Saturday, July 30, 2005

Traditional Incense - The History Part One

This three part series focuses on Traditional Incense (resins, woods, grasses, leaves, etc). The history, what is needed and directions for burning, and how to choose traditional incense and the different types.

The History

Five hundred thousand years ago, a few of our brave ancestors began to conquer fire. As they tossed various woods, shrubs, grasses, spices, oils, dried flowers, fruits, barks and tree saps onto the fire, another great discovery was made that is till with us today… Traditional Incense.

The use of incense can be traced back to the earliest written records of almost every culture in the world. The words “incense” which mean “to burn” and “perfume,” which means “through the smoke” are interchangeable. The ancients believed that a soul dwelled in every objects and that the souls of essences of objects could be released through burning. Figurines dating from 30,000 B.C. have symbols of smoke etched on them. Incense burners from 7500 B.C. have been found in Jericho. Both the Koran and the Tales of the Arabian Nights refer to the ancient Arab city of Ubar (3000 B.C.) as the queen of the frankincense trade. In Egypt, the subject most often carved or painted is the Pharaoh worshiping the presiding deity by presenting offerings, including anointing oils and incense. The Sphinx at Gizeh (1533 B.C.) shows Tuthmosis IV pouring a libation of wine on one side and offering incense on the other to the sun-god Ra. Ancient Hebrews used incense as the vehicle by which prayers could be conveyed to their god. In ancient India, incense was used as a cosmetic, a sign of luxury, as medicine and to anoint their dead. The ancient Assyrians cremated themselves alive on a pile of fragrant wood, suffocating in the fragrant smoke. The Ancient Greeks and Romans dedicated much of their personal life to the worship of the senses. Frankish monarchs filled their coffins with gums and resins. Alexander The Great had myrrh and resins burned before his throne. The gift of the Magi to Jesus Christ was frankincense and myrrh.

The ceremonial use of Traditional Incense is still practiced by many cultures today in much the same way as their ancestors. Both the Hindu heaven and Mohammedan paradise are filled with fragrances having the power to restore the vitality of the mind and soul. In Japan, the Buddha’s ministering angels fill the air with the scent of flowers. The Chinese burn incense to communicate with their ancestors and the Aztecs put sweet smelling flowers on graves to help the spirit rise to the heavens. Eskimo medicine men and Australian Aborigines sing magical songs and incantations while anointing the sick with pastes and perfumes. Native Americans burn sage and cedar to repel bad spirits and draw out good spirits.

The practical use of Traditional Incense is for the enjoyment of incense in its purest form, whether a single botanical is chosen, or a unique blend of the user’s own creation. The trick of using Traditional Incense is discovering the right amount of heat for the botanical, or blend of botanicals, to be burned to achieved the incense effect. The incense effect can be described as just enough heat which allows the ingredient(s) to smolder, or vaporize, resulting in a pleasing aroma. The essential temperature is the specific amount of heat required to release the essence or spirit of the material to be incensed. Overheating the material(s) will create the undesirable effect of scorching it, or worse, setting it on fire. In part two we'll discuss how to burn Traditional Incense.

Traditional Incense - How to Burn Part Two

This three part series focuses on Traditional Incense (resins, woods, grasses, leaves, etc). The history, what is needed and directions for burning, and how to choose traditional incense and the different types.

What is needed

The items needed to burn traditional incenses are:

1. “Charcoal-safe” incense burner/censer:

Whether choosing a metal or ceramic burner, the most important tings to look for are air flow, insulation, and safety. Charcoal needs a good supply of air to burn successfully. Air should be allowed to circulate around the tablet. A lidded censer should have air holes in the top and bottom. A dish shaped burner should have a large mouth. A easy to use burner is a screen burner.

2. Insulated material:

Always insulate the inside of your burner with stones, ceramic pieces, or sand. Form a cone shape with the insulation and place the charcoal tablet at the peak. This allows for adequate air flow around the charcoal.

All burners should also be insulated from the outside. Always place your censer on a burn-proof surface, such as a stone or ceramic tile, since it may get very hot. Use any safety precautions that are normally considered when fire and heat are involved. Use metal or wooden forceps or tongs to move the censer and avoid placing the censer under something flammable, since heat rises. Never leave a censer unattended and keep it away from children and pets.

3. Charcoal Tablets (designed for incense use):

The most common and recommended charcoal for incense use is self igniting such as the Swift Lite products. Igniter is mixed into the tablet before it is formed. The tablets are easily lit by holding the edge with a forceps over a match or lighter until the tablet sparks over. Immediately place it in your burner, using the forceps, since the charcoal tablet gets hot very quickly. We suggest that you do this outside since the igniter may have a unpleasant aroma. This only lasts as it smokes for the first 30 – 60 seconds. The tablet will then light across the surface. When the charcoal tablet is glowing red and covered with a fine white ash, it will be ready for use (between 3 to 5 minutes). The charcoal will stay hot enough to burn incense for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Again, use safety precautions that are normally used around fire or heat. Since the charcoal contains igniter, it will sputter or spark once lit. If the igniter is unevenly distributed in the tablet, it could pop, breaking off small pieces. Some igniters will release smoke for a few moments, so be sure to use it in a well ventilated area (such as outside in the open). Always store the charcoal tablets away from excessive heat, moisture and humidity. Do not use lighter fluid and only use charcoal tablets made for incense use.
Keep away from children and pets.

4. Aluminum Foil:

Traditionally, incense is put directly on the hot charcoal. Before it scorches, but after it is burned, it is scraped off the charcoal with a forceps. Consequently, the melted resin spills into the censer and melts onto the forceps. Each time the censer or forceps get hot, the releases it’s fragrance again. This works well if only one type of incense is burned, but does not allow for changing incense frequently.

There are advantages to using aluminum foil between the charcoal and the material to be incensed. Form a cup approximately the same diameter as the charcoal (a bottle cap is useful but don’t leave the bottle cap in the foil), leaving a quarter inch lip. The cup can be manipulated easily with you forceps, and can be placed on the charcoal after the charcoal is hot. Incense can be added and left on the heat until it reaches its maximum incense effect. It can be removed again with your forceps before it scorches. At that point, either more or different incense can be added to the charcoal in a new cup. As a precautionary note, be aware that the incense in the aluminum foil cup becomes very hot, can be in a liquid state and burn the skin if it comes in contact with it.


1. Prepare the incense burner
2. Light the charcoal tablet (if you can, do this outside)
3. Place the aluminum foil cup directly onto the hot tablet
4. Add incense into the cup (be conservative at first)
5. Cover (or not) depending on choice
6. Remove the foil cup and incense before it scorches
7. Allow the tablet to burn out and cool in the censor. To extinguish a tablet before it has fully cooked, quench in a container of cold water.

In part three, we'll discuss the different types of Traditional Incense

Traditional Incense - Different Types Part Three

This three part series focuses on Traditional Incense (resins, woods, grasses, leaves, etc). The history, what is needed and directions for burning, and how to choose traditional incense and the different types.

Choosing Traditional Incense

There are many types of Traditional Incense for you to enjoy.

1. Resin comes in three principal categories: Oleoresins are sticky, semisolids that contain essential oils. They include balsam, dragons blood and turpentine. Hard resins are hard, brittle, odorless (until burned) and tasteless and are obtained either as fossil or as distillation products of the oleoresins. They include amber, copals and mastic. Gum resins contain gums or tree saps and include frankincense, myrrh and benzoin.

2. Woods are pieces of the actual plant or tree. They are graded if any oil has been extracted from them. Some woods are also ground to fine powder. They include sandalwood, aloeswood, red sandalwood and cedarwood.

3. Grasses, leaves and flowers are pieces of a plant, the whole plant or the flower of a plant. They include white and desert sage, sweetgrass, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass and patchouli herb.

4. Blends contain any of the above mixtures to create a combined aroma. Nu Essence resins are a good example of these as they may combine 15 or more ingredients to make a complex aroma with distinctive smells from each ingredient. These are based on Egyptian mixes.

This three part series was reprinted in part by the permission of the Incense Sampler and Vicki Hinz, thank you.

Friday, July 29, 2005

New Herbal Soaps

We have added 11 brand new herbal soaps to our website. These come from India and are from Sai Aromatherapy, Nag Champa Soap, and Chandrika. New scents: Creamy Musk, Super Sandal, Lemon Lime, Fresh Rose, Sage, Eucalyptus, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Lavender and Fresh Breeze. These fine natural soaps will give you a whole new bathing experience.