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How to make and burn Incense

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People have perfumed the air with smoke for centuries; in fact the word “perfume” comes from the word for smoke. The burning of plant matter; leaves, roots, barks and sap for perfume, healing, ceremonial and ritual purposes is evidenced throughout history and pre-history in every culture

Blending your own Incense from with resins, gums, herbs and essential oils is great fun and the results are far superior to sticks and cones and the chemical laden air “fresheners”, available in shops. Some are marketed to give the illusion of “natural” ingredients, and many homes and workplaces have a hissing box in the toilets filling the air with chemicals. Despite increasingly stringent regulations controlling the sale of natural herbs, the big multinational chemical firms producing plug-Ins, wick fresheners, reed diffusers and spray fresheners are NOT legally required to list the ingredients. That romantically packaged plug-in air “freshener” probably contains formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, 1.4 dichlorobenzene and phthalates. The effects of inhaling these chemicals have linked them to nausea, headaches, asthma, cancer, respiratory problems and infertility. The only way to get “fresh” air is to open a window (depending on where you live!). If you want to perfume your air, blending your own incense is best.


Gums and resins, like Frankincense, Copal and Myrrh, are produced from the sap of trees and shrubs. Gums are usually water soluble whereas resins aren’t. They are gathered as liquid sap and hardened into dry crystals. These can be blended with other ingredients; herbs, spices, sawdust and essential oils to make Incense to burnt on charcoal or fires.

To get started you will need some ingredients, charcoal discs and some basic equipment, most of which you will probably have or can improvise. A pestle and mortar is useful to grind the ingredients, mixing bowls, spoons, scissors, tongs and something to burn the incense in, known as a censer or thurible.

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You can buy ornate censers, some hang on chains, or you can use any fireproof container that allows air to circulate. A simple open metal dish, like a Balti dish is fine, but it will get very hot so protect the surface it sits on. You can put a layer of sand or ash in the bowl under the charcoal to help dissipate the heat. A notebook is useful to record your recipes.


You can use a single resin, or blend several ingredients together and grind them in a pestle and mortar. The table below gives an introduction to the more popular resins and gums.  It is best to mix them with dried herbs and ingredients as they tend to go out when burnt on their own.


Sweet, woody, aroma with notes of lemon and pine.

Good base resin for blends. Calming, comforting and uplifting. Used to dispel negativity and enhance spirituality


Sweet, warm, spicy aroma with a hint of camphor. Purifies and cleanses. Attracts prosperity

Copal resin

Fresh, lively, fruity aroma. Good in blends. For protection, strength and purification. Attracts love and banishes negativity

Benzoin Gum

Sweet, slightly vanilla scent, best used as a base for blending. Restores emotional balance and lifts the spirit.

Dammar Gun

Light, citrus aroma. Brings enlightenment and lifts the mood.

Pine Lump Resin

Piney, citrus fresh aroma. Cleansing and healing. Brings courage and prosperity. May cause skin irritation in some, so handle with care

Other ingredients to add are dried herbs and spices that you probably have in your store cupboard or dried foraged material. Dried ingredients help incense stay alight as well as adding perfume.  For example: Star Anise (sweet and fiery), Bay Leaves (good to burn with a heartening aroma), Cardamom pods (sweet, citrus), Cinnamon (warm and spicy), Juniper Berries (piney, warm delicious) Lavender flowers (cool, floral), Rosemary (warm and refreshing). Sawdust from oak or pine can be incorporated, which may help the burn, along with a few drops of essential oils. So called “perfume” oils should be avoided as they often contain petroleum based chemicals. You can experiment with aromas by burning a pinch of individual herbs individually.

Place a self-igniting charcoal disc in a censer or fire-proof container, well away from flammable objects. Light the charcoal disc by holding a match, candle or lighter to the edge. The disc will spit and sparkle on ignition. Some people like to open the window while the charcoal is igniting as it gives off quite a bit of smoke. The charcoal will slowly start to glow red, usually first on one side. When the entire disc is glowing red hot, and covered in a white ash (like barbeque charcoal)  it is ready to use Place a little pinch of incense directly on top or add a pinch of salt first. You may occasionally want to scrape off the ashes to expose the glowing centre and add fresh incense.

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Incense keeps well in a sealed container, in a cool and dark place. Charcoal discs absorb moisture from the air. Once the packet has been opened, keep it in an airtight container to preserve its self-igniting properties.

And now the common sense bit!  Keep incense and charcoal out of pet’s and children’s reach. Charcoal discs are highly flammable. PLEASE BE CAREFUL when igniting your charcoal, do not hold the disc in your hand or leave unattended. Once the disc has been lit do not touch it, as it will cause a burn. Make sure your incense dish is fire proof and does not conduct heat to the surface on which it stands. Glass will break. Dispose of the ashes when cool, they can be composted.

Some recipes to try, with suggested proportions by weight, make small quantities while you are experimenting … just a teaspoonful goes a long way. Or you can purchase gums, resins and “magical blends” of herbs ready mixed from me

House Cleansing Incense

For a new home or spring clean.
2 part Frankincense
1 part Myrrh
1 part Hyssop
1 part Basil

1 part Rosemary
2 parts Lavender

Happiness Incense

3 parts Dammar

1 part Marjoram

1 part Cardamom

½ part Lavender

Dreamy Sleep Incense

4 parts Myrrh

1 part Benzoin

1 part Mugwort

 ½ part Lavender

Prosperity Incense

2 parts Frankincense
1 Part Cinnamon
1 Part Nutmeg
1 part Lemon Balm
1 Part Lemon Peel

Love Incense

1 part copal

1 part Rose petals

1 part Lavender

2 parts Catnip

few drops of patchouli oil

Have fun



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