Descriptive List of Incense and Fragrance including History and How to Use

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jhghAloeswood: The unique, spicy, sweet, wood scent found in the base of fine Japanese incense available in pieces and powder.

Amazonian Breuzinho: A sweet, floral fragrance of the Brazilian Amazon.

Amber: This fragrance was used as medicine to treat hysteric and hypochondriac cases. Roman women wore amber amulets to protect against witchcraft.

Dark Amber: A rich, slightly sweeter, warm powdery fragrance – softer to the touch.

Honey Amber: A light, warm, sweet and powdery fragrance.

Arabian Frankincense: A fresh, lemon, citrus scent. It protects the living from evil, disease and spirits of the night. It slows down and deepens the breath which is useful in prayer and meditation, and combats depression, confusion & irritability.

Basilica: An orange citrus smell similar to frankincense. This is an aroma that is similar to that used in church ceremonies.

Benzoin: Energizing, uplifting, stimulating. It is known to ‘melt away’ blockages and drive away evil spirits. It wars and tones the heart, both physically and metaphorically.

Benzoin Gum Powder: It has a sweet, almost musky aroma.

Benzoin Siam: Strong, almost acrid, but similar to sumarta. It blends well with other resins.

Benzoin Sumatra: The sweet, fresh, green floral scent of pine.

Cedarwood: The wonderful aroma of cedarwood. It has long been used to treat respiratory ailments, nervous tension and stress related disorders. It is still often used as an insect and vermin repellent.

The Church Blends: What we call those blends that combine frankincense and myrrh with other resins to produce a particular aroma.

Cathedral Blend: Cedar highlights this blend.

Celtic Blend: Lavender buds add to this blend giving a sharp note to the sweetness.

Christmas Blend: A citrus fresh (frankincense) and herbal strong (myrrh) blend.

Ebony Mishmash: A sweet blend with a hint of orange.

Pontifical: A rich blend of frankincense, myrrh, benzoin siam and lemon citrus notes.

Copal: It purifies and protects and is offered to the souls of deceased during “Day of the Dead” celebrations. It is still used in dentistry.

Aztec Copal: A grassy, licorice-like aroma.

Golden Copal: A rich, earthy, spicy aroma

Manilla Copal: A clean, mild, slight turpentine aroma.

Mayan Copal: Clean, slightly herbal and citrus

White Copal: A fragrance similar to an herbally, sweet myrrh. It is the cleanest and purist of copals.

Desert Sage: A dry, strong, herbal aroma that varies with location, altitude and seasons. Sage is traditionally burned to drive out bad spirits, feelings or influences. The leaves may be used as a natural moth repellent.

Dragon’s Blood: A semi-sweet, mildly spicy, floral aroma available in powder and pieces. It is thought to have aphrodisiac properties and has been used in incantations to bring back loved ones.

Eucalyptus: A grassy, spicy, intense but herbal aroma traditionally used for perfuming linen cupboards. A good insect repellent used in making citronella. It has also been used medicinally to treat respiratory ailments.

Forest Blend: A light, sweet, pine aroma that brings back memories of nights in the woods.

Frankincense & Myrrh: A bit of myrrh is detectable through the pervasive frankincense aroma.

French Lavender: The sweet, strong aroma of lavender, long used throughout the world to treat depression, headaches, hypertension and other stress-related disorders. It is believed that the scent of lavender is important when invoking prayers for beauty and balance.

Gardenia: A soft floral scented with gardenia oil. Gardenia is known as an aphrodisiac and for love.

Gloria Blend: A sweet, dry, candy-like, strong perfume with a hint of frankincense.

Gum Arabic Powder: A sweet, vanilla like aroma used in making scents, beads and adhesives.

Gum Mastic: An earthy, clean, strong herbal aroma, often used in the making of other incenses.

Gum Sandarac: An exotic, clean, fresh lemon aroma. An inexpensive substitute for gum mastic.

Indian Incenses: Diverse as they are, fall into several distinct categories. In our descriptions below, we have prefaced each listing with a word that connotes the basic nature of each incense (Masala, Charcoal, Durbars, Combination, Woodbase & Dhoops).

Masala is the Indian word for a blend of spices and/or herbs, such as those used in making curies or other food dishes. Masala incenses are made by blending a number of solid ingredients into a paste and then rolling that paste onto a bamboo core stick. They usually do not contain liquid perfumes which can evaporate.

Charcoal is integral in the manufacturing of a blank (non-perfumed) stick which is then dippd into a mixture of perfumes and essential oils. Charcoal blanks usually contain sandalwood powder, a resin and possibly other substances. Most “charcoal” incenses are black or near black in color, and are distinctive because they are rich in fine liquid perfumes.

Durbars (and Champas) are wet-process incenses which frequently contain ingredients entirely unfamiliar in the West. They are usually very slow burning and quite sweet and spicy in bouquet. They can amalgamate solid and liquid perfumes in a gummy base which never quite dries out, making the sticks themselves soft to the touch. All are highly fragranced.

Combination incenses are those which we have found to have the qualities of both the Masala and Charcoal types. It is possible to make a masala incense and then dip it into liquid perfumes, producing a very colorful and rich bouquet. These incenses usually have a great deal of depth and leave a lingering after-fragrance once burned.

Woodbase incenses, including many Ambers, contain little more than powdered or shaved wood plus a resinous or solid perfume. They are really masalas but since the woodiness is so distinct in most cases, we have put them into a separate category.

Dhoops are masala incenses in thick, long-burning form, or in bulk as powders or mixtures of various substances. A dhoop makes lots of smoke if burned quickly, or lasts and lasts if burned slowly. The most well-known, Chandan Dhoop, is pure sandalwood made into a little log.

Lemongrass: A citrus grass fragrance long used in India as a sedative, medicine for infectious disease, insecticide and food flavoring.

Magic Temple: A spicy, sweet, exotic aroma with a hint of cinnamon.

Myrrh, Ethiopian: An earthy, woody, mildly sweet resin. It produces a high spiritual vibration conducive for prayer and meditation. It was also used in embalming and medicine.

Patchouli Herb: The plant used to produce the oil that smells very herbal with a sweet note while being burned. Patchouli has been used as an aphrodisiac, a mental stimulant and a rejuvenator.

Peppermint, Egyptian: A sweet mint combines with a smoking aroma

Pińon: A sweet, clean, forest essence of the classic pińon tree. A staple of southwestern Native Americans, it was burned for its aromatic fragrances and has protective powers.

Queen of Heaven: A sweet lotus floral aroma. Lotus is associated with health, blessing, abundance and good fortune.

Red Sandalwood: A sweet, woody smell, unlike sandalwood but reminiscent of the Redwood forest.

Red Willow Bark: Long used by Native Americans in purifying ceremonies. It gives off a sweet woodsy aroma.

Rose: Long associated with love, rose can be useful in relieving anger, grief, or jealousy.

Damascus Rose: A fresh, sweet rose scent.

Moroccan Rose Buds: Actual rosebuds that smell wonderful just as they are.

Rosemary: A wonderful, clean, purifying herbal aroma.

Sandalwood: The sweet, buttery, wonderful scent of sandalwood oil, available in both powder and chips. It is spiritually uplifting and is considered sacred. It combats depression, insomnia and stress-related complaints and is used to recollect past lifetimes.

Senegal Blend: An exotic, spicy, sweet, herbal aroma from Africa. It as a scent similar to Thiouraye, an oil known for its aphrodisiac qualities.

Sweetgrass: A unique, grassy, green, fresh aroma from the marshes of the northern Rockies. It is often used to begin ceremonies since it attracts positive energies. It is used to clear objects, places and people.

White Sage: A clean, dry, strong, herbal fragrance of the high desert. The leaves may be burned to clear a space of negative influences and promote calmness. The leaves may be brewed into a tea and may be chewed as a natural breath freshener.

Yerba Santa Leaf: A cleansing aroma that is reminiscent of campfires in Autumn. I was known as the “Holy Herb” to native Californians and used to treat asthma, allergies and cold symptoms.

History and How to Use 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 means “to burn,” and “perfume” which means “through the smoke,” are interchanageable. The ancients believed that a soul dwelled in every object and that the souls of essences of objects could be released through burning. The ceremonial use of incense is still practiced by many cultures today much the same way as their ancestors.

Incense is available in sticks and in various resins, pieces and powders. The incenses from India are characterized by highly scented aromas. The incense sticks often have a core of wood (often a bamboo stick) coated with the incense flavor but also are made using a charcoal base or soft rolled without a stick. Incense sticks from Japan have a soft, refined aroma suitable for small rooms and enclosed spaces. The Japanese incense is usually formed without a wood or stick core. Tibetan stick incense is similar in making to Japanese incense being formed without a wood or stick core but much thicker. Tibetan incense has a complex, deep and earthy aroma.

A large variety of stick incense holders are available, from thimble size with one hole for one stick, to larger holders with multiple holes. Many people prefer to use a burner bowl lined with sand or gravel.

Resins, pieces and powders are burnt by using a burner bowl or censer along with a source of heat. Many people use self-starting charcoal but a heated pan may be also used. The trick to using this type of incense is discovering the right amount of heat for the botanical or blend of botanicals to achieve the incense effect. Overheating the material will create the undesirable effect of scorching it, or worse, setting it on fire.

Whatever burner bowl or censor is used, it is recommended that the inside of the burner be insulated with stones, ceramic pieces or sand. In addition, all burners should also be insulated from the outside by placing it on a burn-proof surface. Use any safety precautions that are normally considered when fire and hear are involved.

The most common and recommended charcoal for incense use is self igniting. 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 for a moment. Upon ignition, immediately place it in your burner. The tablet will then light across the surface. When the charcoal is glowing red and covered with a fine white ash, it will be ready for use (between 5 and 10 minutes). The charcoal will stay hot enough to burn incense for up to an hour.

The particles of raw incense may be placed directly on the hot charcoal. If one wants to burn more than one type of raw incense or change incense frequently, it is best to use aluminum foil between the charcoal and the material to be incensed. Otherwise the melted resin penetrates the hot charcoal and the burner bowl and mixes with the next kind of incense.

To use aluminum foil, form a cup approximately the same size as the charcoal, leaving a quarter inch lip. 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 might burn the skin if it comes in contact with it. Also, only use the aluminum foil cup on a non-flammable surface.

Raw incense comes in the following forms:

  1. Resin comes in three principal categories:
    Oleo resins are sticky, semisolids that contain essential oils. They include balsam, dragon’s blood and turpentine.
    Hard resigns 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 a 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.