Boswellia serrata Roxb. ex Colebr.

Last updated: 02 October 2015

Scientific Name

Boswellia serrata Roxb. ex Colebr.  


Boswellia balsamifera Spreng, Boswellia glabra Roxb, Boswellia thurifera Roxb. ex Fleming, Chloroxylon dupada Buch.-Ham. [1]

Vernacular Name

English Indian frankincense, Indian olibanum [2]
India Andika, chitta, chilakadi, chitta, guggila, guggala doopa, kundur, kundu, koondricum, kunkulu, lobana, susrava, tadika, tiera, yakshadhupa, vasamaharuba [2]
Tibet Bo go dkar po, bog dkar pa, po ga dkar po, po-g0-dkarpo [2]

Geographical Distributions

Boswellia serrata occasional in the hills on the lower dry deciduous slopes to 900 m, in gravelly poor soils in full sun. Central and Peninsular India. [3]

Botanical Description

B. serrata falls under the family of Burseraceae It is a deciduous tree which can grow up to 20 m high. [3]

The bark is yellowish-white with dark blotches, exfoliations thin, papery, smooth flakes; blaze red; exudation white gum-resin; branchlets pubescent. [3]

The leaves imparipinnate, alternate, apically clustered, estipulate; rachis 11-44 cm, slender, pubescent, swollen at base; leaflets 15-31, sessile or subsessile, opposite or subopposite; lamina 0.8-9.5 x 0.5-3.5 cm, elliptic-oblong, oblong-lanceolate, oblong-ovate, base oblique, acute, apex obtuse, margin entire or crenate, chartaceous, glabrous; lateral nerves 8-14 pairs, pinnate, faint, intercostae reticulate, faint. [3]

The flowers are bisexual, small, white, in axillary or subterminal fascicled racemes; calyx pubescent, tube broadly campanulate, short; lobes 5-7, persistent; petals 5-7, 7 x 2.5-4 mm, white, ovate-oblong, shortly clawed, inflexed at apex pubescent outside except margin; disc annular, crenate, free from calyx; stamens 10, free, filaments alternately longer and shorter connective produced beyond the anther lobe; ovary sessile, superior, ovoid, 3-celled, ovules 2 in each cell; style to 3 mm, grooved; stigma 3-lobed. [3]

The fruit is a drupe, ovoid, trigonous; pyrenes 3 with 3 seeds. [3]


No documentation

Chemical Constituent

B. serrata has been reported to contain boswellic acid. [4]

Plant Part Used

Gum resin of the stem bark. [5]

Traditional Use

B. serrata has been traditionally used to treat coughs, bronchitos and asthma. It also topically used for boils, wounds, fungal infections and sores. Ayurvedic medicine in India used the plant to treat liver disease, cancer, diarrhoea, dysentery, skin diseases, ulcers, and as a general tonic and blood purifier. [5]

Preclinical Data


Analgaesic activity

B. serrata gum resin administered to albino rats (Haffkine strain) to study the analgesic and psychopharmacologic effects noted that it was found to exhibit marked sedative and analgesic effects when evaluated by the hot-wire technique. [6]

Anti-inflammatory activity

B. serrata preparations have also been reported to be anti-inflammatory, blocking the synthesis of 5-lipoxygenase products, including 5-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (5-HETE) and leukotriene B4 (LTB4) [7][8]. These inflammatory agents can cause bronchoconstriction, chemotaxis and increased vascular permeability. B. serrata has also been reported to inhibit human leukocyte elastase (HLE), an inflammatory and mucous stimulating substance involved in chronic and acute respiratory problems such as bronchitis, emphysema and acute respiratory distress syndrome [9]. The in vitro data suggested that there was a major importance of drug standardization when B. serrata resin containing preparations are used for the treatment of diseases. Low concentrations of B. serrata extracts (1 to 10 mg/mL) actually potentiated 5-lipoxygenase product formation, especially the biosynthesis of 5(S)-HETE [10].

It is known that NSAIDs can cause a breakdown of glycosaminoglycan synthesis, which can speed up the articular damage in arthritic conditions. B. serrata was reported to significantly reduce the degradation of glycosaminoglycans compared to controls, whereas the NSAID ketoprofen was reported to cause a reduction in total tissue glycosaminoglycan content. [11]

Triterpene namely α,β-boswellic acid from B. serrata (0.1 µM) showed potent antiinflammatory activity by exhibit 100% inhibition on the complement fraction isolated from guinea pig serum (classical pathway). [12]

Boswellic acids B. serrata also reported in laboratory studies to inhibit gastric ulcer formation in a dose-dependent manner. However, mechanism of action could not be determined other than the theory of producing gastric mucosal resistance. [13]

B. serrata plays a role as an anti-inflammatory through Mitogen-activated kinase (MAP) signals transduction pathways which will induce lymphocyte through extracellular signals and subsequently lead to production of inflammatory cytokines. [14]

The gum resin extract from B. serrata (H15) was administered to Sprague-Dawley rats to determine the mechanism of effect in treating inflammatory bowel disease. The study demonstrated a decrease in rolling and adherent leukocytes with the use of both a B. serrata extract and acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid. Tissue injury scores were also significantly decreased by acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid and higher doses of the B. serrata extract. The investigators of this study concluded that the significant reductions in both macroscopic and microcirculatory inflammatory features indicate that boswellic acids like acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid may be responsible for the anti-inflammatory activity of the B. serrata extract in treating inflammatory bowel disease. [15]

Anticancer activity

A report suggested that boswellic acids from B. serrata may induce differentiation and apoptosis of leukemia cells in vitro, thereby suggesting that it may be a powerful agent in the treatment of leukemia. [16]

Laboratory studies reported that B. serrata may have anti-cancer activity, including leukemia and prostate cancer. Mechanisms include cancer cell apoptosis by activation of caspase 3 and the induction of DNA fragmentation. Of other interest, a study completed in mice suggests that an alcohol extract from B. serrata may have anti-carcinogenic, anti-tumor, and anti-hyperlipidemic activities. [17]

Antihepatatic activity

An in vitro study has been reported that B. serrata extract had inhibitory effects on hepatitis C virus protease [18]. Other laboratory studies have supported these findings in B. serrata species as well as other medicinal plants [18].


No documentation

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

A double blind, placebo-controlled study of forty patients with bronchial asthma, reported that 70 percent of patients showed improvement of disease, evident by disappearance of physical symptoms and signs such as dyspnea, rhonchi, number of attacks and other determinants of asthma. [19]

A placebo-controlled trial has been evaluated to 37 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to previous therapy such as NSAIDs, 18 received 3600 mg daily of a resinous extract of B. serrata and 19 received placebo. Whereas most participants demonstrated no alteration of disease, one participant in each group responded positively, 4 in each group worsened. [20]

Another trial evaluated the effects of a custom formula on patients with osteoarthritis. The formula contained roots of Withania somnifera, the stem of B. serrata, rhizomes of Curcuma longa and a zinc complex. This randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial had 42 patients taking either the formula or placebo for three months. Following a washout period of 15 days, they were transferred to the other treatment group for an additional three months. Though the sample size was small, the formula demonstrated a significant drop in pain severity and a drop in the disability score. [21]

A randomized double blind placebo controlled crossover study consisting of 30 patients with osteoarthritis showed that all patients receiving B. serrata reported decrease in knee pain, increased knee flexion, increased walking distance and a decrease of swelling in the knee joint. [22]

A B. serrata extract was compared to sulfasalazine (1 g tid) in individuals with ulcerative colitis. Patients on the B. serrata extract showed similar improvements as patients on sulfasalazine, although 82 percent of the B. serrata patients went into remission compared to 75 percent of the sulfasalazine patients [23]. These results were further supported in a small study. 20 patients with chronic colitis were given a gum resin of B. serrata and compared to a control group of 10 patients taking sulfasalazine. 90% of the patients using B. serrata showed improvement in specific categories with seventy percent going into remission. These results were compared to the control group where sixty percent showed similar improvement and only forty percent went into remission [24].

The effectiveness of B. serrata in treating patients with Crohn’s disease can be shown whereby treatment with the extract showed no toxic effects and better ability to move as well as increased bone density [25]. An amount of 102 people were randomized in a blinded trial that was completed in Germany comparing an extract of B. serrata to mesalazine (5-aminosalicylic acid or mesalamine) for the symptomatic treatment of Crohn's disease. With 44 patients treated with B. serrata and 39 patients receiving mesalazine, both agents improved patient scores on the Crohn's Disease Activity Index (CDAI). The investigators concluded that "therapy with [B. serrata extract] is not inferior to mesalazine" and believed that when both the safety and efficacy profile of the B. serrata extract is considered, it offers superiority in terms of a benefit-risk-evaluation [26]

B. serrata extract showed considerable improvement in patients suffering from collagenous colitis whereby patients treated with the extract have a higher remission than the placebo group. However, it was shown that histology and quality of life did not show any changes during treatment. [27]


No documentation.

Adverse reaction

Allergic contact dermatitis to people with atopic background. [28]

Interaction & Depletion

No documentation.

Case Report

B. serrata extract in a naturopathic cream was reported to cause allergic contact dermatitis in a 28-year-old woman with atopic background used the cream to treat a second degree burn from hot water on her thigh in September 2001. She stops the topical antiseptics, antibiotics and antihistamines to use natural treatment by means of the cream which later after 5 days of application, she developed an intense eczematous local cutaneous reaction with bullae on her thigh. Patch tests have been carried out and she was diagnosed with allergic contact dermatitis from B. serrata resin extract. [28]


No documentation.

Line drawing

No documentation.


  1. The Plant List. Ver1.1. Boswellia serrata Roxb. ex Colebr. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2012 Mar 23; cited 2015 Oct 1]. Available from:
  2. Quattrocchi U. CRC world dictionary of medicinal and poisonous plants: Common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms and etymology. Volume I A-B. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2012; p. 631
  3. India Biodiversity Portal. Boswellia serrata Roxb. ex Colebr. [homepage on the Internet]. No date [cited 2016 Jan 18]. Available from:
  4. Shah SA, Rathod IS, Suhagia BN, et al. Estimation of boswellic acids from market formulations of Boswellia serrata extract and 11-keto β-boswellic acid in human plasma by high-performance thin-layer chromatography. J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2007;848(2)1:232-238.
  5. Kuhn MA, Winston D. Winston & Kuhn’s herbal therapy & supplements. A scientific & traditional approach. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Wolter Kluwer Health; Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008; p. 94.
  6. Menon MK, Kar A. Analgesic and psychopharmacological effects of the gum resin of Boswellia serrata. Planta Med. 1971;4:332-341.
  7. Ammon HP. Salai Guggal - Boswellia serrata: From an herbal medicine to a non-redox inhibitor of leukotriene biosynthesis. Eur J Med Res. 1996;1(8):369-370.
  8. Ammon HP, Mack T, Singh GB, Safayhi H. Inhibition of leukotriene B4 formation in rat peritoneal neutrophils by an ethanolic extract of the gum resin exudate of Boswellia serrata. Planta Med. 1991;57(3):203-207.
  9. Safayhi H, Rall B, Sailer ER, Ammon HP. Inhibition by boswellic acids of human leukocyte elastase. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1997;281(1):460-463.
  10. Safayhi H, Boden SE, Schweizer S, et al. Concentration-dependent potentiating and inhibitory effects of Boswellia extracts on 5-lipoxygenase product formation in stimulated PMNL. Planta Med. 2000;66(2):110-113.
  11. Redini F, Mauviel A, Loyau G, Pujol JP. Modulation of extracellular matrix metabolism in rabbit articular chondrocytes and human rheumatoid synovial cells by the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug etodolac. II: Glycosaminoglycan synthesis. Agents Actions. 1990;31(3-4):358-367.
  12. Wagner H. Search for new plant constituents with potential antiphlogistic and antiallergic activity. Planta Med. 1989;55(3):235-241.
  13. Singh S, Khajuria A, Taneja SC, et al. The gastric ulcer protective effect of boswellic acids, a leukotriene inhibitor from Boswellia serrata, in rats. Phytomedicine. 2008;15(6-7):408-415.
  14. Gayathri B, Manjula N, Vinaykumar KS, Lakshmi BS, Balakrishnan A. Pure compound from Boswellia serrata extract exhibits anti-inflammatory property in human PBMCs and mouse macrophages through inhibition of TNFα, IL-1β, NO and MAP kinases. Int Immunopharmacol. 2007;7(4):473-482.
  15. Krieglstein CF, Anthoni C, Rijcken EJ, et al. Acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid, a constituent of a herbal medicine from Boswellia serrata resin, attenuates experimental ileitis. Int J Colorectal Dis. 2001;16(2):88-95.
  16. Jing Y, Nakajo S, Xia L, et al. Boswellic acid acetate induces differentiation and apoptosis in leukemia cell lines. Leuk Res. 1999;23(1):43-50.
  17. Huan MT, Badmaev V, Ding Y, Liu Y, Xie JG, Ho CT. Anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic activities of triterpenoid, beta-boswellic acid. Biofactors. 2000;13(1-4):225-230.
  18. Hussein G, Miyashiro H, Nakamura N, et al. Inhibitory effects of Sudanese medicinal plant extracts on Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) protease. Phytother Res. 2000;14(7):510-516.
  19. Gupta I, Gupta V, Parihar A, et al. Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with bronchial asthma: Results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 6-week clinical study. Eur J Med Res. 1998;3(11):511-514.
  20. Sander O, Herborn G, Rau R. Is H15 (resin extract of Boswellia serrata, "incense") a useful supplement to established drug therapy of chronic polyarthritis? Results of a double-blind pilot study. Z Rheumatol. 1998;57(1):11-6.
  21. Kulkarni RR, Patki PS, Jog VP, Gandage SG, Patwardhan B. Treatment of osteoarthritis with a herbomineral formulation: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study. J Ethnopharmacol. 1991;33(1-2):91-95.
  22. Kimmatkar N, Thawani V, Hingorani L, Khiyani R. Efficacy and tolerability of Boswellia serrata extract in treatment of osteoarthritis of knee--A randomized double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2003;10(1):3-7.
  23. Gupta I, Parihar A, Malhotra P, et al. Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with ulcerative colitis. Eur J Med Res. 1997;2(1):37-43.
  24. Gupta I, Parihar A, Malhotra P, et al. Effects of gum resin of Boswellia serrata in patients with chronic colitis. Planta Med. 2001;67(5):391-395.
  25. Gerhardt H, Bouhmidi-Boumariz Z, Buvari P, Seifert F. Efficacy and safety of Boswellia serrata extract H15. Phytomedicine. 2008;15(6-7):543.
  26. Gerhardt H, Seifert F, Buvari P, Vogelsang H, Repges R. Therapy of active Crohn disease with Boswellia serrata extract H 15. Gastroenterol. 2001;39(1):11-17.
  27. Madischa A, Miehlkea S, Eicheleb O, et al. Boswellia Serrata extract for the treatment of collagenous colitis. A double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled, multi-center trial. Phytomedicine. 2008;15(6-7):544
  28. Acebo E, Ratón JA, Sautúa S, Eizaguirre X, Trébol I, Pérez JL. Allergic contact dermatitis from Boswellia serrata extract in a naturopathic cream. Contact Dermatitis. 2004; 51(2):91-92.