Boswellia or Indian frankincense is an ayurvedic herb that is derived from the resin of the plant. It is used traditionally to treat arthritis, ulcerative colitis, coughs, sores, snakebite, and asthma. The major component is boswellic acid (1), which was shown in animal studies to be a potent 5-lipoxygenase inhibitor with anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic effects (1) (2) (3). Other studies suggest that it has cytotoxic properties (4) (5) (6) (7).
Data from clinical trials indicate effectiveness of Boswellia for bronchial asthma (8) and ulcerative colitis (9). However, evidence is mixed for its benefits for osteoarthritis (10) (11) and collagenous colitis (12) (13) (14). Boswellia was also investigated for its role in maintenance of Crohn's disease remission, but it demonstrated no significant benefit (15). Preliminary findings suggest boswellia's effectiveness in reducing cerebral edema in patients with brain tumors following radiotherapy (23).
Boswellic acid has fewer adverse effects than steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, its long-term effects on humans are unknown. Although similar in many functions, boswellia should not be confused with guggul or myrrh.