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How To Create Your Own Incense
For centuries cultures around the world have used incense to appease and honor the Divine being in their culture. It is a practice seen in every religion and in every region of the world.
Ancient writings provide insight into how religions and cultures of old used the aroma of burning herbs, flowers, tree leaves and other natural sources in their spiritual practices. We can learn from the Hebrew and Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, Native American cultures and more about these types of ritualistic observances. All these cultures from around the world had access to various plants from which to develop a recipe for pleasing the nose and mind.
Today you can find thousands of books and resources giving guidance and direction for the use of herbs and oils to make soaps and creams for holistic purposes. You can find resources for using leaves of various plants to create medicinal teas. And countless how to reference books for creating your own incense or for use in aromatherapy practices.
According to Kylie Thompson (2006), one of the oldest surviving texts, (the Ebers Papyrus 2000 BC), defines a list of medicinal herbs in use around 1800 BC. From ancient texts like these, and Egyptian Hieroglyphs we know that burning incense was a big part of this early cultures spiritual life. Priests are depicted burning incense on street corners during festivals to appease the Gods. Writings from Egypt and Rome indicate that a healer would burn incense to cast out demons from an ill patent. Incense was always kept burning within temples to honor the gods and goddesses.
Gather Together:
Dried Herbs, Flowers, Plants
Mortar and Pestle
Bamboo Sticks
Cotton String
Step 1:
Harvesting Herbs, Flowers & Plants:
There are various rules of thumb for harvesting materials to create incense. Ellen Evert Hopman (1995) provides an excellent guideline in her book "A Druid's Herbal". Such as picking tree leaves before midsummer to avoid the high concentration of natures own insecticide in the trees. Picking leaves and flower pedals on a dry day.
For flowers the pedals should be taken just as the bloom begins to open. Small amounts of roots are gathered in the early spring when they can do little damage to a plant that has started to show signs of coming out of it's winter sleep. Or in late fall, just as the plant is about to enter it's sleep for the cold snowy months. And tree bark is harvested in small amounts during the summer and late fall, so as not to cause infestation and disease to the tree. The medicinal component of the bark is held in the soft cambium layer between the sap and the dead hard outer shell. My Cherokee teachers always taught me that herbs, such as sage, must be gathered in late afternoon when they have dried under the Sun from the evening mist or morning dew.
Step 2:
Drying Your Harvest:
Drying your harvest of herbs and plants is the second key step. To ensure bacteria does not develop on your stash, they should be laid out on a cotton cloth, old newspaper, an old window screen that has been laid flat and raised on boards, or a crossed wooden lattice or fence that will allow air to pass through the plants and leaves. And of course this area should be kept in a dry, lightly shaded place.
Each plant has its own length of drying time.
Flower pedals and leaves do not require the same long periods of drying time as cambium will require, as an example. Once an item has been dried, it can be used for burning in the creation of an incense and smudge stick or it can be used as a non-burning incense in various types of sachets.
Step 3:
Choosing Plants For Your Incense:
Choosing the mixtures to use is up to the individual. What smells great to one person may not be appealing to someone else. Sage and Cedar are a common mixture that complements each other. Lavender and chamomile is another complementary mixture. Smell each one in it's raw form to ensure it will compliment any other plants chosen to use in the mixture.
Once the ingredients have been selected, they can be twisted into a smudge stick, crushed by hand for a sachet or ground into a fine powder for combustible or non-combustible incense. Some people believe that simply crushing a leaf and gluing it to a stick with resin will create burning incense. That's not the case. Scott Cunningham (1998) has one of the best descriptions about combustible or non-combustible incense in The Complete Book Of Incense, Oils and Brews.
Step 4:
Making Incense Sticks:
Once you have selected the mixture you want to use, crush them by hand into a mortar. Use a pestle to crush the mixture further until it becomes a fine powder. Any pieces that don't seem to crush, should be removed.
There are many types of sticks to use as a base for an incense stick. But the most common base is a sliver of bamboo. Drive around your neighborhood and find someone who has bamboo growing in the yard. You're bound to find it. Knock on the door and ask your neighbor if you can take a stake or two that have fallen on the ground. These must be dried just like the other components of incense. But once dried they can be easily cut into small thin sticks.
Additionally there are many resins that can be used to glue the incense powder to the bamboo sticks. Mucilage or gum tragacanth glue are the common basic ingredients of all molded incense. But other natural resins can be used. The stick is coated with the resin, and then rolled into the chosen powder mix.
Or you can mix the resin and powder together and fashion it into a small mold to create a solid incense piece. In either case, the newly molded incense is set aside and allowed to dry for at least 24 hours before use.
Step 5:
Making Smudge Sticks:
Smudge Sticks are probably the easiest way to make an incense. Once you have selected the mixture you desire, choose a few dried sticks that when held make about a 1-inch diameter stash. Use a cotton string and tightly tie the stash into a stick.
For More Information:
The History Of Incense (PDF)
Botanical's - Making Incense
Additional Tips:
· Once you have ignited your incense, allow the flame to burn for about 30-seconds. Then blow out the flames and allow the incense to smolder.
· Incense sticks will burn until they have been completely used up.
· Smudge sticks will burn for 2 to 3 hours. The burning time depends on the type of plants used to make the smudge.
· To extinguish an incense or smudge stick, turn it upside down and tap the smoldering end on a non-flammable surface.
Be Careful:
· NEVER use water to extinguish a incense or smudge stick.
· When choosing a cotton string for tying your smudge stuck, make sure any dyes used are not toxic when burned. Natural dyes, such as soaking white cotton string in raspberry juice is an excellent choice.
Created: 10.05.2008       Updated: 10.05.2008
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