Guggul – A Deep Dive into Ancient Literature and Modern Research

Written by: Kirsten Ahern


Guggul is a small thorny tree of the Byrseraceae family that is found scattered across India, Pakistan, Arabia, and Africa. The tree grows 1.5-2 meters high and its leaves are twice compound (bipinnate) with oval to elliptical-shaped leaflets that are dark green in color.3 The resin is found in the balsam canals in the larger vein of the leaf and the soft base of the stem.4 Its flowers are brownish with five petals and its fruits are pulpy, round, and red. When dissolved in water, it turns milky white. It produces a gum resin that is “thick, scented, multicolored, burnt on fire, and liquefied by the heat of the sun”, according to the Dravaguna Vignyan.5 Guggul resin is collected in the winter after it has oozed from the tree during the summer and later solidified in colder temperatures.6 On average, each plant yields approximately 200-800 grams of herb.7 The potency of pure guggul lasts for 20 years, according to the Dravaguna Vignayan.8 A 2013 study found that the low moisture content in guggul exudate allows for a longer preservation period. 9

Guggul should be unctuous, soft, and sticky with a sweet smell, bitter taste, and yellowish color; it should be soluble in water and uncontaminated.10 Any fraction of the plant that is insoluble is devoid of the hypolipidemic effects for which guggul is known.11 Guggul is comprised of 61 percent resin, 29.3 percent gum, 0.6 percent volatile oils, 6.1 percent moisture, and 3.2 percent foreign matter.12 Its products are essential oil, resin, gum, and bitters.13 It is a chemical mixture of diterpenes, sterols, steroids, esters, and higher alcohols; its active components are called “guggulsterones”.14

Guggul is processed by wrapping the resin in a porous natural fiber cloth and boiling it in a decoction of triphala (amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki) to purify the resins, enhance absorption, and reduce toxicity. It is then cooked down to a thick paste, spread out on a pan or holder, dried, and broken into powder or chunks. 15

Guggul has been listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened species due to the over-harvesting of its habitat.16 In addition to over-harvesting, it also faces threats such as tree droughts, over-grazing, overexploitation due to unscientific resin tapping methods, termites, and habitat destruction.17 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved guggul for use as a dietary supplement in 1994. 18

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