MAKING INCENSE STICKS
First: when working with incenses/perfume/dyeing use utensils that you never
ever again use for cooking – some ingredients are not good to ingest
accidentally in your dinner later. Secondly: although I have not had a bad
reaction to any of the recipes given below, you, might indeed, so take care with
There are available in some supply shops pre-formed ‘punks’ which you can then
steep in the oil combination that you want, let dry and then burn. About 35
drops of oil (approximately 1 tsp/5ml) will soak between 3-8 sticks, depending
on how intense you want the scent to be. You will want to turn them so the oil
is not just soaked up on one side, but uniformly.
Basic recipe is to take some finely powdered sawdust, mix in something to help
it smolder a bit – often a resin or other chemical, some herbs or essential
oils, form it around a fine split piece of bamboo sliver, and let dry. Be
careful of some of the herbs that release small amounts of cyanide when burned,
like bay leaves, or any other toxic substance. Also usable for the sawdust are
powdered dried flower petals or other herbs.
Amounts of sawdust/gums/chemical/herbs/essential oils vary widely depending on what type of incense you are making. To make your own finger formed sticks you want a rather thick paste, but for ‘dipped’ sticks, you will want a much thinner semi liquid goop that you dip the stick into several times.
Since I don’t have access to sawdust as fine as I normally want, I went to the
kitchen spice bottles, and got dried cinnamon to use. Dried woody spices will
substitute nicely for the powdered sawdust – but – since they are not inert,
they -will- affect the use of the incense.
For instance, the following combination is thought by some to invoke the Goddess of the Greenwood if burned in the spring:
4 parts dried powdered violet leaves
2 parts dried honeysuckle flower petals
1 part fresh mint leaves
You are supposed to grind them together, and the liquid from the mint will bind
it together. (Since there is no wood in this, it works better as a loose incense
burned on charcoal, rather than formed into a stick, but I have done both.)
If I were to use dried cinnamon powder as a base, that would very much change
the character of the incense. It would smolder more evenly, but…..I have never
seen violet -leaf- essential oil, synthetic or otherwise commercially available
and that moist spring woodland scent would be lost in the heavy cinnamon base
One of the incenses to increase clairvoyance:
2 parts finely ground gum mastic
2 parts frankincense
3 parts ground cinnamon
2 parts dried lavender flowers
1 part gum arabic
assumes that you will heat the gum resins to the melting point in a -heavy-
ceramic vessel stirring constantly with a glass rod, remove them from the heat,
stir in the other ingredients, then when it is cool enough to touch, you will
form it onto the bamboo split. Take great care not to scorch or set aflame the
resin while melting it, and take care not to get it so hot that the stuff
splatters up at you while you are melting it: lower heat may take longer but is
a better choice.
The following incense that was thought to be attractive to the God of the
Greenwood in the autumn (traditionally burned out of doors) is also not a good
one to use cinnamon as a base for:
5 parts dried pine (not spruce or fir) needles gathered from a wild tree
2 parts white sandalwood powder
2 parts powdered Valerian root
1 part cinnamon
3 parts finely ground frankincense
1 part dried cedar bark
1 part dried oak leaves
3 parts dried oakmoss
Again, although you heat the resin until it is melted, and then mix the
ingredients together, the cinnamon is just a small part of the scent
combination. Using it as a base would make it the most pronounced scent and very much change the affect it had.
Many of the ‘oils’ on the market are synthetic in origin, and a good many have
been cut with alcohols. There are many folks who insist on only using the pure
essential oil from natural organic sources. This does seem to make a difference
to some folks, and not much of a one, or none at all to others. YMMV on this.
However, one of the techniques for using the gums is to steep them in an alcohol
base to turn them into a semi-glue like stuff, rather than heating them to the
melting point. If that is what you are doing, the alcohol base becomes useful:
you grind the gums into a fine powder, steep in the essential ‘oils’, then add
the sawdust/dried herbs and then form onto the stick.
One of the simplest incenses to make using this technique is thought to
stimulate the air element by some folks, but frankly, I find this more evocative
of the fire element than air:
3 parts finely ground gum mastic
1-2 parts cinnamon ‘oil’
dried cinnamon powder
Steep the gum in the oil in a tightly sealed glass container, shaking several
times a week until it is ‘melted’ and no lumps or grains are visible. Stir in
enough cinnamon bark to make a stiff paste, then form into cones or onto sticks.
Obviously, this could be used for a basic recipe for other incenses by
substituting the various ‘oils’, either individually or in combination, and
substituting other dried ingredients for the cinnamon – just remember that some
wood/bark will make the incense smolder at a more even rate than an incense
composed of just dried herbs and flower petals.
I steeped the resins in the God of the Greenwood incense above in alcohol based
vetivert ‘oil’ which allowed it to be very easily formed into sticks, although
it is quite stiff from all the other ingredients.
My suggestion is to make incense in the beginning with a single scent in it, and
observe your reaction to it. Then check what the books say – you may respond
differently to a substance than the folklore found there would suggest. After
you have an idea of how you respond, then you can begin working with various
combinations. After all, you may have an allergy to, say, carnations or -any-
other ingredient, including one of the resin gums.
There is another problem with incense recipe books. I have an interest in
gardening and botany. When I see a recipe that calls for Deer’s Tongue, I know
that it is actually calling for the roots/leaves/flowers of a European member of
the gentian family, not my locally available Frasera speciosa (I could –
possibly- substitute the local plant.) How many folks would be looking for a
hunter to bring them some tongue of a deer?
How many folks upon seeing an ingredient Khus Khus would go looking for the
couscous grain product in the kitchen, unaware that it refers to either the
essence of a particular musk deer’s glands or a relative of North American Sweet
Grass used by Native American bands/tribes?
There are other ingredients that are given ‘pet’ names, names that are not known
outside of a specific tradition, so even if you have a recipe, it may not be as
straight forward as it looks on the surface. I have seen numerous books that say
that ‘bay salt’ is sea salt, instead of salt that has had numerous fresh bay
laurel leaves stored in it in a tightly sealed container for several months
until the salt smells of bay leaves.
You need to do a bit of research in several areas before you begin making
incense from some of the traditional recipes if you want to avoid some of the
pitfalls – which in part explains why some groups don’t encourage exploration
into incense making by beginning students.