water drop

I was listening to the Natural Cures Movement Summit this week and one of the topics of discussion was essential oils! This sparked my interest in so many directions and prompted me to explore more deeply the science behind frankincense (Boswellia spp).

Many people, including myself, are somewhat confused by the difference in therapeutic properties of the various species of frankincense.

“So, what the heck-I’ll dive into this more!” I thought.

Boy, did I jump down the rabbit hole!

My usual 2-4 hours of searching databases, reading some studies, and combining them into a blog wasn’t going to fly with this powerful oil. No, this was at least a weekend affair for launching a blog. Furthermore, I think I still be swimming in studies in the next few months… or years!

Here’s some of what I’ve compiled so far on one of my favorite essential oils and herb.


The Depth of Studies

Picture this. It’s a few hours or so before heading off to Proctors to see Newsies. I’m ready to write my blog and have my water with lemon beside my trusty old laptop. I surf my way to PubMed and decide to look for the studies on frankincense, starting with Boswellia serrata, and bam…the first page comes up….



1 of 20 of 346!

Green Med Info was no slouch in reporting benefits on Boswellia spp either: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/substance/boswellia

“Hmmm, this wasn’t going to get done tonight,” I thought.

By far, the most research is on Boswellia serrata, which is the species that is believed to be the one referenced during the times of Christ. Until recently, Boswellia serrata oil was not well available in pure, genuine form, due to the cost of extraction and supply issues. Unfortunately, many of these sacred trees were ruined by over-extracting their resins.

Now, I will start with  an overview of frankincense, the plant. This means some of these studies are reports on the extract or herb, they have different compounds than the essential oil. It will be indicated in the study if it is the essential oil.

Due to the new FDA regulations, full abstracts are included in the blog. I have highlighted the important points within the explanation of the abstract for those who wish to skim.


More Precious than Gold- Sacred Frankincense & Its Origins

This article overview discusses the various frankincense origins and Boswellia spp. Constituents (bold emphasis mine):

The resin of Boswellia species has been used as incense in religious and cultural ceremonies and in medicines since time immemorial. Boswellia serrata (Salai/Salai guggul), is a moderate to large sized branching tree of family Burseraceae (Genus Boswellia), grows in dry mountainous regions of India, Northern Africa and Middle East. Oleo gum-resin is tapped from the incision made on the trunk of the tree and is then stored in specially made bamboo basket for removal of oil content and getting the resin solidified. After processing, the gum-resin is then graded according to its flavour, colour, shape and size. In India, the States of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are the main source of Boswellia serrata. Regionally, it is also known by different names. The oleo gum-resins contain 30-60% resin, 5-10% essential oils, which are soluble in the organic solvents, and the rest is made up of polysaccharides. Gum-resin extracts of Boswellia serrata have been traditionally used in folk medicine for centuries to treat various chronic inflammatory diseases. The resinous part of Boswellia serrata possesses monoterpenes, diterpenes, triterpenes, tetracyclic triterpenic acids and four major pentacyclic triterpenic acids i.e. ?-boswellic acid, acetyl-?-boswellic acid, 11-keto-?-boswellic acid and acetyl-11-keto-?-boswellic acid, responsible for inhibition of pro-inflammatory enzymes. Out of these four boswellic acids, acetyl-11-keto-?-boswellic acid is the most potent inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme responsible for inflammation.

Siddiqui, MZ, Boswellia Serrata, A Potential Antiinflammatory Agent: An Overview. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2011 May-Jun; 73(3): 255–261. doi: 10.4103/0250-474X.93507


Making My Way Down the List of Studies

For the sake of my sanity and your time, I won’t go through all the studies on frankincense. However, I did read through most of the first twenty hits and have highlighted a few abstracts for you.

After I hit about 50 on the PubMed database (which was developed and is maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), located at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)), you usually get into more generalized honorable mentions on a subject. For example, nearing this number, I found an article on broccoli coral?! For frankincense; however, this generalization isn’t holding totally true.

As I skimmed down farther, I found this abstract at number 70, entitled “Targeting Inflammatory Pathways by Triterpenoids for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer:”

Traditional medicine and diet has served mankind through the ages for prevention and treatment of most chronic diseases. Mounting evidence suggests that chronic inflammation mediates most chronic diseases, including cancer. More than other transcription factors, nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-?B) and STAT3 have emerged as major regulators of inflammation, cellular transformation, and tumor cell survival, proliferation, invasion, angiogenesis, and metastasis. Thus, agents that can inhibit NF-?B and STAT3 activation pathways have the potential to both prevent and treat cancer. In this review, we examine the potential of one group of compounds called triterpenes, derived from traditional medicine and diet for their ability to suppress inflammatory pathways linked to tumorigenesis. These triterpenes include avicins, betulinic acid, boswellic acid, celastrol, diosgenin, madecassic acid, maslinic acid, momordin, saikosaponins, platycodon, pristimerin, ursolic acid, and withanolide. This review thus supports the famous adage of Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

Vivek R. Yadav, Sahdeo Prasad, Bokyung Sung, Ramaswamy Kannappan, and Bharat B. Aggarwal. Targeting Inflammatory Pathways by Triterpenoids for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer. Toxins (Basel). Oct 2010; 2(10): 2428–2466. Published online Oct 22, 2010. doi:  10.3390/toxins2102428


Now, that’s an intense title of an article, especially considering the latest qualifications by the FDA in how to share responsibly on essential oils, while making sure to not diagnose, treat, or prescribe. What does this mean? Well, Gary Young explains it like this, “Frankincense digests abnormal cells!”

For those of you interested, below are more studies on frankincense from PubMed….

In the following blog, I dive into more abstracts and a provide additional sources!


A Beginning of My Source List of Frankincense Studies:

  1. Mahmoud M Suhail, Weijuan Wu, Amy Cao, Fadee G Mondalek, Kar-Ming Fung, Pin-Tsen Shih, Yu-Ting Fang, Cole Woolley, Gary Young, Hsueh-Kung Lin. Boswellia sacra essential oil induces tumor cell-specific apoptosis and suppresses tumor aggressiveness in cultured human breast cancer cells. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011; 11: 129. Published online 2011 December 15. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-129
  2. Z. Siddiqui. Boswellia Serrata, A Potential Antiinflammatory Agent: An Overview. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2011 May-Jun; 73(3): 255–261. doi: 10.4103/0250-474X.93507
  3. Prabhavathi, U. Shobha Jagdish Chandra, Radhika Soanker, P. Usha Rani. A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, cross over study to evaluate the analgesic activity of Boswellia serrata in healthy volunteers using mechanical pain model. Indian J Pharmacol. 2014 Sep-Oct; 46(5): 475–479. doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.140570
  4. Pooja Singh, K. Mathai Chacko, M. L. Aggarwal, Binu Bhat, R. K. Khandal, Sarwat Sultana, Binu T. Kuruvilla. A-90 Day Gavage Safety Assessment of Boswellia serrata in Rats.Toxicol Int. 2012 Sep-Dec; 19(3): 273–278. doi: 10.4103/0971-6580.103668
  5. M. H. Siddiqui, S. H. Afaq, M. Asif. CHEMICAL STANDARDIZATION OF ‘KUNDUR’ (Oleo-Gum-Resin of Boswellia serrata Roxb). Anc Sci Life. 1984 Jul-Sep; 4(1): 48–50.
  6. Y J1, Kamath JV, Asad M. Effect of hexane extract of Boswellia serrata oleo-gum resin on chemically induced liver damage. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2006 Apr;19(2):129-33
  7. Yuxin Zhang, Zhangchi Ning, Cheng Lu, Siyu Zhao, Jianfen Wang, Baoqin Liu, Xuegong Xu, Yuanyan Liu. Triterpenoid resinous metabolites from the genus Boswellia: pharmacological activities and potential species-identifying properties. Chem Cent J. 2013; 7: 153. Published online 2013 September 12. doi: 10.1186/1752-153X-7-153


Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic, Grade A essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been AFNOR and ISO standardized. There is no quality control in the United States and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin.

This information is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness.