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Herbs & Botanicals

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Frankincense (ru xiang)

What is frankincense? What is it used for?

Also known as boswellia, frankincense is a medium-sized branching tree found in the dry areas of India, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. Unlike many herbal products, the frankincense tree does not have to be killed to utilize its medicinal properties. The healing effects of frankincense come from its resin, which can be tapped and then purified for use in herbal preparations.

Frankincense resin has been used for thousands of years as a part of ayurvedic medicine, and more recently for traditional Chinese medicine. The resin is usually grouped with other resins, which are collectively referred to as guggals.

Frankincense resin consists of essential oils, gum and terpenoids. The terpenoid portion contains boswellic acids, which have been shown to act much like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), but without the unwanted side-effects. Small double-blind studies suggest that frankincense extracts may be beneficial in treating ulcers, colitis, arthritis, bursitis, and other inflammatory conditions.

How much frankincense should I take?

Standardized frankincense extracts (37.5-65% boswellic acids) are recommended by most practitioners. For rheumatoid arthritis, many practitioners recommend 150mg of boswellic acids taken taken three times daily. Treatment with frankincense generally lasts eight to twelve weeks.

What forms of frankincense are available?

Frankincense resin can be found as an extract or powder.

What can happen if I take too much frankincense? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Frankincense is considered safe when used as directed; however, occasional side-effects may occur from taking large amounts of the resin, including diarrhea, skin rash and nausea. At the time of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with frankincense. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking frankincense or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.

References

  • Etzel R. Special extract of boswellia serrata (H15) in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Phytomed 1996;3:91-4.
  • Gupta I, Parihar A, Malhotra P, et al. Effects of boswelliaa serrata gum resin in patients with ulcerative colitis. Eur J Med Res 1997;2:37-43.
  • Knaus U, Wagner H. Effects of boswellic acid of boswellia serrata and other triterpenic acids on the complement system. Phytomedicine 1996;3:77-81.
  • Rall B, Ammon HPT, Safayhi H. Boswellic acids and protease activities. Phytomedicine 1996;3:75-76.
  • Safayhi H, Sailer ER, Amnon HPT. 5-lipoxygenase inhibition by acetyl-11-keto-b-boswellic acid. Phytomed 1996;3:71-2.

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