What is Incense?

What is Incense?


Incense is concentrated Essential Oils that release aromatic smoke when burned. It comes in many forms, none more recognizable than the Joss Stick. A Joss Stick is a form of direct burning incense from China. Once lit, it does not require another heat source. There are also indirect forms of incense which require a continuous, secondary heat source to burn.

With a history stretching further back than essential oils – incense has played a role in society and healing for many years. Different incense have different effects. Jasmine, for example, is burned to increase mental clarity.

Considered by some to be the forefather to modern Aromatherapy, scents enter the nose and then the brain through the limbic system where they communicate with the structures in the brain that control emotions and mood. Incense has appeared in many cultures throughout history and taken many forms. The root of its composition however, remains the same.


Focus and Calm

Saddle wood and Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) are two common scents used for this purpose. They improve focus in mediation and help with stress. Both also encourage a deeper connectivity and appreciation for life. Sakura was seen as a symbol of vitality by Japanese Farmers, it signaled the start of a bountiful harvest.

Helps to Battle Depression or Anxiety

A 2008 study found that Frankincense activates part of the brain that could help in fight against Depression and Anxiety disorders. The resin of the Boswellia Plant, according to the study activates ion channels in the brain. Though the research is limited, initials findings indicate the possible future of anti-anxiety and antidepressants.

Appetite Stimulant

Bergamot and Osmanthus are said to increase the appetite. Bergamont stimulates the digestive system. Osmanthus when lit, quickly fills the room with a sweet aroma. It is said to be ideal for boosting appetite and relaxing the temper.

The Benefits of Aromatherapy

Learn More About the Benefits of Aromatherapy

For more information on how aromatherapy may benefit you, read our in-depth article. We took a deep dive and looked at published information, including numerous studies on the subject.

Read more: the benefits of aromatherapy.

Origins & History

It is almost impossible to pinpoint the exact origins of Incense. It is defined as a gum, spice or other substance that is burned for the sweet smell it produces. Taking that into consideration you could argue that the earliest humans could’ve stumbled across it at the invention of fire.

The earliest documented evidence of it is from the time of Ancient Egypt. Spice, and other materials were burned during religious ceremonies as a way to better communicate with the Gods. It has evolved throughout the ages as other cultures have discovered new benefits and way of making it.

During the ancient dynasties of China – it was used for medicinal purposes as well as spiritual. Practitioners found that the burning of camphor could be beneficial to the relief of pain in the heart of stomach. It was also known to relieve irritation in the eyes.

Similar findings have been through the years. There have also been new methods of productions found in many of the cultures. None have become more popular than the Chinese Joss Stick. You’ll find this popular form of incense just about anywhere now – they retail on Amazon for between $9.99 and $29.99.

How Incense is Made

There is no precise list of ingredients to follow. Different steps are taken in the forming of incense in the various countries of origin.

The process in most cases begins with the selection of natural ingredients. As we mentioned above oils such as hibiscus and lavender can be used. Woods are also a common selection; sandalwood for example, is one of the more common choices in the making of incense. Some cultures such as Tibet incorporate herbs and spices like cinnamon or cloves into the mix.

You’ll often find incense sold in solid sticks. This common variety, also known as joss sticks originates in Asia and is formed using a hydraulic press. Joss Sticks have no supporting core and are therefore made entirely of the burning material. They are left to dry slowly to ensure the sticks do not warp.

The process differs in India, where you will also find incense commonly sold in stick form. Unlike the Asian variety, Indian Incense has a solid core. I stick is coated with a paste, consisting of binding agents and charcoal dust; it is then rolled in a mixture of spice or dipped into fragrant oils.

This hands on approach could be applied at home. You first select your natural materials and grind them into a fine powder. Then combine it with a similar paste as mentioned above. Next, add makko powder; this special powder is made from the tabu-no-ki tree which is combustible and water soluble. The Makko Powder also helps you to form the finished product.

Video showing how to hand-roll incense sticks.

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