I go through a lot of incense, because it is one of the offerings I use on my ancestor altar daily. I like the daily habit of sharing pleasant smelling plant material with my people and seeing the aromatic smoke swirling upwards with my prayers and blessings with it. Incenses have been used throughout the world’s religions since ancient times and were considered offerings to the gods. Incense is also used to purify spaces and protect people and places.
Occasionally I will find some beautiful smelling handmade incense to buy but usually I make my own.
I make two kinds of incense: Loose incense to burn on charcoal tablets (loose incense) and cone incense that burn on their own and that are formed from a dough of powdered plant materials.
What you will need to make your own incense
- Plant material: I harvest as much organic plant material as I can that grows around me. Aromatic plant material can also be grown in the garden or indoors and exotic resins and plants can be bought from herb suppliers or bought on travels to foreign lands. However, I must say that many of the resins, such as frankincense, are becoming more and more endangered, so I recommend that you buy from companies that can verify how the resins are obtained. I also recommend that you use them sparingly as they are very precious.
The plant material that can be used include:
- Wild plants and shrubs: Obviously these will differ depending on where you live, those that grow near me include, sagebrush, chamisa (rabbit brush), yarrow, mullein and others.
- Tree material: These include resins, aromatic barks, conifer needles, juniper berries, cedar shavings and others.
- Aromatic roots: We have osha root here, but it is very sacred, and I use it very sparingly. Remember that when harvesting any roots, the whole plant is being sacrificed.
- Homegrown aromatic plants: Lavender, rosemary, tulsi, rue, lemon balm, lemon grass, hyssop, sage, bay, tansy and others.
- Home-dried citrus peels
- Essential oils
- A binding agent: This will only be needed if you are making the self-burning cones. My advice is don’t use too much resin in the cones as it prevents them from burning well. As binders you can use marshmallow root, gum arabic, guar gum, agar-agar, xanthan gum and others.
Making loose incense
For loose incense, I blend a mixture of aromatic plant material and resins, depending on the intention I have for the incense. I will test small amounts and adjust quantities until I have what I want. I aim to retain some of the original plant form, so I use a pestle and mortar to grind the material. Take care not to over-grind. I do not want powder dust for this incense. If I have decided to add a few drops of essential oil (usually I do not see the need) I add them once the plant materials have been blended. I like using the conifer resins that I harvest around where I live for many of my blends. Because the resin that is soft, I have found that putting it in the freezer before grinding hardens it so it can be ground more easily.
Recipe for Ancestral Incense
2 tablespoons of sagebrush
3 tablespoons of pine resin
1 tablespoon of sandalwood shavings
2 tablespoons of juniper needles and berries
1/2 tablespoon of frankincense resin
These can be bought online. I did quite a lot of research to find the cleanest. I bought some coconut charcoal tablets, because they had no activator and are very clean burning. However, I found that they are impossible to light, which is a problem. I therefore gave up on them and went back to premium quality, hard wood charcoal tablets with activator. Never leave charcoal tablets or any other open flame unattended.
Making Incense Cones
You need finely powdered plant materials to make the cones. I use a small electric coffee grinder, which grinds the material quickly and finely. I grind the material of each chosen plant separately before blending. The mistake I made with my first cones was to add too much of the resin I had collected. I found out at the end that resins do not burn well on their own. They are great in the loose incense that are burnt on charcoal tablets but not in the self-burning cones.
A binding agent is needed for the cones to help bind the material together. I personally like marshmallow root, but any from the list above are possible.
- Grind the plants
- Blend them together with the binding agent
- Slowly add the water drop by drop – the aim is to make a crumbly dough-like mixture that can be pressed together to make the form, but that is not too watery.
- Form the shape of a small cone – I find it easiest to form the cones using the palm of my hand as a support.
- Place the cones on a tray with a sheet of baking paper
- Allow the cones to dry in a warm place thoroughly – this can take 3-4 days.
Recipe for Ancestral incense
2 tablespoons of Rosemary Powder
1 tablespoons of Tulsi Powder
2 tablespoons of Bay Laurel powder
1 tablespoon of Tansy or rue powder
1 tablespoon of Marshmallow root powder
Remember to use a fire-proof and heat-proof dish to burn the incense in!