Written by Ellen McDonell, Gabriele Dennert and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated September 11, 2018

Boswellia spp

Abstract and key points

  • Boswellia subspecies are branching trees found in Asia and Africa. For medicinal purposes mainly the resin is used.
  • No firm conclusions can be drawn on the effect of orally administered Boswellia extracts on peritumoural brain oedema, brain tumours, brain metastases or any other cancer in women, men or children.
  • Not enough data are available for topical application of Boswellia-containing creams on radiation dermatitis.
  • Boswellic acids might have inhibitory effects on cytochrome P450 isoenzymes and P-glycoprotein.
  • Reported adverse effects mainly affect the gastrointestinal system and the skin.

Boswellia subspecies are trees growing in Asia and Africa. Medicinal dry extracts of different Boswellia trees are traded as phytopharmaceuticals for oral and topical administration. Boswellia extracts are claimed to be inhibitors of inflammation processes, with possible efficacy against perifocal oedema in brain tumour patients, radiation-induced dermatitis and other inflammatory skin conditions, and antitumor activity.

In-vitro experiments have found anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, and apoptotic effects of Boswellic acids. 

The results of two clinical studies and two observational studies (case series) suggest beneficial effects of Boswellia extracts on perifocal brain oedema although the evidence is to be considered as low, and no firm conclusions can be drawn about the effect of orally administered Boswellic acids or Boswellia extracts on brain tumours in humans. Topically, Boswellia-based cream may reduce erythema caused by breast radiation based on one clinical trial; these results are however only preliminary.

Pharmacokinetic studies have suggested inhibitory effects of Boswellic acids on cytochrome P450 isoenzymes and P-glycoprotein but provide no assessment of the risk for drug interactions in humans so far.

Adverse effects of Boswellia extracts mainly involve the gastrointestinal system and the skin.

Read about the regulation, supervision and reimbursement of herbal medicine at NAFKAMs website CAM Regulation.


Ellen McDonell, Gabriele Dennert, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Boswellia spp [online document]. http://www.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Herbal-products/Boswellia-spp. September 11, 2018.

Document history

Last updated in September 2018 by Ellen McDonell.

"Is it safe?" part updated in July 2015 by Christoph Ritter and Markus Horneber.

Assessed as up to date in January 2015 by Barbara Wider.

Fully updated and revised in January 2013 by Gabriele Dennert.

Fully updated and revised in October 2011 by Gabriele Dennert.

Fully updated and revised in November 2009 by Gabriele Dennert.

First published in November 2005, authored by Gabriele Dennert.


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