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Incense and Aromatherapy
Incense and Aromatherapy
|A Word of Caution:
This article is intended for informational
purposes and not does provide complete information on how
to light or burn incense safely. AromaWeb assumes no liability
or responsibilty for your choice to light or burn any incense
or incense ingredients.
of natural aromatic ingredients including Japanese incense,
natural cones, and lose ingredients including aloeswood, red
sandalwood powder and frankincense.
Natural resins, gums and herbs have been burned as incense since
ancient times for its spiritual, medicinal/healing, fragrancing
and odor-masking properties.
Today, "incense" is available
in a wide array of forms using both natural and synthetic ingredients.
The most commonly available types of incense are synthetic and can
fill the air with toxic substances when burned. For this reason,
most incense does not hold a welcome position within the practice
of holistic aromatherapy.
Natural incense, however, is available
if you know where to look and can also be made at home.
This article will briefly introduce
you to the different types of incense and will provide guidance
on your quest to explore the delights of natural incense.
Commonly Available Forms of Incense
Dipped Incense Sticks
Dipped sticks are made with incense
"blanks" which are long, thin wooden sticks that have
a combustible powder coating such as charcoal or wood. The incense
blanks are then dipped in either essential oils or synthetic fragrance
oils, then left to dry. A variety of sources indicate that the actual
incense blanks may be made with inferior pressed wood and glues
that are toxic when burned. So even if using essential oils to make
dipped incense, the final product, when burned, may still be toxic.
Hand Rolled Incense Sticks
Hand rolled incense is especially
popular in India. The appearance of hand rolled incense is similar
to that of dipped incense sticks, but the process of making the
sticks is different. Hand rolled incense sticks, especially those
from India, are said to be more natural than dipped incense sticks.
Like with most incense, however, the handcrafters or manufacturers
usually do not include a complete list of ingredients on their packaging,
so the buyer must beware.
Native Americans burn incense by
tying white sage into bundles and then burning the bundles as smudge
sticks. Sweet grass, juniper berries and other botanicals are also
used by Native Americans to cleanse and purify the air. Read the
American Smudging Ceremonies and Rituals article for more detailed
Commercially available incense cones
generally contain synthetics, but all natural cones are available.
Cones are made by mixing fragrant natural and/or synthetic oils
and powdered ingredients with a combustible powder that helps the
cones burn properly. Cones can be made at home using all natural
Japanese Incense (Koh)
"Koh" is the Japanese word
for incense. Unlike dipped or rolled incense that contains a wooden
stick with combustible incense powder adhering to it, Koh is made
by preparing powdered woods, resins, herbs, and oils, forming a
dough-like mixture that is made into long, thin "noodles"
similar to spaghetti. The long "noodles" are then cut
into short sticks and allowed to dry.
Most Japanese incense that is sold
does contain synthetics. Quality koh, however, is available, especially
via online sources. Baieido, for instance, has been making incense
since the 17th century. Baieido is the brand of Japanese incense
that I purchase and find the most pleasurable. Not all Baieido incense
is 100% pure, but they do offer a large selection of incense made
with pure ingredients including aloeswood and sandalwood. Baieido
incense can be hard to find. SunRose
Aromatics, a long time advertiser and supporter of AromaWeb,
offers several varieties of Baieido incense.
The finest Japanese incense is made
using aloeswood and/or sandalwood. Aloeswood and sandalwood varies
in grade and quality (see the Woods section below for additional
information). When higher grades of aloeswood and/or sandalwood
are used in a line of Japanese incense or when additional costly
herbs/resins are used, expect to pay a premium price.
offers a great deal of useful information regarding Japanese incense.
Loose Incense Powders
Natural incense powder can be made
using powdered sandalwood, herbs and other natural ingredients.
The incense powder can then be mixed with a combustible ingredient
such as natural makko powder or burned on top of a charcoal tablet.
Aromatics sells Zukoh Powder. It is a ready to use powder mixture
that contains cinnamon, cassia, clove, sandalwood, star anise, and
other natural herbs. From
Nature With Love is a good source for yellow
sandalwood powder, red
sandalwood powder and other powdered herbs that can be included
in incense powder mixtures.
Incense powders with synthetic ingredients
are also readily available. If you want to avoid synthetic powders,
be sure to review all ingredients in a powder prior to purchase.
Natural resins such as frankincense,
myrrh, opoponax and dragon's blood can be burned alone as incense.
The general method of burning resins is by placing them on a charcoal
tablet or via the Japanese Kodo Ceremony (see section below). SunRose
Aromatics is a good source for frankincense and myrrh resins.
Aromatic woods such as aloeswood,
sandalwood, cedarwood and palo santo can be burned alone. Chips
or wood powders can be mixed with resins and herbs to create an
incense blend. Like resins, they can be burned by setting them on
top of charcoal tablets, by using a Japanese incense stove or by
using the method employed as a part of the Japanese Kodo method.
Because aloeswood and other woods can be costly, burning them slowly
or gently heating them is best. Aloeswood is cherished for incense
because it is said to promote a deep sense of peace. It, therefore,
is commonly used during times of meditation.
Resins, Woods and Powdered incense
ingredients can be combined to form a loose incense mixture. Incense
mixtures can be burned on top of a charcoal tablet, mixed with crushed
charcoal or makko powder and burned on top of rice ash or sea salt,
or burned via the methods used for the traditional Japaense Kodo
Japanese "Trail" Method
Incense mixtures can also be burned
via the "trail method." To use this method, a wooden press
called a koh press is pressed into a bowl of ash, usually white
rice ash. The depression is filled with makko powder. The makko
powder is then lit and loose incense ingredients are placed onto
the burning makko powder as it burns along the "trail."
More information on this method can be found by visiting the Makko
page of japanese-incense.com.
I wouldn't be surprised if the trail method of incense burning was
the inspiration that led to the creation of the popular incense
"stones" that contain grooved spirals and other designs
for burning synthetic incense powders.
The Japanese Kodo Method
A traditional Japanese method of
slowly heating resins and woods without burning them too quickly
is called the Japanese Kodo method. The process involves filling
a Japenese Kodo cup with nonflammable white rice ash, burying a
sulfer-free lit charcoal into the white rice ash, poking a "ventilation"
hole through the ash and then setting a small mica plate on top
of the ventilation hole to hold the resins or other incense ingredients.
the Censor page on japanese-incense.com
provides helpful illustrated information on preparing the cup to
heat the incense.
Makko is finely ground from the bark
of the Makko tree. It possesses a woody aroma that does not clash
or suffocate the aromas of other incense ingredients. It burns well
and is a suitable, natural choice to use as the "combustible"
ingredient in natural incense. It can be used within the Japanese
"Trail" Method (see the Makko
page of japanese-incense.com)
and within the creation of Japanese style incense sticks and cones.
Makko powder can be obtained through SunRose
Making Your Own Incense at Home
Natural incense cones, sticks and
loose incense mixtures can be made and enjoyed at home. Below is
a basic recipe that you can use and adapt to your aromatic preferences:
- 1 part Frankincense Powder
- 1 part Myrrh Powder
- 1 part Sandalwood Powder
- 3-4 parts Makko Powder
- 4-5 Drops Essential Oil (optional)
For your first time making incense, use 1 tablespoon
as the basis for 1 "part" in your recipe. That way if
you are not pleased with the recipe, you will not have wasted a
large batch and can easily adjust the recipe to better suit your
needs next time.
Add the dry ingredients to a bowl and mix them
with a spoon or fork. Very slowly add water drop by drop while mixing
until you have a workable "dough." If planning to add
essential oils, choose oils that compliment the aroma of the powders.
Suitable choices include frankincense, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver
or orange. Add your optional essential oils and mix the dough again.
Form small cones or create handmade "sticks"
by rolling them into thin 4-5" long spaghetti-like strands.
They won't be perfect, especially not your first time. Set your
cones and/or sticks on wax paper and allow them to dry for at least
1-2 days. I prefer to use this recipe to make sticks because the
sticks tend to burn more evenly than the cones. If making cones,
be sure that you keep their size small and that you form a good
"point" on them. They are less likely to burn properly
if they do not taper well into a small point. Handmade sticks can
be burned by filling a heat resistant bowl with fine sea salt and
sticking the handmade stick straight into the sea salt (make sure
it is securely in place).
You can also experiment by trying other powdered
herbs. Be sure to only use herbs that are not toxic when burned.
If you find that your incense does not burn properly,
your incense may not have had enough time to dry or there may not
be enough makko powder in your recipe.
Incense and Spirituality
For a brief look at how incense is used within
spiritual applications, read AromaWeb'sIncense
and Spirituality article.
Making Your Own Incense
I discovered this brief but helpful 32-page
book after I wrote this article. It contains a lot of useful
tips about making natural incense. Some of the info regarding
essential oils isn't as thorough or as accurate as I would
hope for, but those with a sound knowledge of essential oils
should be able to still utilize many of the tips contained
within this publication.
|A Word of
This article is intended for
informational purposes and not does provide complete
information on how to light or burn incense safely.
AromaWeb assumes no liability or responsibilty for your
choice to light or burn any incense or incense ingredients.
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