It doesn’t take a witch to utilize the purifying power of smoke. In fact, the fragrant scent of smoke created by incense has a long history that goes back thousands of years. Throughout its history it has been used to mask the sometimes-odorous scent of human habitation; to purify sacred or religious sanctuaries; to carry prayers; chase away malevolent spirits; to elevate meditative states; or for healing purposes. So greatly sought after were the ingredients for incense that a network of trading routes linking the Mediterranean world with sources for exotic spices, barks, seed, flowers and resins from throughout Northeastern Africa, India and beyond, flourished between the 7th century BC and the 2nd century AD.
There are two types of incense- You are probably most familiar with combustible incense that is made up of an aromatic material (natural and/or artificial) combined with a combustible binding material and is shaped into cones or rolled onto sticks. Noncombustible incense is made up of loosely ground aromatic plant material, resins and/or essential oils that releases its smoke when sprinkled onto a hot ember (typically an incense charcoal tablet) in a censor or a heat-proof container. What’s great about noncombustible incense is that it’s easy to make, you’re in control of the ingredients and you can specialize in blends that fit your intentions.
Before you begin make sure you have a few simple tools:
A mortar and pestle (or an electric grinder)
Measuring devices so you can easily replicate your blends
Journal or index cards for recording recipes
Jars for storage
Below is a list of a few common tree resins, essential oils and other plant-based materials used in making incense to get you started- or you can try out some of my recipes listed at the end.
Allspice: Dried berries from trees in the myrtle family native to Central and South America. Its spicy aroma lends well to blends for luck, energy, mental clarity and prosperity.
Amber: Fossilized pine resin which has a camphor-like scent. Most on the market today are not true amber. Used in incense to draw love and healing.
Benzoin: Dark brown with an antiseptic scent, benzoin is a resin from the bark of trees in the genus Styrax. Use for clarity, purification and prosperity.
Cedar: I use cedar tips from our local Western Red Cedars- but wood, bark or leafy material may be used from any variety of cedars. Use in incense blends for calm, spirituality, healing and denoting sacred space.
Copal: This resin from the copal tree is seen as white, yellow or pale orange in color and has a piney-citrusy scent and is native to the Mexico and Central America. It is used for incense for healing and purification. Copal has been used in religious and magical ceremonies in the America’s for thousands of years and is a great replacement for Frankincense in incense recipes.
Basil: Popular in cuisine worldwide, some 35 species of this aromatic herb are native to central Africa and Southeast Asia. It’s sweet-spicy scent is used in blends for improving memory, to cleanse and purify and to induce calm.
Bay: Another pantry staple, Bay leaves are from several trees in the Lauraceace family native to Southeast Asia and South America. They can be used in mixes to promote healing, sharpen psychic abilities, protection and purification.
Bergamot: This favorite essential oil of mine comes from beautiful small flowers with a minty-lemony fragrance that can be used in mixes for prosperity and wealth and to promote mental clarity.
Clove: Dried flower buds from the small bushy trees of Myrtaceae family native to the Moluccas Islands and Indonesia, their intensely spicy scent works well in blends for strength, love, protection purification and prosperity.
Cinnamon: The inner bark from several varieties of trees of the genus Cinnamomum grow in Sri Lanka, India and Burma. Cinnamon sticks or powder can be used in creating blends and are found in your local grocery store. Use cinnamon in mixes for courage, love and prosperity.
Dragon’s Blood: Resin from the fruit of the Clamamus draconis climbing palm tree, dragon’s blood has been used in ritual for thousands of years in India. With it’s strong, spicy scent use in blends for love, purification, strength and meditation.
Frankincense: From the resin of the Boswellia tree, frankincense has a woody, spicy scent that may reduce anxiety and aid in sleep. Frankincense can also be used in mixes for purification, grounding and cleansing.
Juniper: A common ingredient in Tibetan incense, the berries, bark and wood of this member of the Cupressaceae family have a calming and relaxing effect and has been used to sharpen mental clarity, protection and to raise spiritual energy.
Lavender: This Mediterranean favorite is easily attainable and the dried flower buds or essential oil can be used in creating incense blends. The smoke of lavender creates a calming peaceful atmosphere and can also be used in mixes for loving vibes, to induce sleep, meditation, purification and healing.
Mint: This popular and prolific herb native to Europe and the Middle East, can be used in mixes to aid in meditation, stimulate mental clarity and aid in psychic awareness, for love, peaceful vibes and to aid in sleep.
Orange peel: Dried Citrus can add an uplifting scent to your incense blends and can be used in blends for mental clarity, luck, joy, or to raise energy.
Patchouli: This earthy scented favorite works well in blends for money, sex and physical energy.
Pine: The essential oil or resin (plant material can be used also) is typically from the species Pinus sylvestris. Can be used as a substitute for copal or frankincense in blends and is used for healing, cleansing, strength and grounding.
Rose petals: The lovely dried petals of the rose can be used in incense blends for love and healing and to promote a peaceful vibe.
Rosemary: A popular woody perennial herb from the Mediterranean, it can be used in mixes for peace of mind, luck, to stimulate mental clarity, protection, healing and to designate spiritual space.
Sage: Aromatic evergreen shrubs of the Salvia family, traditionally used by Native Southwestern North American tribes for use during sweat lodge ceremonies. Use in mixes for cleansing, promoting spirituality, increased memory and healing.
Sandalwood: The rich and mysterious scent of this wood is widely used in religious incenses. It is used in incense for healing, spirituality, protection and exorcism.
Thyme: with a warm, slightly bitter scent, the leaves of this small woody herb of the Labiatae family lends well to blends for health, healing, strength and purification.
Vanilla: the warm scent of vanilla adds calming vibes to any mix. Also add to mixes for love, mental clarity and to soothe anxiety.
Ylang-ylang: Oil from this beautifully scented flower that is native to the Philippines is easily accessible and can be used in incense for love.
Time to Unwind (blend for calm or meditation)
1-part lavender buds
Heart of a Dragon (blend for courage)
2-parts dragon’s blood
1-part cinnamon bark
Love Spell (blend for loving vibes)
1-part rose petals
1/2-part cinnamon bark
A few drops of ylang-ylang essential oil
Lucky Me (blend for luck)
2-parts dried orange peel
1/2-part ground nutmeg
A few drops of vanilla essential oil
¼ part lavender
¼ part patchouli
Warrior Blend (strength and courage)
2 parts dragon’s blood
¼ part clove
¼ part cinnamon
Images courtesy of Acorne photography