Boswellia (boswellia serrata)

A member of the frankincense family, boswellia is native to tropical Asia and Africa, and it is often found in hilly areas of India. Plants in the family Burseraceae, which grow as evergreen bushes or small trees with small, white, fragrant flowers, are characterized by resin ducts in their thick, aromatic bark.


When cuts are made in the bark, a milky fluid emerges and hardens upon contact with the air. The solidified resin of boswellia is made into capsules, tablets, creams, perfumes, and cosmetics.

Plant profile

Common Names: Boswellia, Indian Frankincense, Indian Olibanum

Description: Small evergreen tree, up to 12 feet tall; peeling, ash-colored bark; opposite leaflets with serrated margins; racemes of small white flowers; oval-shaped green fruit; fragrant sap

Hardiness: To Zone 10

Family: Burseraceae

Flowering: During the cool, dry season of the area where it is grown

Parts Used: Bark and gum

Range/Habitat: Native to tropical Asia and Africa

Medicinal use

Creams containing boswellia extract are used to relieve the aches and pains of arthritis. Boswellia resin contains nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory compounds, including boswellic acids, which may be helpful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Studies have shown that boswellia may be as effective as synthetic drugs in treating these conditions, without the side effects of pharmaceuticals.

In Ayurvedic medicine, boswellia (called shallaki) is used as an astringent to treat diarrhea and is included in ointments used to treat sores and boils.

The essential oil of Boswellia carterii (the related species known as frankincense) is said to alleviate anxiety.

Other uses

Boswellia creams are used to moisturize dry skin and minimize wrinkles. The highly aromatic resin of several Boswellia species is commonly used to make perfumes and burned as incense.

How to grow it

Boswellia grows in dry, hilly areas in warm climates. In Zone 9 and colder, you can try growing this small tree in a large container in a warm greenhouse. The plant prefers well-drained to dry, alkaline soil in full sun. Water the young plants daily until their root systems are established, then cut back to watering just a few times a week.

Trim back the plant from time to time. In the wild, the resin from older plants is harvested by making a slash in the bark and “bleeding” the resin, which then hardens and can be used.