Incense

Incense

Overview
Incense is composed of aromatic biotic
Biotic material
Biotic material or biological derived material is any natural material that is originated from living organisms. Most such materials contain carbon and are capable of decay....

 materials, which release fragrant smoke when burned. The term "incense" refers to the substance itself, rather than to the odor that it produces. It is used in religious ceremonies, ritual purification
Ritual purification
Ritual purification is a feature of many religions. The aim of these rituals is to remove specifically defined uncleanliness prior to a particular type of activity, and especially prior to the worship of a deity...

, aromatherapy
Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person's mind, mood, cognitive function or health....

, meditation
Meditation
Meditation is any form of a family of practices in which practitioners train their minds or self-induce a mode of consciousness to realize some benefit....

, for creating a mood, and for masking unpleasant odors. The use of incense may have originated in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, where the gum resins and oleo gum resins of aromatic trees were imported from the Arabian and Somali
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 coasts to be used in religious ceremonies.

Incense is composed of aromatic plant materials, often combined with essential oil
Essential oil
An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the "oil of" the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove...

s.
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Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Incense is composed of aromatic biotic
Biotic material
Biotic material or biological derived material is any natural material that is originated from living organisms. Most such materials contain carbon and are capable of decay....

 materials, which release fragrant smoke when burned. The term "incense" refers to the substance itself, rather than to the odor that it produces. It is used in religious ceremonies, ritual purification
Ritual purification
Ritual purification is a feature of many religions. The aim of these rituals is to remove specifically defined uncleanliness prior to a particular type of activity, and especially prior to the worship of a deity...

, aromatherapy
Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person's mind, mood, cognitive function or health....

, meditation
Meditation
Meditation is any form of a family of practices in which practitioners train their minds or self-induce a mode of consciousness to realize some benefit....

, for creating a mood, and for masking unpleasant odors. The use of incense may have originated in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, where the gum resins and oleo gum resins of aromatic trees were imported from the Arabian and Somali
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 coasts to be used in religious ceremonies.

Incense is composed of aromatic plant materials, often combined with essential oil
Essential oil
An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the "oil of" the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove...

s. The forms taken by incense differ with the underlying culture, and have changed with advances in technology and increasing diversity in the reasons for burning it. Incense can generally be separated into two main types: "indirect-burning" and "direct-burning." Indirect-burning incense (or "non-combustible incense") is not capable of burning on its own, and requires a separate heat source. Direct-burning incense (or "combustible incense") is lit directly by a flame and then fanned or blown out, leaving a glowing ember that smoulders and releases fragrance. Direct-burning incense comes in several forms, including incense sticks (or "joss sticks"), cones, and pyramids.

History



The use of incense dates back to ancient times but the origin is uncertain. It may have originated in Sumer
Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

ian and Babylonian cultures, where the gum - resins of aromatic trees were imported from the Arabian and Somali
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 coasts to be used in religious ceremonies. It was also used by the Pharaoh
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

s, not only to counteract unpleasant odours, but also to drive away demons and gratify the presence of the gods. Resin balls were found in many preistoric Egyptian tombs in El Mahasna. The oldest incense burner found dating back the 5th dynasty
Fifth dynasty of Egypt
The fifth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and VI under the group title the Old Kingdom. Dynasty V dates approximately from 2494 to 2345 BC.-Rulers:...

.

Some of the oldest references of incense appear to be within the Vedas (ancient Hindu texts) themselves, especially the Atharva Veda, indicating that the use of incense is quite old, dating back at least 3500 years and more likely closer to 6000 to 8500 years old at a minimum.

The Babylonians used incense while offering prayers to divining oracle
Oracle
In Classical Antiquity, an oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination....

s. Incense spread from there to Greece and Rome.

The Indus Civilization used incense burners. Evidence suggests oils were used mainly for their aroma. Incense was used by Chinese cultures from Neolithic times and became more widespread in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Incense usage reached its peak during the Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

 with numerous buildings erected specifically for incense ceremonies. Brought to Japan in the 6th century by Korean Buddhist monks
Bhikkhu
A Bhikkhu or Bhikṣu is an ordained male Buddhist monastic. A female monastic is called a Bhikkhuni Nepali: ). The life of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis is governed by a set of rules called the patimokkha within the vinaya's framework of monastic discipline...

, who used the mystical aromas in their purification rites, the delicate scents of Koh (high-quality Japanese incense) became a source of amusement and entertainment with nobles in the Imperial Court during the Heian Era
Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...

 200 years later.

During the 14th century Shogun
Shogun
A was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan from 1192 to 1867. In this period, the shoguns, or their shikken regents , were the de facto rulers of Japan though they were nominally appointed by the emperor...

ate, a samurai
Samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

 warrior might perfume his helmet and armor with incense to achieve an aura of invincibility (as well as to make a noble gesture to whomever might take his head in battle). It wasn't until the Muromachi Era
Muromachi period
The is a division of Japanese history running from approximately 1336 to 1573. The period marks the governance of the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate, which was officially established in 1338 by the first Muromachi shogun, Ashikaga Takauji, two years after the brief Kemmu restoration of imperial...

 during the 15th and 16th century that incense appreciation (Kōdō
Kodo
-In Japan:* The kōdō, Japanese incense ceremony.* Kodo , a taiko drumming group based in Japan.* The Kodo Group, a yakuza criminal organization...

) spread to the upper and middle classes of Japanese society.

Composition



Throughout history, a wide variety of materials have been used in making incense. Historically there has been a preference for using locally available ingredients. For example, sage and cedar were used by the indigenous peoples of North America. This was a preference, and ancient trading in incense materials from one area to another comprised a major part of commerce along the Silk Road
Silk Road
The Silk Road or Silk Route refers to a historical network of interlinking trade routes across the Afro-Eurasian landmass that connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world, as well as parts of North and East Africa...

 and other trade routes, one notably called the Incense Route.

The same could be said for the techniques used to make incense. Local knowledge and tools were extremely influential on the style, but methods were also influenced by migrations of foreigners, among them clergy and physicians who were both familiar with incense arts.

Natural solid aromatics


The following fragrance materials can be employed in either direct- or indirect-burning incense. They are commonly used in religious ceremonies, and many of them are considered quite valuable. Essential oils or other extracted fractions of these materials may also be isolated and used to make incense. The resulting incense is sometimes considered to lack the aromatic complexity or authenticity of incense made from raw materials not infused or fortified with extracts.


Woods and barks
  • Aloeswood
  • Cedar
  • Sandalwood
    Sandalwood
    Sandalwood is the name of a class of fragrant woods from trees in the genus Santalum. The woods are heavy, yellow, and fine-grained, and unlike many other aromatic woods they retain their fragrance for decades. As well as using the harvested and cut wood in-situ, essential oils are also extracted...

  • Cypress
    Cupressaceae
    The Cupressaceae or cypress family is a conifer family with worldwide distribution. The family includes 27 to 30 genera , which include the junipers and redwoods, with about 130-140 species in total. They are monoecious, subdioecious or dioecious trees and shrubs from 1-116 m tall...

  • Juniper
    Juniper
    Junipers are coniferous plants in the genus Juniperus of the cypress family Cupressaceae. Depending on taxonomic viewpoint, there are between 50-67 species of juniper, widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere, from the Arctic, south to tropical Africa in the Old World, and to the...

  • Cassia
  • Cinnamon


Seeds and fruits
  • Coriander
    Coriander
    Coriander is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Coriander is native to southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. It is a soft, hairless plant growing to tall. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the...

  • Cardamom
    Cardamom
    Cardamom refers to several plants of the genera Elettaria and Amomum in the ginger family Zingiberaceae. Both genera are native to India and Bhutan; they are recognised by their small seed pod, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin papery outer shell and small black seeds...

  • Juniper
    Juniper
    Junipers are coniferous plants in the genus Juniperus of the cypress family Cupressaceae. Depending on taxonomic viewpoint, there are between 50-67 species of juniper, widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere, from the Arctic, south to tropical Africa in the Old World, and to the...

  • Nutmeg
    Nutmeg
    The nutmeg tree is any of several species of trees in genus Myristica. The most important commercial species is Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas of Indonesia...

  • Star anise
    Star anise
    Illicium verum, commonly called Star anise, star aniseed, or Chinese star anise, is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavor, obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of Illicium verum, a small native evergreen tree of northeast Vietnam and southwest China...

  • Vanilla
    Vanilla
    Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, Flat-leaved Vanilla . The word vanilla derives from the Spanish word "", little pod...


Resins and gums
  • Amber
    Amber
    Amber is fossilized tree resin , which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents...

  • Bdellium
    Bdellium
    Bdellium is an aromatic gum like myrrh that is exuded from a tree. A medieval Arab writer first made the identification with gum guggul, the species Commiphora wightii, although "bdellium" has also been used to identify the African species C. africana and at least one other Indian species, C....

  • Benzoin
    Benzoin resin
    Benzoin resin or styrax resin is a balsamic resin obtained from the bark of several species of trees in the genus Styrax. It is used in perfumes, some kinds of incense, as a flavoring, and medicine . Its principal component is benzoic acid...

  • Kauri Gum
  • Copal
    Copal
    Copal is a name given to tree resin that is particularly identified with the aromatic resins used by the cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica as ceremonially burned incense and other purposes...

  • Frankincense
    Frankincense
    Frankincense, also called olibanum , is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly Boswellia sacra, B. carteri, B. thurifera, B. frereana, and B. bhaw-dajiana...

  • Myrrh
    Myrrh
    Myrrh is the aromatic oleoresin of a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora, which grow in dry, stony soil. An oleoresin is a natural blend of an essential oil and a resin. Myrrh resin is a natural gum....

  • Labdanum
    Labdanum
    Labdanum is a sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs Cistus ladanifer and Cistus creticus , species of rockrose. It has a long history of use in herbal medicine and as a perfume ingredient.-History:...

  • Dragon's blood (a plant resin)
    Dragon's blood
    Dragon's blood is a bright red resin that is obtained from different species of a number of distinct plant genera: Croton, Dracaena, Daemonorops, Calamus rotang and Pterocarpus. The red resin was used in ancient times as varnish, medicine, incense, and dye...

  • Mastic (plant resin)
    Mastic (plant resin)
    Mastic is a resin obtained from the mastic tree . In pharmacies and Nature shops it is called "arabic gum" and "Yemen gum". In Greece it is known as the "tears of Chios," being traditionally produced on that Greek island, and, like other natural resins is produced in "tears" or droplets...

  • Storax
    Storax
    Storax is also a name for trees in the genus StyraxStorax is the resinous exudate of the tree Liquidambar orientalis , occasionally used in incense or as an aromatic fixative in perfumery....

  • Galbanum
    Galbanum
    Galbanum is an aromatic gum resin, the product of certain umbelliferous Persian plant species, chiefly Ferula gummosa and Ferula rubricaulis. Galbanum-yielding plants grow plentifully on the slopes of the mountain ranges of northern Iran...

  • Elemi
    Elemi
    Canarium luzonicum, commonly known as elemi, is a tree native to the Philippines, and an oleoresin harvested from it.-Uses:Elemi resin is a pale yellow substance, of honey-like consistency. Aromatic elemi oil is steam distilled from the resin. It is a fragrant resin with a sharp pine and lemon-like...

  • Camphor
    Camphor
    Camphor is a waxy, white or transparent solid with a strong, aromatic odor. It is a terpenoid with the chemical formula C10H16O. It is found in wood of the camphor laurel , a large evergreen tree found in Asia and also of Dryobalanops aromatica, a giant of the Bornean forests...

  • Sandarac
    Sandarac
    Sandarac is a resin obtained from the small cypress-like tree Tetraclinis articulata. The tree is native to the northwest of Africa with a notable presence in the Southern Morocco part of the Atlas mountains. The resin exudes naturally on the stems of the tree. It is also gotten by making cuts on...

  • Guggul (Indian Myrrh)
    Commiphora wightii
    Commiphora wightii is a flowering plant in the family Burseraceae. The guggul plant may be found from northern Africa to central Asia, but is most common in northern India...

  • Opoponax
    Opoponax
    Opopanax chironium, also known as sweet myrrh or bisabol myrrh, is a herb that grows one to three feet high and produces a large, yellow inflorescence. The plant thrives in warm climates like Iran, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Somalia, but also grows in cooler climates...

  • Tolu balsam
    Tolu balsam
    Tolu balsam or balsam of Tolu is the resinous secretion of Myroxylon balsamum.The resin is still used in certain cough syrup formulas. However its main use in the modern era is in perfumery, where it is valued for its warm, mellow yet somewhat spicy scent. It is also used as a natural remedy for...


Leaves
  • Patchouli
    Patchouli
    Patchouli is a species from the genus Pogostemon and a bushy herb of the mint family, with erect stems, reaching two or three feet in height and bearing small, pale pink-white flowers...

  • Sage
    Common sage
    Salvia officinalis is a small, perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the family Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean region, though it has naturalized in many places throughout the world...

  • Bay
    Bay Laurel
    The bay laurel , also known as sweet bay, bay tree, true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree, or simply laurel, is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glossy leaves, native to the Mediterranean region. It is the source of the bay leaf used in cooking...

  • Tea
    Camellia sinensis
    Camellia sinensis is the species of plant whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce Chinese tea. It is of the genus Camellia , a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae. White tea, green tea, oolong, pu-erh tea and black tea are all harvested from this species, but are processed...

  • Balsam
    Balsam Fir
    The balsam fir is a North American fir, native to most of eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States .-Growth:It is a small to medium-size evergreen tree typically tall, rarely to tall, with a narrow conic crown...


Roots and rhizomes
  • Vetiver
    Vetiver
    Chrysopogon zizanioides, commonly known as vetiver , is a perennial grass of the Poaceae family, native to India. In western and northern India, it is popularly known as khus. Vetiver can grow up to 1.5 metres high and form clumps as wide. The stems are tall and the leaves are long, thin, and...

  • Orris
    Orris root
    Orris root is a term used for the roots Iris germanica, Iris florentina, and Iris pallida. Once important in western herbal medicine, it is now used mainly as a fixative and base note in perfumery, as well as an ingredient in many brands of gin....

  • Calamus
    Sweet Flag
    Acorus calamus, commonly known as Sweet Flag or Calamus and erroneously as "rush" or "sedges", is a plant from the Acoraceae family, in the genus Acorus. It is a tall perennial wetland monocot with scented leaves and more strongly scented rhizomes...

  • Spikenard
    Spikenard
    Spikenard is a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of China, also found growing in the northern region of India and Nepal. The plant grows to about 1 m in height and has pink, bell-shaped flowers...

  • Galangal
    Galangal
    Galangal is a rhizome of plants of the genus Alpinia or Kaempferia in the ginger family Zingiberaceae, with culinary and medicinal uses originated from Indonesia...

  • Costus
    Costus
    Costus is a genus of perennial tropical herbaceous plants from the costus family . They are often characterized and distinguished from relatives such as Zingiber by their spiraling stems. The genus as a whole is thus often called spiral gingers, but this can also refer to C...


Flowers and buds
  • Clove
    Clove
    Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. Cloves are native to the Maluku islands in Indonesia and used as a spice in cuisines all over the world...

  • Lavender
    Lavender
    The lavenders are a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. An Old World genus, distributed from Macaronesia across Africa, the Mediterranean, South-West Asia, Arabia, Western Iran and South-East India...

  • Saffron
    Saffron
    Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Crocus is a genus in the family Iridaceae. Each saffron crocus grows to and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are each the distal end of a carpel...

  • Rose
    Rose
    A rose is a woody perennial of the genus Rosa, within the family Rosaceae. There are over 100 species. They form a group of erect shrubs, and climbing or trailing plants, with stems that are often armed with sharp prickles. Flowers are large and showy, in colours ranging from white through yellows...


Animal-derived materials
  • Ambergris
    Ambergris
    Ambergris is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or secreted by sperm whales....

  • Civet
    Civet
    The family Viverridae is made up of around 30 species of medium-sized mammal, including all of the genets, the binturong, most of the civets, and the two African linsangs....

  • Musk
    Musk
    Musk is a class of aromatic substances commonly used as base notes in perfumery. They include glandular secretions from animals such as the musk deer, numerous plants emitting similar fragrances, and artificial substances with similar odors. Musk was a name originally given to a substance with a...

  • Operculum


Combustible base



The combustible base of a direct burning incense mixture not only binds the fragrant material together but also allows the produced incense to burn with a self-sustained ember, which propagates slowly and evenly through an entire piece of incense with such regularity that it can be used to mark time. The base is chosen such that it does not produce a perceptible smell. Commercially, two types of incense base predominate:
  • Fuel
    Fuel
    Fuel is any material that stores energy that can later be extracted to perform mechanical work in a controlled manner. Most fuels used by humans undergo combustion, a redox reaction in which a combustible substance releases energy after it ignites and reacts with the oxygen in the air...

     and oxidizer mixtures
    : Charcoal
    Charcoal
    Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

     or wood
    Wood
    Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...

     powder forms the fuel for the combustion. Gums such as Gum Arabic
    Gum arabic
    220px|thumb|right|Acacia gumGum arabic, also known as acacia gum, chaar gund, char goond, or meska, is a natural gum made of hardened sap taken from two species of the acacia tree; Acacia senegal and Acacia seyal...

     or Gum Tragacanth
    Tragacanth
    Tragacanth is a natural gum obtained from the dried sap of several species of Middle Eastern legumes of the genus Astragalus, including A. adscendens, A. gummifer, A. brachycalyx, and A. tragacanthus. Some of these species are known collectively under the common names "goat's thorn" and "locoweed"...

     are used to bind the mixture together while an oxidizer such as sodium nitrate
    Sodium nitrate
    Sodium nitrate is the chemical compound with the formula NaNO3. This salt, also known as Chile saltpeter or Peru saltpeter to distinguish it from ordinary saltpeter, potassium nitrate, is a white solid which is very soluble in water...

     or potassium nitrate
    Potassium nitrate
    Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

     sustains the burning of the incense. Fragrant materials are combined into the base prior to formation as in the case of powdered incense materials or after formation as in the case of essential oils. The formula for the charcoal-based incense is superficially similar to black powder, though it lacks the sulfur
    Sulfur
    Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

    .
  • Natural plant-based binders: Mucilaginous material, which can be derived from many botanical sources, is mixed with fragrant materials and water. The mucilage
    Mucilage
    Mucilage is a thick, gluey substance produced by most plants and some microorganisms. It is a polar glycoprotein and an exopolysaccharide.It occurs in various parts of nearly all classes of plant, usually in relatively small percentages, and is frequently associated with other substances, such as...

     from the wet binding powder holds the fragrant material together while the cellulose
    Cellulose
    Cellulose is an organic compound with the formula , a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to over ten thousand β linked D-glucose units....

     in the powder combusts to form a stable ember when lit. The dry binding powder usually comprises about 10% of the dry weight in the finished incense. This includes:
    • Makko (抹香・末香 incense powder): made from the bark
      Bark
      Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants. Plants with bark include trees, woody vines and shrubs. Bark refers to all the tissues outside of the vascular cambium and is a nontechnical term. It overlays the wood and consists of the inner bark and the outer bark. The inner...

       of various trees from the Persea
      Persea
      Persea is a genus of about 150 species of evergreen trees belonging to the laurel family, Lauraceae. The best-known member of the genus is the avocado, P. americana, widely cultivated in subtropical regions for its large, edible fruit.-Overview:...

      such as Persea thunbergii (Jpn.
      Japanese language
      is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

       椨の木; たぶのき; Tabu-no-ki)
    • Xiangnan pi (香楠皮): made from Phoebe
      Phoebe (plant)
      Phoebe is a genus of evergreen trees and shrubs belonging to the Laurel family, Lauraceae.-Overview:They are widespread in tropical and subtropical Asia and neotropical America region...

      genus trees such as Phoebe nanmu
      Phoebe nanmu
      Phoebe nanmu is a species of evergreen tree in the Lauraceae family. It is endemic to southern China and Vietnam. P. nanmu is threatened by habitat loss due primarily to overcutting....

      (楠木), Persea zuihoensis (香楠).
    • Jigit: a resin based binder used in India
    • Laha or Dar: bark based powders used in Nepal, Tibet, and other East Asian countries.

Types


Incense materials are available in various forms and degrees of processing. They can generally be separated into "direct-burning" and "indirect-burning" types depending on use. Preference for one form or another varies with culture, tradition, and personal taste. Although the production of direct- and indirect-burning incense are both blended to produce a pleasant smell when burned, the two differ in their composition due to the former's requirement for even, stable, and sustained burning.

Indirect-burning Incense



Indirect-burning incense, also called "non-combustible incense", is a combination of aromatic ingredients that are not prepared in any particular way or encouraged into any particular form, leaving it mostly unsuitable for direct combustion. The use of this class of incense requires a separate heat source since it does not generally kindle a fire capable of burning itself and may not ignite at all under normal conditions. This incense can vary in the duration of its burning with the texture of the material. Finer ingredients tend to burn more rapidly, while coarsely ground or whole chunks may be consumed very gradually as they have less total surface area. The heat is traditionally provided by charcoal
Charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

 or glowing embers.

In the West, the best known incense materials of this type are frankincense and myrrh, likely due to their numerous mentions in the Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

. In fact, the word for "frankincense" in many European languages also alludes to any form of incense.
  • Whole: The incense material is burned directly in its raw unprocessed form on top of coal embers.
  • Powdered or granulated: The incense material is broken down into finer bits. This incense burns quickly and provides a short period of intense smells.
  • Paste: The powdered or granulated incense material is mixed with a sticky and incombustible binder, such as dried fruit
    Fruit
    In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

    , honey
    Honey
    Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans...

    , or a soft resin
    Resin
    Resin in the most specific use of the term is a hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, particularly coniferous trees. Resins are valued for their chemical properties and associated uses, such as the production of varnishes, adhesives, and food glazing agents; as an important source of raw materials...

     and then formed to balls or small pastilles. These may then be allowed to mature in a controlled environment where the fragrances can commingle and unite. Much Arab
    Arab
    Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

    ian incense, also called "Bukhoor
    Bukhoor
    Bukhoor , or Bakhoor, is the Arabic name given to woodchips soaked in fragrant oils.-Overview:In most Arab countries, bukhoor is the name given to scented bricks. These scented chips/bricks are burned in incense burners to perfume the home and clothing with a rich thick smoke...

    " or "Bakhoor", is of this type (Bakhoor, actually refers to frankincense in both Lebanese and Arabic, and Japan has a history of kneaded incense, called nerikō or awasekō, using this method. Within the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, raw frankincense is ground into a fine powder and then mixed with various sweet-smelling essential oils.

Production


Indirect burning incense does not have any stringent requirements except for achieving a pleasant smell when lit. Mixture of incense materials can be combined by powdering the raw materials and then mixing them together with a binder to form pastes, which are then cut and dried into pellets.

Incense of the Athonite Orthodox Christian tradition are made using similar methods by powdering frankincense or fir
Fir
Firs are a genus of 48–55 species of evergreen conifers in the family Pinaceae. They are found through much of North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, occurring in mountains over most of the range...

 resin, mixing it with essential oils. Floral fragrances are the most common, but citrus such as lemon is not uncommon. The incense mixture is then rolled out into a slab approximately 1 cm
Centimetre
A centimetre is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one hundredth of a metre, which is the SI base unit of length. Centi is the SI prefix for a factor of . Hence a centimetre can be written as or — meaning or respectively...

 thick and left until the slab has firmed. It is then cut into small cubes, coated with clay powder to prevent adhesion, and allowed to fully harden and dry. The product visually resemble cubes of Loukoum.
In Greece this rolled incense resin is called 'Moskolibano', and generally comes in either a pink or green colour denoting the fragrance, with pink being rose and green being jasmine.

Direct-burning Incense



Direct-burning incense also called "combustible incense", generally requires little preparation prior to its use. When lit directly by a flame (hence the appellation) and then fanned out, the glowing ember on the incense will continue to smoulder and burn away the rest of the incense without continued application of heat or flame from an outside source. This class of incense is made from a moldable substrate of fragrant finely ground (or liquid) incense materials and odourless binder. The composition must be adjusted to provide fragrance in the proper concentration and to ensure even burning. The following types of direct-burning incense are commonly encountered, though the material itself can take virtually any form, according to expediency or whimsy:
  • Coil: Extruded and shaped into a coil without a core. This type of incense is able to burn for an extended period, from hours to days, and is commonly produced and used by Chinese culture
  • Cone: Incense in this form burns relatively fast. Incense cones were invented in Japan in the 1800s.
  • Cored stick: This form of stick incense has a supporting core of bamboo
    Bamboo
    Bamboo is a group of perennial evergreens in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family....

    . Higher quality varieties of this form have fragrant sandalwood
    Sandalwood
    Sandalwood is the name of a class of fragrant woods from trees in the genus Santalum. The woods are heavy, yellow, and fine-grained, and unlike many other aromatic woods they retain their fragrance for decades. As well as using the harvested and cut wood in-situ, essential oils are also extracted...

     cores. The core is coated by a thick layer of incense material that burns away with the core. This type of incense is commonly produced in India and China. When used for worship in Chinese folk religion
    Chinese folk religion
    Chinese folk religion or Shenism , which is a term of considerable debate, are labels used to describe the collection of ethnic religious traditions which have been a main belief system in China and among Han Chinese ethnic groups for most of the civilization's history until today...

    , cored incensed sticks are sometimes known as "joss sticks".
  • Solid stick: This stick incense has no supporting core and is completely made of incense material. Easily broken into pieces, it allows one to determine the specific amount of incense they wish to burn. This is the most commonly produced form of incense in Japan and Tibet
    Tibet
    Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

    .
  • Powder: The loose incense powder used for making indirect burning incense is sometimes burned without further processing. They are typically packed into long trails on top of wood ash using a stencil and burned in special censers or incense clocks.
  • Paper: Paper infused with incense, folded accordion style, lit and blown out. Examples are Carta d'Armenia and Papier d'Arménie
    Papier d'Arménie
    Papier d'Arménie, or Armenian Paper, is a room deodorizing product sold as booklets of twelve sheets of paper each cut into three pieces, which are coated with benzoin resin, the dried sap of styrax trees.-History:...

    .
  • Rope: The incense powder is rolled into paper sheets, which are then rolled into ropes, twisted tightly, then doubled over and twisted again, yielding a two-strand rope. The larger end is the bight
    Bight (knot)
    In knot tying, a bight is a curved section, slack part, or loop between the two ends of a rope, string, or yarn. The term is also used in a more specific way when describing Turk's head knots, indicating how many repetitions of braiding are made in the circuit of a given knot.-Slipped knot:In order...

    , and may be stood vertically, in a shallow dish of sand or pebbles. The smaller (pointed) end is lit. This type of incense is highly transportable and stays fresh for extremely long periods. It has been used for centuries in Tibet
    Tibet
    Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

     and Nepal
    Nepal
    Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

    .


Direct-burning incense of these forms is either extruded
Extrusion
Extrusion is a process used to create objects of a fixed cross-sectional profile. A material is pushed or drawn through a die of the desired cross-section...

, pressed into forms, or coated onto a supporting material.

The disks of powdered mugwort called 'moxa' sold in Chinese shops and herbalists are used in Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to a broad range of medicine practices sharing common theoretical concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years, including various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage , exercise , and dietary therapy...

 for moxibustion
Moxibustion
Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy using moxa, or mugwort herb. It plays an important role in the traditional medical systems of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and Mongolia. Suppliers usually age the mugwort and grind it up to a fluff; practitioners burn the fluff or...

 treatment. Moxa tablets are not incenses; the treatment relies on heat rather than fragrance.

Joss sticks



Joss sticks are used for a variety of purposes associated with ritual and religious devotion in China and India. They are used in Chinese influenced East Asian and Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

n countries, traditionally burned before the threshold of a home or business, before an image of a Chinese popular religion divinity or spirit of place, or in small and humble or large and elaborate shrine found at the main entrance to each and every village. Here the earth god is propitiated in the hope of bringing wealth and health to the village.
They can also be burned in front of a door, or open window as an offering to heaven
Tian
Tian is one of the oldest Chinese terms for the cosmos and a key concept in Chinese mythology, philosophy, and religion. During the Shang Dynasty the Chinese called god Shangdi or Di , and during the Zhou Dynasty Tian "heaven; god" became synonymous with Shangdi...

, or devas
Deva (Buddhism)
A deva in Buddhism is one of many different types of non-human beings who share the characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, living more contentedly than the average human being....

.
The Chinese word "joss" for Joss (god)
Joss (god)
In the European view of Chinese mythology, Joss signifies a household deity as well as his cult image, which the Portuguese and other Europeans called an "idol". Joss is not Chinese, but a corrupted version of the Portuguese deus for god...

 is derived from the Latin deus (god) via Portuguese.


Joss-stick burning is an everyday practice in traditional Chinese religion
Chinese folk religion
Chinese folk religion or Shenism , which is a term of considerable debate, are labels used to describe the collection of ethnic religious traditions which have been a main belief system in China and among Han Chinese ethnic groups for most of the civilization's history until today...

. There are many different types of joss sticks used for different purposes or on different festive days. Many of them are long and thin and are mostly colored yellow, red, and more rarely, black. Thick joss sticks are used for special ceremonies, such as funerals. Spiral joss sticks are also used on a regular basis, which are found hanging above temple ceilings, with burn times that are exceedingly long. In some states, such as Taiwan, Singapore, or Malaysia, where they celebrate the Ghost Festival
Ghost Festival
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, is a traditional Chinese festival and holiday celebrated by Chinese in many countries...

, large, pillar-like dragon joss sticks are sometimes used. These generate such a massive amount of smoke and heat that they are only ever burned outside.

Chinese incense sticks for use in popular religion are generally without aroma or only the slightest trace of jasmine or rose, since it is the smoke, not the scent, which is important in conveying the prayers of the faithful to heaven. They are composed of the dried powdered bark of a non-scented species of Cinnamon native to Cambodia, Cinnamomum cambodianum. Inexpensive packs of 300 are often found for sale in Chinese supermarkets. Despite the fact that they contain no sandalwood at all, they often include the Chinese character for sandalwood on the label, as a generic term for incense.

Highly scented Chinese incense sticks are only used by Buddhists, who are in a minority in China. These are often quite expensive due to the use of large amounts of sandalwood, aloeswood, or floral scents used. The Sandalwood used in Chinese incenses does not come from India, its native home, but rather from groves planted within Chinese territory.

Production


Production is quite the opposite for direct-burning incense. In addition to producing a pleasant scent when burnt, this type of incense must burn completely to a cool white ash with a stable ember. Ideally the incense should burn slowly and evenly with no trace of the supporting core after burning. In order to obtain these desired combustion qualities, attention has to be paid to certain proportions in direct burning incense mixtures:
  • Oil content: Resinous materials such as myrrh
    Myrrh
    Myrrh is the aromatic oleoresin of a number of small, thorny tree species of the genus Commiphora, which grow in dry, stony soil. An oleoresin is a natural blend of an essential oil and a resin. Myrrh resin is a natural gum....

     and frankincense
    Frankincense
    Frankincense, also called olibanum , is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly Boswellia sacra, B. carteri, B. thurifera, B. frereana, and B. bhaw-dajiana...

     must not exceed the amount of dry materials in the mixture to such a degree that the incense will not smolder and burn. The higher the oil content relative to the dry mass, the less likely the mixture is to burn effectively. Typically the resinous or oily substances are balanced with "dry" materials such as wood, bark and leaf powders.
  • Oxidizer quantity: The amount of chemical oxidizer in gum-bound incense must be carefully proportioned. If too little, the incense will not ignite, and if too much, the incense will burn too quickly and not produce fragrant smoke.
  • Mixture density: Incense mixtures made with natural binders must not be combined with too much water in mixing, or over-compressed while being formed, which would result in either uneven air distribution or undesirable density in the mixture, causing the incense to burn unevenly, too slowly, or too quickly.
  • Particulate size: The incense mixture has to be well pulverized with similarly sized particulates. Uneven and large particulates result in uneven burning and inconsistent aroma production when burned.
  • Binder: Water-soluble binders such as "makko" (抹香・末香) have to be used in the right proportion to ensure that the incense mixture does not crumble when dry but also that the binder does not take up too much of the mixture.


Some kinds of direct-burning incense are created from "incense blanks" made of unscented combustible dust immersed into any suitable kind of essential or fragrance oil. These are often sold in America by flea-market and sidewalk vendors who have developed their own styles. Such items are often known as "dipped" or "hand-dipped" incense. This form of incense requires the least skill and equipment to manufacture, since the blanks are pre-formed in China or South East Asia, then simply scented with essential oils.

Compressed forms


Incense mixtures can be extruded or pressed into shapes. Small quantities of water are combined with the fragrance and incense base mixture and kneaded into a hard dough
Dough
Dough is a paste made out of any cereals or leguminous crops by mixing flour with a small amount of water and/or other liquid. This process is a precursor to making a wide variety of foodstuffs, particularly breads and bread-based items , flatbreads, noodles, pastry, and similar items)...

. The incense dough is then pressed into shaped forms to create cone and smaller coiled incense, or forced through a hydraulic press for solid stick incense. The formed incense is then trimmed and slowly dried. Incense produced in this fashion has a tendency to warp or become misshapen when improperly dried, and as such must be placed in climate-controlled rooms and rotated several times through the drying process.

Cored sticks


In the case of cored incensed sticks, several methods are employed to coat the sticks cores with incense mixture:
  • Paste rolling: A wet, malleable paste of incense mixture is first rolled into a long, thin coil, using a paddle. Then, a thin stick is put next to the coil and the stick and paste are rolled together until the stick is centered in the mixture and the desired thickness is achieved. The stick is then cut to the desired length and dried.
  • Powder-coating: Powder-coating is used mainly to produce cored incense of either larger coil (up to 1 meter in diameter) or cored stick forms. A bundle of the supporting material (typically thin bamboo or sandalwood slivers) is soaked in water or a thin water/glue mixture for a short time. The thin sticks are then evenly separated, then dipped into a tray of incense powder, consisting of fragrance materials and occasionally a plant-based binder. The dry incense powder is then tossed and piled over the stick while they are spread apart. The sticks are then gently rolled and packed to maintain roundness while more incense powder is repeatedly tossed onto the sticks. Three to four layers of powder are coated onto the sticks, forming a 2 mm thick layer of incense material on the stick. The coated incense is then allowed to dry in open air. Additional coatings of incense mixture can be applied after each period of successive drying. Incense sticks that are burned in temple
    Temple
    A temple is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities, such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. A templum constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word "template," a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out...

    s of Chinese folk religion
    Chinese folk religion
    Chinese folk religion or Shenism , which is a term of considerable debate, are labels used to describe the collection of ethnic religious traditions which have been a main belief system in China and among Han Chinese ethnic groups for most of the civilization's history until today...

     produced in this fashion can have a thickness between 2 to 4 millimeters.
  • Compression: A damp powder is mechanically formed around a cored stick by compression, similar to the way uncored sticks are formed. This form is becoming more commonly found due to the higher labor cost of producing powder-coated or paste-rolled sticks.

Burning incense



For indirect-burning incense, pieces of the incense are burned by placing them directly on top of a heat source or on a hot metal plate in a censer
Censer
Censers are any type of vessels made for burning incense. These vessels vary greatly in size, form, and material of construction. They may consist of simple earthenware bowls or fire pots to intricately carved silver or gold vessels, small table top objects a few centimetres tall to as many as...

 or thurible
Thurible
A thurible is a metal censer suspended from chains, in which incense is burned during worship services. It is used in the Catholic Church as well as in Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, some Lutheran, Old Catholic, and in various Gnostic Churches. It is also used...

.

In Japan a similar censer called a is used by several Buddhist sects. The egōro is usually made of brass with a long ) and no chain. Instead of charcoal, makkō powder is poured into a depression made in a bed of ash. The makkō is lit and the incense mixture is burned on top. This method is known as Sonae-kō (Religious Burning).

For direct-burning incense, the tip or end of the incense is ignited with a flame or other heat source until the incense begins to turn into ash at the burning end. Flames on the incense are then fanned or blown out, with the incense continuing to burn flamelessly on its own.

Chinese incense




For over two thousand years, the Chinese have used incense in religious
Religion in China
Religion in China has been characterized by pluralism since the beginning of Chinese history. The Chinese religions are family-oriented and do not demand the exclusive adherence of members. Some scholars doubt the use of the term "religion" in reference to Buddhism and Taoism, and suggest "cultural...

 ceremonies, ancestor veneration
Ancestor Veneration in China
Ancestral veneration in Chinese culture is the practice of living family members who try to provide a deceased family member with continuous happiness and well-being in the afterlife. It is a way of continuing to show respect towards them, and it reinforces the unity of family and lineage. Showing...

, Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to a broad range of medicine practices sharing common theoretical concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years, including various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage , exercise , and dietary therapy...

, and daily life.

Agarwood
Agarwood
Agarwood or oodh is a dark resinous heartwood that forms in Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees when they become infected with a type of mold...

 (沈香; chénxiāng) and sandalwood
Sandalwood
Sandalwood is the name of a class of fragrant woods from trees in the genus Santalum. The woods are heavy, yellow, and fine-grained, and unlike many other aromatic woods they retain their fragrance for decades. As well as using the harvested and cut wood in-situ, essential oils are also extracted...

 (檀香; tánxiāng) are the two most important ingredients in Chinese incense.

Along with the introduction of Buddhism in China
Buddhism in China
Chinese Buddhism refers collectively to the various schools of Buddhism that have flourished in China since ancient times. Buddhism has played an enormous role in shaping the mindset of the Chinese people, affecting their aesthetics, politics, literature, philosophy and medicine.At the peak of the...

 came calibrated incense sticks and incense clock
Incense clock
The incense clock is a Chinese timekeeping device that appeared during the Song Dynasty and spread to neighboring countries such as Japan. The clocks' bodies are effectively specialized censers that hold incense sticks or powdered incense that have been manufactured and calibrated to a known rate...

s (香鐘; xiāngzhōng; "incense clock"; or 香印; xiāngyìn; "incense seal"). The poet Yu Jianwu 庾肩吾 (487-551) first recorded them: "By burning incense we know the o'clock of the night, With graduated candles we confirm the tally of the watches." The use of these incense timekeeping devices spread from Buddhist monasteries into Chinese secular society.

It is incorrect to assume that the Chinese only burn incense in the home before the family shrine. In Taoist traditions, incense is inextricably associated with the 'yin' energies of the dead, temples, shrines, and ghosts. Therefore, Taoist Chinese believe burning undedicated incense in the home attracts the dreaded hungry ghosts, who consume the smoke and ruin the fortunes of the family.

However, since Neolithic times, the Chinese have evolved using incense not only for religious ceremonies, but also for personal and environmental aromatherapy. Although misrepresented until recent studies, Chinese incense art is now regarded as one of the esteemed Chinese art forms - next to calligraphy, tea, flower arrangements, antiquities, etc.

Indian incense



Indian incense can be divided into two categories: masala and charcoal.

Masala incenses are made by blending several solid scented ingredients into a paste and then rolling that paste onto a bamboo core stick. These incenses usually contain little or no liquid scents (which can evaporate or diminish over time).

Charcoal incenses are made by dipping an unscented "blank" (non-perfume stick) into a mixture of perfumes and/or essential oils. These blanks usually contain a binding resin that holds the sticks' ingredients together. Most charcoal incenses are black in colour.

Jerusalem temple incense


Ketoret
Ketoret
The use of incense in Judaism was related to perfumed offerings on the altar of incense in the time of the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temple period, and was an important component of priestly liturgy in the Temple in Jerusalem....

 was the incense offered in the Temple in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

 and is stated in the Book of Exodus as a mixture of stacte
Stacte
Stacte or nataph are names used for one component of the Solomon's Temple incense, the Ketoret, discussed in Exodus 30:34. Variously translated to the Greek term or to an unspecified "gum resin" or similar , it was to be mixed in equal parts with onycha , galbanum and mixed with pure...

, onycha
Onycha
Onycha , along with equal parts of stacte, galbanum, and frankincense, was one of the components of the consecrated Ketoret which appears in the Torah book of Exodus and was used in the Jerusalem's Solomon's Temple. This formula was to be incorporated as an incense, and was not to be duplicated...

, galbanum and frankincense.

Tibetan incense



Tibetan incense refers to a common style of incense found in Tibet
Tibet
Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

, Nepal
Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

, and Bhutan
Bhutan
Bhutan , officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked state in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas and bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by the People's Republic of China...

. These incenses have a characteristic "earthy" scent to them. Ingredients vary from cinnamon, clove, and juniper, to kusum flower, ashvagandha, or sahi jeera.

Many Tibetan incenses are thought to have medicinal properties. Their recipes come from ancient Vedic
Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

 texts that are based on even older Ayurvedic
Ayurveda
Ayurveda or ayurvedic medicine is a system of traditional medicine native to India and a form of alternative medicine. In Sanskrit, words , meaning "longevity", and , meaning "knowledge" or "science". The earliest literature on Indian medical practice appeared during the Vedic period in India,...

 medical texts. The recipes have remained unchanged for centuries.

Japanese incense


In Japan incense appreciation folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 includes art, culture, history, and ceremony. It can be compared to and has some of the same qualities as music, art, or literature. Incense burning may occasionally take place within the tea ceremony
Tea ceremony
A tea ceremony is a ritualised form of making tea. The term generally refers to either chayi Chinese tea ceremony, chado Japanese tea ceremony, tarye Korean tea ceremony. The Japanese tea ceremony is more well known, and was influenced by the Chinese tea ceremony during ancient and medieval times....

, just like Calligraphy
Calligraphy
Calligraphy is a type of visual art. It is often called the art of fancy lettering . A contemporary definition of calligraphic practice is "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner"...

, Ikebana
Ikebana
is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also known as .-Etymology:"Ikebana" is from the Japanese and . Possible translations include "giving life to flowers" and "arranging flowers".- Approach :...

, and Scroll
Kakemono
A , more commonly referred to as a , is a Japanese scroll painting or calligraphy mounted usually with silk fabric edges on a flexible backing, so that it can be rolled for storage....

 Arrangement. However the art of incense appreciation or Koh-do, is generally practiced as a separate art form from the tea ceremony, however usually practiced within a tea room of traditional Zen design.

Agarwood (沈香 Jinkō) and sandalwood (白檀 Byakudan) are the two most important ingredients in Japanese incense. Agarwood is known as "Jinkō" in Japan, which translates as "incense that sinks in water", due to the weight of the resin in the wood. Sandalwood is one of the most calming incense ingredients and lends itself well to meditation. It is also used in the Japanese tea ceremony
Japanese tea ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea, is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea. In Japanese, it is called . The manner in which it is performed, or the art of its performance, is called...

. The most valued Sandalwood comes from Mysore in the state of Karnataka
Karnataka
Karnataka , the land of the Kannadigas, is a state in South West India. It was created on 1 November 1956, with the passing of the States Reorganisation Act and this day is annually celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava...

 in India.

Another important ingredient in Japanese incense is kyara (伽羅). Kyara is one kind of agarwood (Japanese incense companies divide agarwood into 6 categories depending on the region obtained and properties of the agarwood). Kyara is currently worth more than its weight in gold.

Some terms used in Japanese incense culture include:
  • Incense Arts: [香道 , Kodo]
  • Agarwood: [ 沈香 ] – from heartwood from Aquilaria trees, unique, the incense wood most used in incense ceremony, other names are: lignum aloes or aloeswood, gaharu, jinko, or oud.
  • Censer/Incense burner: [香爐] – usually small and used for heating incense not burning, or larger and used for burning
  • Charcoal: [木炭] – only the odorless kind is used.
  • Incense woods: [ 香木 ] – a naturally fragrant resinous wood.

Uses of incense


Incense, being an article familiar to humanity since the dawn of civilization, has meant different things to the different peoples who have come to use it. Given the wide diversity of such peoples and their practices, it would be impossible to form an all-inclusive list of the ways in which incense has come to be used, since the methods and purposes of employment are as diverse and nuanced as those who have employed it.

Practical use of incense


Incense fragrances can be of such great strength that they obscure other, less desirable odours. This utility led to the use of incense in funerary ceremonies because the incense could smother the scent of decay. Another example of this use, as well as of religious use is the giant Botafumeiro
Botafumeiro
The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral . Incense is burned in this swinging metal container, or "incensory"...

 thurible which swings from the ceiling of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostel. It is used in part to mask the scent of the many tired, unwashed pilgrims huddled together in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral of the archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. The cathedral is the reputed burial-place of Saint James the Greater, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. It is the destination of the Way of St...

.

A similar utilitarian use of incense can be found in the post-Reformation Church of England. Although the ceremonial use of incense was abandoned until the Oxford Movement
Oxford Movement
The Oxford Movement was a movement of High Church Anglicans, eventually developing into Anglo-Catholicism. The movement, whose members were often associated with the University of Oxford, argued for the reinstatement of lost Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy...

, it was common to have incense (typically frankincense
Frankincense
Frankincense, also called olibanum , is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly Boswellia sacra, B. carteri, B. thurifera, B. frereana, and B. bhaw-dajiana...

) burned before grand occasions, when the church would be crowded. The frankincense was carried about by a member of the vestry before the service in a vessel called a 'perfuming pan'. In iconography of the day, this vessel is shown to be elongated and flat, with a single, long handle on one side. It is important to note that the perfuming pan was used instead of the thurible
Thurible
A thurible is a metal censer suspended from chains, in which incense is burned during worship services. It is used in the Catholic Church as well as in Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, some Lutheran, Old Catholic, and in various Gnostic Churches. It is also used...

, as the latter would have likely offended the Protestant sensibilities of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The regular burning of direct combustion incense has been used for chronological measurement in incense clock
Incense clock
The incense clock is a Chinese timekeeping device that appeared during the Song Dynasty and spread to neighboring countries such as Japan. The clocks' bodies are effectively specialized censers that hold incense sticks or powdered incense that have been manufactured and calibrated to a known rate...

s. These devices can range from a simple trail of incense material calibrated to burn in a specific time period, to elaborate and ornate instruments with bells or gongs, designed to involve and captivate several of the senses.

Incense made from materials such as citronella
Cymbopogon
Cymbopogon is a genus of about 55 species of grasses, native to warm temperate and tropical regions of the Old World and Oceania. It is a tall perennial grass...

 can repel mosquitoes and other aggravating, distracting or pestilential insects. This use has been deployed in concert with religious uses by Zen Buddhists
Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

 who claim that the incense that is part of their meditative practice is designed to keep bothersome insects from distracting the practitioner. Currently, more effective pyrethroid
Pyrethroid
A pyrethroid is an organic compound similar to the natural pyrethrins produced by the flowers of pyrethrums . Pyrethroids now constitute a major commercial household insecticides...

-based mosquito repellant incense is widely available in Asia.

Papier d'Arménie
Papier d'Arménie
Papier d'Arménie, or Armenian Paper, is a room deodorizing product sold as booklets of twelve sheets of paper each cut into three pieces, which are coated with benzoin resin, the dried sap of styrax trees.-History:...

 was originally sold as a disinfectant as well as for the fragrance.

Incense is also used often by people who smoke indoors, and do not want the scent to linger.

Aesthetic use of incense


Many people burn incense to appreciate its smell, without assigning any other specific significance to it, in the same way that the forgoing items can be produced or consumed solely for the contemplation or enjoyment of the refined sensory experience. This use is perhaps best exemplified in the , where (frequently costly) raw incense materials such as agarwood are appreciated in a formalized setting.

Religious use of incense


Use of incense in religion is prevalent in many cultures and may have their roots in the practical and aesthetic uses considering that many religions with not much else in common all use incense. One common motif is incense as a form of sacrificial offering to a deity
Deity
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

. Such use was common in Judaic worship and remains in use for example in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, Taoist and Buddhist Chinese jingxiang
Jingxiang
Jingxiang , Shangxiang , Baishen is a ritual of offering joss incense accompanied by tea and or fruits. It is observed by a devotee holding joss incense with both hands in front of an altar while praying or meditating...

(敬香 "offer incense [to ancestors/gods]), etc.

Incense and health


Incense smoke contains various contaminants including gaseous pollutants, such as carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 (CO), nitrogen oxide
Nitrogen oxide
Nitrogen oxide can refer to a binary compound of oxygen and nitrogen, or a mixture of such compounds:* Nitric oxide, also known as nitrogen monoxide, , nitrogen oxide* Nitrogen dioxide , nitrogen oxide...

s (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) [4–8], and absorbed toxic pollutants (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and toxic metal
Toxic metal
Toxic metals are metals that form poisonous soluble compounds and have no biological role, i.e. are not essential minerals, or are in the wrong form. Often heavy metals are thought as synonymous, but lighter metals also have toxicity, such as beryllium, and not all heavy metals are particularly...

s). The solid particles range between ~10 and 500 nm. The emission rate decreases in the row Indian sandalwood > Japanese aloeswood
Agarwood
Agarwood or oodh is a dark resinous heartwood that forms in Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees when they become infected with a type of mold...

 > Taiwanese aloeswood > smokeless sandalwood. There is no question that those contaminants are carcinogen
Carcinogen
A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer. This may be due to the ability to damage the genome or to the disruption of cellular metabolic processes...

ic and can cause respiratory diseases, but the risk of those depends on the exposure.

Research carried out in Taiwan
Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

 in 2001 linked the burning of incense sticks to the slow accumulation of potential carcinogen
Carcinogen
A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer. This may be due to the ability to damage the genome or to the disruption of cellular metabolic processes...

s in a poorly ventilated environment by measuring the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons , also known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons or polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, are potent atmospheric pollutants that consist of fused aromatic rings and do not contain heteroatoms or carry substituents. Naphthalene is the simplest example of a PAH...

s (including benzopyrene
Benzopyrene
Benzo[a]pyrene, C20H12, is a five-ring polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon whose metabolites are mutagenic and highly carcinogenic. Benzo[a]pyrene is listed as a Group 1 carcinogen by the IARC. It belongs to a class of polycyclic aromatic compounds known as benzopyrenes, which consist of a benzene...

) within Buddhist temples. The study found gaseous aliphatic
Aliphatic compound
In organic chemistry, aliphatic compounds are acyclic or cyclic, non-aromatic carbon compounds.Thus, aliphatic compounds are opposite to aromatic compounds.- Structure :...

 aldehyde
Aldehyde
An aldehyde is an organic compound containing a formyl group. This functional group, with the structure R-CHO, consists of a carbonyl center bonded to hydrogen and an R group....

s, which are carcinogenic and mutagenic, in incense smoke.

A survey of risk factors for lung cancer, also conducted in Taiwan, noted an inverse association
Association (statistics)
In statistics, an association is any relationship between two measured quantities that renders them statistically dependent. The term "association" refers broadly to any such relationship, whereas the narrower term "correlation" refers to a linear relationship between two quantities.There are many...

 between incense burning and adenocarcinoma
Adenocarcinoma
Adenocarcinoma is a cancer of an epithelium that originates in glandular tissue. Epithelial tissue includes, but is not limited to, the surface layer of skin, glands and a variety of other tissue that lines the cavities and organs of the body. Epithelium can be derived embryologically from...

 of the lung, though the finding was not deemed significant
Statistical significance
In statistics, a result is called statistically significant if it is unlikely to have occurred by chance. The phrase test of significance was coined by Ronald Fisher....

.

In contrast, a study by several Asian Cancer Research Centers showed: "No association was found between exposure to incense burning and respiratory symptoms like chronic cough, chronic sputum, chronic bronchitis, runny nose, wheezing, asthma, allergic rhinitis, or pneumonia among the three populations studied: i.e. primary school children, their non-smoking mothers, or a group of older non-smoking female controls. Incense burning did not affect lung cancer risk among non-smokers, but it significantly reduced risk among smokers, even after adjusting for lifetime smoking amount." However, the researchers qualified the findings by noting that incense burning in the studied population was associated with certain low-cancer-risk dietary habits, and concluded that "diet can be a significant confounder of epidemiological studies on air pollution and respiratory health."

Frankincense has been shown to cause antidepressive behavior in mice. It activated the poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety and depression.

Further reading

  • Silvio A. Bedini
    Silvio Bedini
    Silvio Bedini was an American historian, specialising in early scientific instruments. He was Historian Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution, where he served on the professional staff for twenty-five years, retiring in 1987.-Biography:Bedini was born in the Colonial town of Ridgefield,...

    . (1994). "The Trail of Time: Time Measurement with Incense in East Asia". Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    . ISBN 0-521-37482-0

External links