Frankincense (Boswellia serrata)

frankincense resin and oil

Frankincense Summary

Frankincense has been a valuable herb for a long time. It was so valuable at the time, it was one of the three precious gifts given to Jesus at his birth along with Myrhh, and gold.

The value of frankincense comes from its powerful medicinal actions, which we now understand to be through antiseptic and anti-inflammatory activities.

The wide range of conditions anti-inflammatories can address makes frankincense a bit of a panacea of its time.

On top of this, the rich volatile oil content made frankincense an excellent source of incense for celebrations and ceremonies.

Frankincense is incredibly hardy, growing out of rock faces in the scorching Somali sun, often going months without water.


+ Indications

  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Crohn's disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • General inflammation
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Lymphoma
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
  • Ulcerative colitis

+ Contraindications

None noted.

+ Mechanisms

  • 5-LOX inhibitor
  • Mild COX inhibitor

Herbal Actions:

  • Antioxidant
  • Antinflammatory
  • Antiseptic
  • Carminative
  • Vulnerary
  • Emmenagogue

What Is Frankincense Used For?

The main use for frankincense internally is for its potent anti-inflammatory effects.

It works mainly as a 5-LOX inhibitor, which differentiates it from COX inhibitors like Aspirin, *Salix alba*, or *Curcuma longa*.

Frankincense is best used for conditions like osteoarthritis and vascular/neural inflammation and in combination with COX inhibitors for inflammatory bowel disease or hyperpermeability of the gastrointestinal lining.

Topically frankincense is used in salves or as a linement for wounds and infection.

The essential oil is inhaled for asthma, lung infection, or as a mild sedative.


Traditional Uses of Frankincense

+ Ayurvedic Medical System

Boswellia was commonly used in Ayurveda as an astringent and anti-inflammatory agent topically and as a stimulant and expectorant topically.

It was used for pulmonary conditions, diarrhea, rheumatism, dysentery, gonorrhea, dysmenorrhea, syphilis, weakness, poor appetite, and various liver conditions.


Herb Details: Frankincense

Weekly Dose

Weekly Dose

(Powdered Extract)

  • 2100-3500 mg

Part Used

  • Resin

Family Name

  • Burseraceae


  • Middle East

Constituents of Interest

  • Acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA):
  • Alpha-boswellic acid
  • 3-acetyl-ß-boswellic acid
  • Pinene

Common Names

  • Frankincense
  • Olibanum
  • Boswellia
  • Sallaki (Sanskrit)








Slightly minty, bitter

Duration of Use

  • Suitable for long term use.

Botanical Information

Frankincense is a member of the Burseraceae family of plants, which includes 17-19 different genera and 540 species.

This family is characterized by a nonallergenic resin produced in nearly all plant tissue as well as flaking bark patterns.

The Boswellia genus contains roughly 30 different species. The main species used today is Boswellia serrata, although Boswellia carteri is also used in some parts of the world. Biblical frankincense is believed to have been Boswellia sacra.


Harvesting Collection, & Preparation

Due to the high alcohol content needed to extract the resin, this herb is generally given as a tablet or capsule, rather than a tincture or liquid extract.


Pharmacology & Medical Research

+ Neurological Disorders

Boswellic acids ability to pass the blood-brain barrier, combined with its potent anti-inflammatory activity make it an interesting candidate for neurological conditions involving inflammation like Alzheimer's disease. More research is needed to explore this use in detail.

+ Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The pathophysiology of Inflammatory Bowel Disease including both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease involves the leaking of luminal components into the lamina propria, resulting in significant inflammatory response involving TNF-a, IL-1, IL-6, IFN-y, and free radical elements released from macrophages in the area. The primary mechanism of treatment for this condition is to halt the inflammatory cascade happening within these tissues. [3, 7].

Acetyl-11-keto-fl-boswellic acid (AKBA) in Boswellia serrata has been shown to have marked 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), [5], and cyclooxygenase (COX-1) inhibitory activity [1].

Additionally, Boswellia serrata has been shown to have significant TNFα, IL-1β, NO and MAP kinase inhibitory activity [2].



  • Boswellic acids (triterpenoids)
  • Pentacy-clic triterpene acids (beta-boswellic acid and acetyl-boswellic acids(acetyl-beta-boswellic acid, acetyl-11- keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA) and 11-keto-beta-boswellic acid)), tetracyclic triterpene acids.
  • Terpenols
  • Monosaccharides
  • Uronic acids
  • Sterols
  • Phlobaphenes

Clinical Applications Of Frankincense:

Frankincense is useful for most forms of inflammation, including inflammatory bowel conditions, oasteoarthritis, and vascular inflammation. It's aromatic component makes it reliable for relieving flatulence, bloating, and indigestion.



Some allergies have been reported.



Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated November 2018)


Recent Blog Posts:


  1. Cao, H., Yu, R., Choi, Y., Ma, Z. Z., Zhang, H., Xiang, W., ... & van Breemen, R. B. (2010). Discovery of cyclooxygenase inhibitors from medicinal plants used to treat inflammation. Pharmacological research, 61(6), 519-524.

  2. Gayathri, B., Manjula, N., Vinaykumar, K. S., Lakshmi, B. S., & Balakrishnan, A. (2007). 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. International immunopharmacology, 7(4), 473-482.

  3. Kühl, A. A., Erben, U., Kredel, L. I., & Siegmund, B. (2015). Diversity of intestinal macrophages in inflammatory bowel diseases. Frontiers in immunology, 6, 613.

  4. Honkanen, T., Mustonen, J., Kainulainen, H., Myllymiki, J., Collin, P., Hurme, M., & Rantala, I. (2005). Small bowel cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) expression in patients with IgA nephropathy. Kidney international, 67(6), 2187-2195.

  5. Sailer, E. R., Subramanian, L. R., Rall, B., Hoernlein, R. F., Ammon, H., & Safayhi, H. (1996). Acetyl‐11‐keto‐β‐boswellic acid (AKBA): structure requirements for binding and 5‐lipoxygenase inhibitory activity. British journal of pharmacology, 117(4), 615-618.

  6. Volta, U., Tovoli, F., Cicola, R., Parisi, C., Fabbri, A., Piscaglia, M., ... & Caio, G. (2012). Serological tests in gluten sensitivity (nonceliac gluten intolerance). Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 46(8), 680-685.

  7. Wakefield, A. J., Dhillon, A. P., Rowles, P. M., Sawyerr, A. M., Pittilo, R. M., Lewis, A. A. M., & Pounder, R. E. (1989). Pathogenesis of Crohn's disease: multifocal gastrointestinal infarction. The Lancet, 334(8671), 1057-1062.