Boswellia is a tropical plant that is mostly found in Africa and Asia. It is most typically seen in Punjab’s northern region in India. Frankincense, a fragrant gum resin used to produce incense sticks, is its most famous product. Boswellia is a well-known herb that has been used in traditional medicine to treat joint discomfort. The name is a tribute to Scottish botanist John Boswell, who made significant contributions to science. This herb is known in Ayurveda as Shallaki, and it is a prominent constituent in ayurvedic formulations for joint discomfort and inflammation.
Botanical and common names of Boswellia :
The botanical name of Boswellia is Boswellia serrata or Olibanum Indicum, which belongs to the Burseraceae family (species that produce nonallergic, aromatic resin). In Sanskrit, it is commonly known as Shallaki. This means the one that provides strength, and another name is Surabhi which is ‘resin with good aroma’. In English, it is known as Indian Frankincense or Olibanum tree. There are approximately twenty varieties of Boswellia, and they are named as per the geographical region they are cultivated in. Boswellia serrata is commonly used than other species such as Boswellia sacra, Boswellia papyrifera, Boswellia carterii, etc.
Physical Structure and useful botanical parts of Boswellia:
Boswellia is a medium-sized deciduous tree with thick and flaky bark. It bears small whitish flowers in the summer season. The medicinal part used in Ayurvedic therapeutics, as well as in other traditional medicine is the fragrant resin, known as Frankincense and bark of the tree. This oleo-gum Resin contains monoterpenes, diterpenes and the active compounds of boswellic acid with alpha, beta, and gamma variants that have analgesic (pain relief) and sedative properties. Boswellia can be categorized under the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly known as NSAIDs but have a different mechanism of action than usual synthetic NSAIDs.
Ayurvedic properties and therapeutic benefits :
- Shallaki is Kashaya Rasa dominant, that is Astringent in nature followed by Tikta and Madhura, which is Bitter and Sweet taste.
- It is a Tridosha balancer but mainly a Vata Dosha pacifier by Prabhava (special characteristics) as it undergoes sweet-pungent taste post digestion.
- Resin is Teekshna that is with sharp, piercing properties which are helping to open any blockage caused by Ama, resulting in pain and inflammation.
- Since it is Ushna (hot in nature) it should be used cautiously and in recommended dosage in Pitta dominant individuals.
Boswellia is known to have tremendous health benefits. It is used in various Ayurvedic and herbal health formulations. Some prominent health benefits of this herb are:
- Anti-inflammatory – Inflammation is the root cause of many diseases, especially joint pain in conditions such as Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid arthritis etc. Boswellia helps to reduce inflammation and pain due to its ability to stop the formation of leukotrienes which are identified as molecules causing inflammation in the body.
- Gastrointestinal Health – Boswellia is known to promote healthy gut flora by reducing inflammation, thus beneficial for conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Chron’s Disease and Ulcerative colitis.
- Wound Healing – Boswellia is a natural wound healer that is helpful in external wounds such as bruises, as well as internal wound healing in case of haemorrhage simultaneously reducing pain. It is also beneficial for faster healing of fractures.
- Respiratory health – Ayurvedic properties of being Ushna (hot potency) and Teekshna (sharp), Shallaki is an excellent natural bronchodilator, which keeps bouts of cough at bay. It is also an ingredient of various ayurvedic formulations for Asthama.
- Skin health – As a natural wound healer, Boswellia helps to repair the damaged connective tissue. This also helps in healthy ageing and rejuvenation of the skin as age advances.
- Reproductive health – In conditions where menstrual flow is less and irregular, Boswellia is beneficial to regulate the menstrual cycle. It also has been studied for its aphrodisiac properties. This may result in improving sexual health for both males and females.
- Pain relief – Analgesic properties that make Boswellia a natural pain killer helps in its various applications, internally as well as externally in the form of oil or liniment.
- Ayurvedic herbal smoke therapy – Ayurveda has mentioned fumigation or herbal smoke therapy known as Dhoomapana, where various herbs including Shallaki, are burnt and the smoke is directly or indirectly inhaled.
- Antioxidant – Boswellia is studied clinically for its antioxidant properties which are beneficial as supportive therapy for cancers. Ongoing research is shown to have a positive impact on reducing metastasis, which is limiting the growth of cancer cells.
Clinical Studies on Boswelia and outcomes :
- Various clinical studies have been conducted on Boswellia to understand this potent herb for its health benefits.
- It is studied and evaluated for its benefits on the musculoskeletal system. And also reduction of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein, and its microbial actions.
- An excerpt from a publication mentions that ‘In addition to its beneficial use for arthritis, this gummy resin is also mentioned in traditional Ayurvedic. And as Unani texts as an effective remedy for diarrhoea, dysentery, ringworm, boils, fevers (antipyretic), skin and blood diseases, cardiovascular diseases, mouth sores, bad throat, bronchitis, asthma, cough, vaginal discharges, hair-loss, jaundice, haemorrhoids, syphilitic diseases, irregular menses and stimulation of the liver.
- It is also diaphoretic, astringent, diuretic, and acts both as an internal and external stimulant.
- Modern medicine and pharmacology strongly point out its use as an antiarthritic, anti-inflammatory, anti-hyperlipidaemic (controls blood lipids), anti-atherosclerotic (anti coronary plaque), analgesic (pain-reliever) and hepatoprotective (protects the liver).’
Traditional remedies, applications, and uses of Boswellia:
- Boswellia extract is widely used in the form of tablets, or capsules. It is specially indicated as a dietary herbal supplement for Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis. Regular intake of this supplement may also help to prevent these degenerative conditions.
- Boswellia is also available in the form of oil, creams, and resin. The products containing Boswellia as their main ingredient are usually identified based on the concentration of Boswellic acid in them.
- Boswellia oil is used in various liniments which helps in musculoskeletal conditions and reduce local inflammation.
- Frankincense oil is a popular aromatherapy essential oil that is used for palm inhalation. 1-2 drops are rubbed into palms and inhaled. This practice is said to improve memory and concentration.