Latin: Boswellia serrata, Boswellia carterii
Hindi: Salai guggul (B. serrata)
Chinese: Ru xiang (B. carterii)
WHAT IT DOES: Boswellia gum is pungent and bitter in taste, and warm in action. It reduces pain, swelling, mucus and inflammation in the lungs, liver, skin, intestines and joints.
RATING: Yellow, due to limitations in usage due to strong action. Use in proper dosage.
SAFETY ISSUES: None known. Long-term use may dampen appetite.
• Dried powder: two to three grams two to three times per day
• 4:1 concentrated powder extract: 250-750 mg two to three times per day
Boswellia gum is used as an effective pain-relieving anti-inflammatory in the treatment of osteoarthritis, autoimmune inflammations such as rheumatoid arthritis, diarrhea, lung diseases (including asthma), boils, edema, pain, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, bronchial asthma, and Crohn's disease. It works by affecting one of two classes of mediators of inflammation along the leukotreine pathway. Prostaglandins and leukotrienes are known collectively as eicosanoids, and they mediate pain and edema. TCM doctors use the related B. carterii species to remove blood stasis and reduce pain. What makes this herb stand out is its specificity and strength of effect. In Ayurveda, it reduces Pitta (inflammation) and Kapha (mucus).
Boswellia gum can often (but not always) be used as an alternative to NSAIDs and steroids, causing none of the common side effects such as stomach bleeding, ulceration, weakened heart and even death seen with these Western remedies. At our clinic we usually use boswellia gum in formulas for pain and inflammation. I have also used it successfully to reduce asthma symptoms in many patients. No plant works for all types of inflammation, so the best thing to do is test it out for a few weeks if using it by itself. Studies of Boswellia toxicity in rats, mice, and monkeys have shown it to be safe, even at high doses.
• A double blind, placebo-controlled study done on 40 asthma patients in Germany showed marked improvement in the treated patients compared to the control group (Gupta et al., 1998). Another study, done on ulcerative colitis patients using a standardized extract for six weeks, reported improvement in 82% of patients (Gupta et al.,1997).
• Boswellia may even be useful in treating leukemia, with one Chinese study showing that it stimulated leukemic cells to kill themselves, a phenomenon known as programmed cell death (Jing et al., 1999).
Note: The Chinese Boswellia carterii is sometimes called mastic, and should not be confused with Pistacia lentiscus, also called mastic, which is used to treat ulcers.