In the “Flowering Plants of TDU” blog series, we look at some of the beautiful flowering plants that dot our serene green campus.
Trees in this family are very well known for their aromatic resins, which have been used as incense and traded for over 6000 years. The Frankincense mentioned in the Bible is also a species of Boswellia. Other plants in the family which give aromatic resin are Guggulu – Commiphora wightii and Kala dammar – Canarium strictum
Boswellia serrata is a moderate sized to large deciduous tree that can easily be spotted in the forest because of its peeling papery bark. The bark peels off in large flakes that can be white to shades of brown and red. The leaves are pinnate – pairs of leaflets attached along a stalk which can be up to 25 cm long, crowded at the ends of branches. Tiny white bell shaped flowers appear at the tips of branches when the tree is leafless. The fruits are small capsules with three ridges. They split open on maturity to release tiny brown winged seeds. The crown of the tree is open and airy and has a pleasing appearance. The bark when injured exudes a fragrant resin, which has various uses and is heavily harvested by the locals.
Ecology: A sentinel like tree of the dry deciduous forests of India, it can withstand extreme heat and drought. They are usually seen growing in the deciduous forests along with trees like Terminalia, Anogeissus, Acacia etc. Such savannah and dry deciduous forest ecosystems occur throughout peninsular India, North India and the foothills of the Himalayas. Boswellia serrrata is endemic to India (found only in India). Being a deciduous tree, the tree loses all its leaves during the start of the dry season and remains completely leafless for 2-3 months. The flowers appear during this time (January – February). The fruiting period is from March to May. Recent studies indicate that Boswellia tree populations are declining, partly due to over-exploitation and habitat-loss.
Threat Status: Threat status of Boswellia serrata in Rajasthan is ‘Endangered’ and ‘Vulnerable’ in the states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
Medicinal Uses: The resin is fragrant and burns with a pleasant odour and is used as incense in religious ceremonies and worship. In recent years salai guggul has been used extensively in pharmaceutical formulations for relieving pains and aches, particularly associated with arthritis. Many commercial formulations of salai guggul in the form of ointments, creams and capsules are available on the market. The bark and gum-resin of Sallaki is used to treat asthma, dysentery, ulcer, haemorrhoid, skin diseases, fever, convulsions, dysentery, bronchitis, asthma, cough, stomatitis, syphilitic diseases, chronic laryngitis, jaundice and arthritis. The exudates of Sallaki mixed with sugar and honey is applied over the eyes in conjunctivitis. Powder of Sallaki mixed with coconut oil and made into a paste is applied externally to relieve joint pain. Sallaki is used in ayurvedic preparations such as Jirakadi modaka, used for the treatment of digestive tract diseases, and the oil/resin is used extensively to relieve pain and improve joint mobility and flexibility.