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BAPP Publishes Laboratory Guidance Document on Indian Frankincense (Boswellia) Oleogum Resin and Extracts

Bulletin focuses on adulteration and substitution of Indian frankincense with resins from related species


In August 2022, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) released a Laboratory Guidance Document (LGD) on Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata, Burseraceae) oleogum resin* and extracts. Indian frankincense has been valued for thousands of years for its fragrance and medicinal properties and is commonly called boswellia in the global botanical industry.

Retail sales of boswellia dietary supplements rapidly increased in the early and mid-2010s in the United States, particularly in the mainstream retail channel, but sales have since leveled off or even decreased. After 2019, boswellia dietary supplements dropped out of the 40 top-selling botanical ingredients in the mainstream and natural retail channels. In 2021, boswellia retail sales in the United States totaled $8,940,589 in both channels combined.

Published data on boswellia adulteration have focused mainly on the undisclosed admixture or substitution with oleogum resins from other Boswellia species, particularly B. frereana, B. papyrifera, and B. sacra. These materials may be used as legitimate substitutes when interchangeable uses are locally accepted. However, they can be considered adulterants if their inclusion is not disclosed on certificates of analysis or ingredient labels. This sometimes occurs due to local supply shortages or misidentification of B. serrata along the supply chain.

The new LGD was written by Nilüfer Orhan, PhD, an expert in natural products chemistry and analysis, with contributions from Burak Temiz, Hale Gamze Ağalar, PhD, and Gökalp İşcan, PhD, from Anadolu University in Eskişehir, Turkey. It evaluates 46 analytical methods’ suitability to authenticate Boswellia serrata oleogum resin and extracts. The LGD features images of a side-by-side high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC) fingerprint comparison of B. serrata and seven other Boswellia species as well as myrrh (Commiphora myrrha, Burseraceae). These HPTLC images were developed specifically for BAPP’s boswellia LGD. Twenty-four international quality-control experts from academia and the herb industry reviewed the document.

“Because of their morphological and chemical similarities, and similar medicinal uses, a host of oleogum resins were historically traded interchangeably and often without botanical specificity,” explained Roy Upton, president of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP). “In more recent decades, Boswellia serrata has emerged as the preferred source of boswellia. This document is perhaps the most detailed English-language review of the differences of these resins and should give any manufacturer that uses a boswellia ingredient clarity of what it has, [and enable them to] perhaps expand specifications to allow for the interchangeable use of those species that are most similar.”

Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of the American Botanical Council (ABC) and technical director of BAPP, commented: “Two issues make the authentication of Boswellia serrata extracts particularly challenging. Some of the published data on the contents of the purported anti-inflammatory constituents, the boswellic acids, in Boswellia species appear to be based on erroneous species identification. Therefore, the exact composition of the confounding species can be difficult to determine. Additionally, some of the commercial extracts are processed in a way that alters the relative amounts of the naturally occurring boswellic acids, leading to a proprietary ingredient that has a very different composition than what is found in the oleogum resin. We hope that the information in the new BAPP LGD addresses these and other issues and will be useful to quality-control analysts working with Boswellia serrata-derived ingredients.”

The boswellia oleogum resin and extract LGD is the 14th publication in BAPP’s series of LGDs. As with all BAPP publications, the LGDs are freely accessible on the program’s website (registration required).

About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program

The ABC-AHP-NCNPR (National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi) Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program is an international consortium of nonprofit professional organizations, analytical laboratories, research centers, industry trade associations, industry members, and other parties with interest in herbs and medicinal plants. The program advises industry, researchers, health professionals, government agencies, the media, and the public about various challenges related to adulterated botanical ingredients in commerce. To date, more than 200 US and international parties have financially supported or otherwise endorsed the program. BAPP has published 74 extensively peer-reviewed articles, including Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletins, LGDs, and Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters.