Do It Yourself: Make Your Own Incense

Learn the basic methods of making incense so you can create your own blends and aromas. Information on ingredients and benefits.

Incense has been used for spiritual purposes for several thousand years. Today, many people continue to use it for spiritual purposes, as well as just to fill our home with the pleasant scents. We also understand the aromatheraputic benefits of incense. Scents are powerful evocative of memory, mood and emotions. We can actually alter how we feel or set the atmosphere we want, just by burning the right scents.

There are benefits to making your own incense. For one thing, if you enjoy using incense regularly, you'll get your money's worth. Many cheaper types of incense are scented with synthetic materials, which can sometimes be overpowering for indoor use. Other herbal and natural scents can so subtle you'll need to use several sticks or cones to scent a room, and it won't last for long. Most commercial incense blends can sit on a shelf for ages and lose much of their potency. When you buy a blend, you can't know which ingredients are used in the mix. There is no way to really know what a blend will smell like until you take it home and burn it, and if you're dissatisfied with the product, you're out of luck. If, however, you like a particular blend and can't find it again, you'll most likely never be able to duplicate it unless you have made it yourself and have the recipe. Another benefit to making your own incense is, if you are using it for spiritual or magical purposes, you can be assured that all of the ingredients are in harmony with your intent. Finally, there is the satisfaction that comes with using something, or giving a gift of something, that you made entirely on your own.

The basic kinds of incense you can make at home are block incense and raw incense.

Block incense is more difficult to make because it requires careful measuring, some messy mixing, molding the mixture into small cubes or cones, and a drying process. However, once made, block incense is combustible, which means that it contains chemicals to aid the burning process. Once it is made, all you need to do is light it and it will burn steadily, much like the cones or sticks you buy at the store, but will be more fragrant.

Raw incense is easily made by the simple, less messy process of grinding and mixing herbs, scented oils, resins, or wood, and stored in jars or plastic containers until you want to use it. Raw incense is non-combustible, however, which means that it must be burned on something-- usually charcoal specially made to use with incense. It must be sprinkled on in small increments every few minutes. If you add too much and you may get overpowering wafts of smoke in the room for a while, and if you don't continue to add the coal may burn out before you are finished using it.

Both types come with their own pros and cons. Nevertheless, if you do make your own incense, you'll find the little bit of trouble is well worth the result. You also may discover a growing distaste for the packaged bargain incenses, or those from shops that keep them lying around for ages.

BLOCK INCENSE BASE RECIPE

The basic composition of a block incense include the glue, the igniter, the binders, the fixes, and the scent.

THE GLUE: The glue of block incense is a gum resin mixed with water, creating glue that is highly absorbent. The most inexpensive, easily obtainable gum resin available today is gum arabic. It must be in the form of a fine powder; if you can only find coarse gum arabic, run it through a coffee grinder. To make the arabic glue, pour one cup of warm water in a bowl. Add one heaping teaspoon of finely ground gum arabic and mix well with a wire whisk. Skim any foam off the top and let it thicken. If it gets too thick to work with, you can always add a little water later to thin it out. Cover the mixture with a wet paper towel and set it aside.

THE IGNITER: This is what causes the block incense to catch easily on fire when held to a match. The best igniter is potassium nitrate, more commonly known as saltpeter. This can be obtained at drug stores (ask the pharmacist, you probably won't find it on the shelf) or at chemical supply stores. No more than 10 percent of the mixture should be potassium nitrate, or you risk creating a small firework instead of incense. For this reason, do not attempt to make block incense without a kitchen scale.

THE BINDERS: Most block incenses that can be found on the market are made with a charcoal binder, which, unfortunately, interferes with the actual aroma of the final product. The same results can be created by using a powdered wood binder. Powdered wood burns as slowly, and has a much nicer scent that can aid your incense rather than detract from it. Sandalwood, with its clean scent, makes a nice all-purpose base, but any fine wood powder can be used, such as cedar, pine, juniper, poplar, or elder. Another binder that adds scent is essential or scented oils. Choose oils based no the scents you are using; for example, if your intention is to make a lavender scented incense, use lavender oil. You might want to experiment to see what kind of combinations you can come up with, however.

THE FIXERS: This is a blend of gum resins and orris root that aids in scent, and in the fixing process. You can use a single gum resin, or a blend of resins, as long as it is finely ground. Some resins with pleasing scents to use are: frankincense, myrrh, dragon's blood, benzoin, gum acacia, or copal. Orris root has a way of softening the scents, and should always be included.

THE SCENTS: This is the herbs that give the incense distinct scents. You can use single herbs, or a mixture. This is the part where it gets fun to experiment or try out different recipes. You can also simply add a blend of raw incense to the mixture.



THE RECIPE: Remember, if you didn't purchase finely ground or powdered ingredients, you'll need a grinder (such as a coffee grinder or small food processor) on hand, and have an accurate kitchen scale available.

Weigh a large bowl, and write down the weight on a piece of paper. In the bowl, blend together ½ cup of finely powdered wood binder of your choice, 2 ½ tbsps of finely ground resin, and 1 tbsp powdered orris root. Blend well. Add 8 drops of essential oils or scented oils while mixing, one drop at time, working it throughout the dry mixture until evenly disbursed. Add ¼ to 1/3 cup of finely ground dried herbs or incense blend and mix well.

Place your mixture on the kitchen scale and weigh it (be sure to subtract the weight of the bowl). Remove it from the scale. Measure 10% of the weight in potassium nitrate (for example, if you have 10 oz of mixture, you'll need 1 oz of potassium nitrate. Use a calculator if necessary. Be precise.). Add the potassium nitrate to the mixture and blend well.

Now add the glue mixture, one teaspoon at a time. Work it in with your hands (it benefits you to have a rubber or latex glove). Continue adding and blending until the mixture is a moist clay-like consistency. If you squeeze some up in your fist, it should hold together as a nice little ball. If it's too runny, add a bit more glue. If it cakes and cracks, it is too stiff, and you should add a few drops of water or essential oils to moisten the mixture, or else your incense may crack and crumble when dry.

When you have the right consistency, you are ready to form your cubes or cones. For cones, simply take small amounts in your hands, roll it and mold it to a small cone shape. Don't make it too big, or it won't dry. Try to strive for the same size as commercial cones. For cubes, spread wax paper on a surface, place a lump of the mixture on the center, cover with another piece of wax paper, and roll a rolling pin over it until it is about ½ inch thick. Remove the top piece of wax paper and use a knife to cut ½ inch squares.

Set the cones or cubes aside to dry for five to seven days in a dry place. You can now store your incense in plastic containers. To use one, simply light it and place it in a heat-proof container, such as an ashtray or censer.

RAW INCENSE BASE RECIPE

With raw incense, you have much more lee-way in the mixture. The variation will affect the scent, but will not affect the consistency or burning quality of the blend. Raw incense doesn't need to be as finely ground as when you are making block incense, so you can dispense with the food grinder and just use a mortar and pestle. However, the finer the grind, the more quickly, easily, and evenly it will burn.

A good balance for raw incense is to mix 1 part wood or gum resin with 2 parts herbs and a few drops of essential oils. Raw incense is much easier to experiment with because if you are not happy with the results you can continue to add more ingredients until you find a balance that pleases you.

When creating your own raw incense recipes, keep a censer with a piece of self-igniting incense charcoal burning near by. As you go along in the process of adding and mixing, sprinkle a bit on the burning coal and see what you have. When you like the scent, you're done.

A WORD ABOUT BURNING RAW INCENSE: do not attempt to use barbecue charcoals indoors, because they contain toxic chemicals. Only use self-igniting charcoal tabs made specifically for indoor use. These coals get extremely hot, so don't place them in plastic or thin metal ashtrays. Censers of clay, brass or iron specifically made for incense charcoal are the safest bet.

To light the charcoal, hold it with tweezers. This will help avoid you burning your fingers as it combusts. Since it takes a moment or two for the charcoal to ignite, a lighter or regular match can burn your fingers as well. Suspend the charcoal over a candle, or use a long match made for lighting fire places. When the coal catches, it will begin to spark. Place it in the burner and let it finish sparking. It will burn for 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon the size.

When adding incense, sprinkle about ¼ to ½ teaspoon at a time, and avoid burying the coal or the incense will smother it. If you are a frequent incense user, you will find that you will reap tremendous satisfaction with your product if you make your own.

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