Make your own incense



Start making scents

Burning incense makes great sense. It's a natural, nontoxic air freshener that serves as a terrific alternative to today's aerosols, plug-ins and the like. And it has a great track record: people have been using it for thousands of years and for all sorts of reasons.

Incense is basically a mixture of herbs, woods and resins that can be powdered and then burned slowly for a fragrant effect. Ancient cultures burned it for ceremonies and worship. The Chinese and Japanese once burned it as a measurement of time, and today it's used in religious rituals worldwide. But mostly it just smells good.

We'll show you how to collect and prepare the ingredients needed for making incense, including a couple recipes to get you started. After that, it's up to you to experiment and create your own custom-made scents.

There are two types of incense, combustible and noncombustible. Combustible incense comes in cone, block or stick form, and is what most people are familiar with. Noncombustible incense is burned on a piece of charcoal (see Step 7).

We'll discuss both types, with a focus on combustible incense (which takes a few more steps, but is well worth the effort since it's so easy to use). The task may seem daunting the first time around, but the more you practice the easier it is to make.

Step 1

Learn2 Make Incense (Continued)

Collect your ingredients

You can find most incense ingredients in your kitchen or garden. Others are available at herb stores, drug stores, religious supply stores, health food stores, and bath and body shops. (Check the yellow pages under "incense" for local suppliers.) Popular choices include:


Woods:
• cedar
• juniper
• pine
• sandalwood

Resins:
• frankincense
• benzoin
• myrrh
• orris root

Herbs/gums:
• cinnamon
• thyme
• tragacanth or gum arabic (for molding combustible incense)

Liquids:
• essential oils
• a liquid such as honey, wine, sap or the like

The exact ingredients you'll need will depend on your recipe. Most recipes include a type of wood, a resin, fragrant herbs and a liquid. If you want to make combustible incense, your recipe needs to include tragacanth or gum arabic, which is used to mold the incense into specific shapes.

Buy at least two ounces (powdered) of each dry ingredient. Keep in mind that wood is used most often and in the largest quantity. Try to gather as many pre-powdered ingredients as you can, to save yourself time and effort.

Aside from the recipe ingredients, you'll need some saltpeter (for igniting the incense; ask for it at drug stores) and some charcoal tablets (available where incense ingredients are sold; don't use barbeque charcoal for this).

Once you've collected everything, grind each dry item (except the charcoal) that isn't already crushed into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle and electric coffee grinder. Woods and some resins won't powder as easily as others, but if you keep at it they'll eventually break down. Consider using the electric grinder for these items, then finish them off with the mortar and pestle (they will break down but not be completely powdered in the grinder). Use a knife to chop stubborn bits of stem and root if necessary. Once powdered, keep everything tightly sealed and labeled in plastic bags or glass jars.



Step 2

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Mix the noncombustible ingredients together

Noncombustible incense is basically a mixture of powdered herbs, resins and woods that can be burned on charcoal tablets or stirred in as the fragrance for a combustible mixture. The only difference between the two types is that noncombustible incense needs the charcoal to burn (you light the charcoal and then sprinkle the incense on top of it--see Step 7 for specific details), and combustible incense burns by itself (you can light it directly).

To create a noncombustible incense mixture, try one of these recipes:

Combine equal parts of powdered frankincense, cinnamon, and nutmeg

Combine one part each of nutmeg and cinnamon, and one-half part each of orange peel and lemon peel.
To try making your own recipes, see Step 7.

In a large bowl, mix a small amount of the ingredients for your chosen recipe together (say one part equals one tablespoon). You can always add more later. Once everything is combined, your noncombustible incense mixture is complete. You can skip to Step 7 if you don't want to make combustible incense. Otherwise, it's time to make the paste.

Step 3

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Make the combustible incense base

The following recipe will result in a basic, combustible incense mixture. If one part equals one tablespoon, you'll end up with enough incense mixture to create approximately 60-80 small cones.

Six parts powdered wood (sandlewood, cedar, pine, etc.)
Two parts powdered benzoin
One part ground orris root
A few drops essential oil or other liquid like wine, honey, etc.
Three to five parts noncombustible incense mixture

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together in the order given. Weigh the combined mixture with a kitchen scale.



Determine what ten percent of the total weight is, and add exactly that much saltpeter. (So if the mixture weighs ten grams, add one gram of saltpeter.) This measurement must be exact so the incense can burn properly. Mix in the saltpeter thoroughly.

Add the paste, one teaspoon or so at a time, and judge consistency. It should be dough-like, very similar to that of a pie crust (not too wet but moist enough so you can mold it with your hands).
Note: When creating combustible incense, the ratio of powdered woods to resin should be two to one. Your resin (benzoin, frankincense, myrrh, gums, saps, etc.) should never make up more than one-third of the final mixture.

Learn2 Make Incense (Continued)

Make the paste

Tragacanth or gum arabic is used to mold your mixture into sticks, cones, or blocks. Here's how to make them into a moldable paste (a paste you definitely don't want to eat!):

Place a tablespoon or so of the powdered gum into a medium-sized bowl and fill it with eight ounces of warm water. Whisk it until the gum is completely dissolved (this will take a few minutes), skimming off any foam that develops.

Let the dissolved gum absorb the water until it becomes a thick, gelatin-like paste.

Cover the bowl with a wet cloth and set it aside as it's thickening. The thickening process will take at least a couple hours. You can mix in more gum or water to adjust consistency as needed.

Step 4


Learn2 Make Incense (Continued)

Make the combustible incense base

The following recipe will result in a basic, combustible incense mixture. If one part equals one tablespoon, you'll end up with enough incense mixture to create approximately 60-80 small cones.

Six parts powdered wood (sandlewood, cedar, pine, etc.)
Two parts powdered benzoin
One part ground orris root
A few drops essential oil or other liquid like wine, honey, etc.
Three to five parts noncombustible incense mixture

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together in the order given. Weigh the combined mixture with a kitchen scale.



Determine what ten percent of the total weight is, and add exactly that much saltpeter. (So if the mixture weighs ten grams, add one gram of saltpeter.) This measurement must be exact so the incense can burn properly. Mix in the saltpeter thoroughly.

Add the paste, one teaspoon or so at a time, and judge consistency. It should be dough-like, very similar to that of a pie crust (not too wet but moist enough so you can mold it with your hands).
Note: When creating combustible incense, the ratio of powdered woods to resin should be two to one. Your resin (benzoin, frankincense, myrrh, gums, saps, etc.) should never make up more than one-third of the final mixture.

Learn2 Make Incense (Continued)

Mold the mixture into the desired shape

When your mixture has reached the desired consistency (again, similar to pie dough), it's ready to be molded into shapes. Cones and blocks are the easiest to mold. Sticks are much more difficult, especially if you don't have a special press (sold in craft stores). Try the cones and blocks first. Then when you decide you're an expert, move on to the sticks.

Cones: Roll the incense mixture into small, marble-sized balls with your hands, then shape them into one-inch long cones. Arrange them upright on a sheet of waxed paper and place them somewhere warm to dry. They'll take three to seven days to dry. During this time, turn them regularly so they dry evenly and don't crack.

Blocks: Shape incense into long strips approximately one-third of an inch in height and width, and then cut the strips into one-inch long rectangles. Use the same drying process as you would for cones (but the blocks can lay flat).

Sticks: Add more paste to the mixture until it's wet but still thick. If you don't have a special press (highly recommended), pat the dough on waxed paper until it's very thin; then place one stick at a time onto the dough and roll a thin coat around the stick (leaving a few inches on one end uncoated) until the coating is twice the thickness of the stick (no thicker). Squeeze or press the dough onto the stick so it will stay put. Place the uncoated end into some clay, sand or another substance that will allow it to stand upright to dry.

Burn it!



To burn cones, blocks, or sticks, place them one at a time in an incense burner or bowl half-filled with sand or salt. (For instructions on how to burn noncombustible incense, skip to Step 7.)

Light one end (for cones, place them point-up and light the pointed end) with a match or lighter, holding the flame against the tip of the incense until the incense catches fire. Let the flame burn for a few seconds, then blow it out gently.

The lit end of the incense will glow and begin releasing its aroma (and a small amount of continuous smoke). Each cone, block, or stick will burn for approximately ten to 25 minutes.

Soon after the incense is lit, the surrounding air just may seem heaven scent.

Step 7

Experiment with your own recipes

You can create your own noncombustible recipes and use charcoal tablets as a guide to test the scent. As mentioned previously, noncombustible incense can be burned by itself (on lit charcoal) if you don't have time, or if you find it too difficult to create cones or sticks.

To light the charcoal, pick it up with the tweezers or tongs and hold it over a candle flame (it will spark at first, so be careful) until white spots begin to appear. You can also blow on it to see if it's lit (the spots will glow orange when you blow). Place the lit charcoal in a bowl or large, thick shell that's half-filled with sand or salt. Wait until it's burning evenly and is no longer crackling before putting any ingredients on it.

Sprinkle a small amount of each herb, wood or oil onto the lit tablet to test the scent. Make notes regarding what you like and what works well together. Many things will smell different when they're burning than when they're not.

Eventually you'll end up with a custom incense recipe book.

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