more scientific research is needed, it is encouraging that this apparently safe and inexpensive herb has so many potential benefits. Furthermore, boswellia does not appear to cause the side effects associated with most anti-inflammatory medications, such as nausea, gastritis, and stomach ulcers.

In terms of the doshas, boswellia carries the astringent, bitter, and sweet tastes. It is most pacifying for Pitta, and also can reduce Kapha dosha. In high doses, boswellia may mildly aggravate Vata.

How to Use Boswellia

Boswellia is widely available and can be purchased from a variety of herbal companies or health food stores. The standard dose contains between 37.5 and 65 percent boswellic acids, yielding 150 to 200 mg per capsule. Most studies of boswellia have tested daily doses between 450 mg (150 mg three times a day) and 1,200 mg (400 mg three times a day).

As a paste: Apply boswellia directly to the skin to treat a wide variety of skin irritations ranging from diabetic ulcers to acne.

As a poultice: You can use a boswellia poultice several times a day to soothe sore muscles and aching joints.

As a mouthwash: Boswellia has been found to be useful in treating bad breath caused by gum disease.

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