The Low Down On Incense

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Since ancient times  people have been burning incense as an offering to the gods, to protect against malignant energy as well as a deterrent to keep away pests and insects.

Incense burners have been found in the Indus Civilization (3300–1300 BCE) and incense residue in ancient egyptian tombs in El Mahasna. The earliest documented use of incense comes from the ancient Chinese, who employed incense composed of herbs and plant products (such as cassia, cinnamon, styrax, and sandalwood) as a component of numerous formalized ceremonial rites. 

The word incense comes from Latin incendere meaning "to burn".


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, so requires a separate heat source. The finer the form the quicker it burns! so it stands to reason the coarser ground is a little slower. This source traditionally is provided by charcoal blocks/ discs or burning embers. Typical indirect incense materials are resins such as frankincense, myrrh, copal, benzoin, amber.

  • Whole: The incense material is burned directly in raw form on top of coal embers.
  • Powdered or granulated: Incense broken into smaller pieces burns quickly and provides brief but intense odour.
  • Paste: Powdered or granulated incense material is mixed with a sticky incombustible binder, such as dried fruit, honey, or a soft resin 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. Like Arabian incense, also called "Bukhoor" or "Bakhoor",  and Japan has a history of kneaded incense, called nerikō or awasek. Within the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, raw frankincense is ground into a fine powder and is then mixed with various sweet-smelling essential oils.

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 its beautiful smoky fragrance. 

Direct-burning incense is either a paste formed around a bamboo stick, or a paste that is made into a stick or cone shape- as commonly seen in japanese and tibetan style incense sticks. 

This type of incense mixture binds fragrant material with a ‘fuel base’ such as charcoal, wood and commonly uses an oxidiser such as potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate to sustain the burning time. Natural plant based binders can also be used such as gum arabic or gum tragacanth.


  • Coil: Extruded and shaped into a coil without a core, coil incense can burn for an extended period, from hours to days, and is commonly produced and used in Chinese cultures.
  • Cone: Incense in this form burns relatively quickly. Incense cones were invented in Japan in the 1800s. Burnt on special  heatproof containers. They are very long lasting, but some say that they are best used in outdoor spaces or in well ventilated areas because they produce more smoke. 
  • Cored stick: A supporting core of bamboo is coated with a thick layer of incense material that burns away with the core. Higher-quality variations have fragrant sandalwood cores. This type of incense is commonly produced in India and China- sometimes known as "joss sticks".
  • Dhoop or solid stick: With no bamboo core, dhoop incense is easily broken for portion control. This is the most commonly produced form of incense in Japan and Tibet.
  • Powder: The oldest form of incense is incense powder. Originally, powdered flowers, leaves, spices, resin and other scented parts of plants were thrown on a fire. Powder incense is 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 resin or oils extracted from fragrant material, folded accordion style, is lit and blown out. Examples include Carta d'Armenia and Papier d'Arménie.
  • 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, and may be stood vertically, in a shallow dish of sand or pebbles. The smaller (pointed) end is lit. This type of incense is easily transported and stays fresh for extremely long periods. It has been used for centuries in Tibet and Nepal.
  • Resin incense on a charcoal base. Although a fairly difficult way of burning incense, it is believed that the extra effort is worth it and the aroma produced are superior, and has more pronounced psychological effect.
  • Moxa tablets, which are disks of powdered mugwort used in Traditional Chinese medicine for moxibustion, are not incenses; the treatment is by heat rather than fragrance.


When selecting an incense, quality is just as important as the scent. Some cheaper brands are using artificial scents, chemicals and cutting agents. Incense purists are recommending to avoid scents with names like "Pina Colada" or others that are not linked with natural scents as these can be full of artificial chemical based fragrances.


What you use to hold your incense depends on the type of incense you are using: cored or solid. You can purchase a special holder designed to hold incense sticks, our you can make your own using the supplies you have on hand.


  • If you have a cored incense stick, consider using an incense "boat," which is a long, thin piece of wood, metal, or ceramic that has a tiny hole at one end. The incense boat usually has a groove down the center, which is used to catch any falling pieces of ash. Stick incense that has a core can even be burned in the ground outside as long as any flammable materials are moved away first.  It is best not to burn incense outdoors when it is very windy, as sparks may come off during the lighting process and start a fire.


  • If you have a solid incense stick, do not use a wooden holder. Solid incense sticks burn all the way down, so using anything made from a flammable material as a censer is dangerous. The most efficient way to burn incense of this type is in a censer, bowl, or small cup that is filled with ash, sand, or dry grain such as rice.  One of the simplest ways to burn large quantities of solid stick incense is to get a nice bowl and fill the bottom with rice, and to then stand as many pieces of incense as you like inside and light them.  This method also has the advantage of being very easy to clean up! You can find very long burning incense sticks of this type, as well


  • The most common form of burner for cone incense is the brass burner, which are usually small brass bowls with lids.  Ideally, you want to select a brass burner with a bowl large enough for you to put the cone in easily without burning yourself (so, big enough to fit at least three of your fingers).  The walls of the bowl should also be high enough to make sure that the cones don't fall out. You also want to make sure that the lid of your cone burner is tall enough so as not to put out the incense when you put it on.  It is important to keep the burner well cleaned, or the oils and resins from the incense will ruin the brass.  Over time, brass incense burners will take on a scent all their own from continuous use, which will become part of the scent of any incense you burn in it. It helps to put a small amount of sand, ash, or dry grain, such as rice, at the bottom of cone burners.  This improves the air flow under the cone, helping it to burn, and protects the burner from heat.  Never use brass burners on wood surfaces, even if they are raised.  Brass conducts heat very well, and you don't want to risk starting a fire.  A ceramic tile or plate is an ideal surface on which to use a brass burner.


  • Loose incense is perhaps the most confusing type of incense to use.  You will need  a burner that is basically a small charcoal grill, often made of brass.  You can put sand or ash in the bottom of the bowl, or use a piece of metal screen to keep the charcoal disk off of the bottom of the bowl.  Put a few charcoal bricks in your burner and light the edges, and then place the loose incense on top of the burning charcoal.  This will release the scent into the air.  Loose incense requires a decent amount of maintenance to keep burning for a long period of time, and so is not ideal if you want something that requires minimal supervision after lighting. Think of this as more of a ceremonial type during as you “feed’ the burner.


Basically the best option for burning any type of incense you might come across is a censer.  Censers are decorative bowls which you fill with ash, sand, or other non-flammable, dry material.  You can light any type of stick incense, as well as cone, cylinder and charcoal for loose incense in them.  If you burn incense regularly, investing in a censer will ensure that you can burn any sort of incense you come across in your explorations!



  1. Find a suitable place to burn your incense. Because incense sticks release a lot of smoke, you will need to burn your stick in a well-ventilated room. At the same time, however, keep your burning incense away from open windows or doors, where there is a lot of draft. Make sure that there is nothing flammable near your incense, such as curtains or drapes.O r if you have pets please place somewhere you can supervise it.
  2. Light the end of the incense stick. You can use a match or a lighter. Hold the flame to the stick until the stick ignites. 
  3. Let the flame burn for about 10 seconds or So. The flame may extinguish on its own. If it does  look at the tip of the incense stick-If you can see a glowing ember, then the incense stick is burning properly. If you do not see anything, and the tip looks ashy, then you will need to relight the stick.
  4. Gently blow out the flame. You should be able to see a glowing ember on the tip of your incense stick and a tendril of smoke; you should not see a flame. After about 30 seconds, you should be able to smell the incense. This means that your incense is burning properly. If you do not see anything and the tip looks ashy, then you have completely extinguished the incense. Re-light the stick. This time, cup your hand and hold it behind the flame as you blow it out.
  5. Stick your incense into the holder. If you are using a cored incense stick, then place the wooden end unto the holder. If you are using a solid incense stick, then it does not matter which end you place into the holder. Most censers will hold the stick up vertically or at a slight angle. If your censer holds your stick at a slight angle, make sure that the tip of your incense stick is still over the censer. If the tip extends beyond the censer, trim the incense stick down or place the censer down on a heat-resistant try. If you are using a bowl or bucket filled with grain, rice, salt, or sand, then gently push the bottom of the stick into the grain, rice, salt, or sand until the stick is able to stand up on its own. You can stand the stick straight up or angle it slightly. If you choose to angle the stick, make sure that the tip is still within the perimeter of the container. This way, once you light the stick, any ash will fall directly into the container, and not onto your table or floor.
  6. Let the incense burn until it extinguishes. Most incense sticks will burn for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size and thickness. You can dip the burning end into a little water; this will extinguish it quickly. Or, simply snap off the end, taking care not to touch the burning part. Sticks can also be extinguished by burying them in sand or cold ash. The remaining stick can be reused another time.
  7. Practice proper fire safety. Like with all flames, do not leave burning incense unattended. If you need to leave the room, extinguish the incense by dipping the tip in water or pressing it against a heat-resistant surface. Make sure that the incense holder is on a heat-resistant surface, and out of reach of any curtains, drapes, children, and pets



Burning Time. An average incense stick (about 10 inches with the wooden part and the thickness of a toothpick) will burn for 20 minutes. That makes it about 2.5 minutes for an inch of incense.

Use incense for meditation. Burning incense during meditation can not only help relax your mind, but it can also help give you a sense of focus.

Use incense as an air freshener. Because incense produces a lot of fragrant smoke, it is possible to use this as an air freshener. Keep in mind, however, that incense will only mask odours, and that to eliminate a bad smell completely, you will have to get rid of the source (be it the trash, dirty dishes, dirty litter, and so forth).

Be aware that using incense too often may lead to lung diseases. Incense fills a room with fragrant smoke, which you breathe in. Studies have shown that breathing this smoke daily may lead to lung cancer 

Know that using incense too often increases indoor air pollution. The smoke from extensive incense use may deteriorate the air quality in your home, and contribute to issues such as: asthma, headaches, and other respiratory issues. It may also irritate the eyes, nose, lungs, and throat.



There is always a chance of starting a fire if burning incense is left unattended or is poorly positioned. Always use a heat-resistant container for the burning incense, ensure that the incense is placed away from flammable items such as drapes, fabrics, dried plant materials, etc., and prevent people and pets walking so close they might accidentally brush against the sticks or censer, knocking it over or catching clothes or fur alight. Ensure that ash is caught on a non-flammable container and never leave burning incense unattended; extinguish the incense if you leave the room. Lastly, remember that burnt ash can still ignite, so discard of the ash only when it has fully cooled down––or drop it in water to be sure.

  • Use proper air ventilation. Too much incense smoke may cause headaches.
  • Keep burning incense away from drafty areas or places where it could get knocked over.
  • Keep the incense holder on a flat, heat-resistant surface. This is to reduce the risk of fire in case it gets knocked over or any ashes miss the censer as they fall.
  • Never leave burning incense unattended.

So that wraps up some basic incense information- you can pop by my store and check out incnse and holders I have available here online as well as in persona t the Busselto markets each sunday from 7-12 pm

crystal blessings


Infrequent use of incense in a well-ventilated area should pose few problems. However, there can be serious health risks associated with constant use and inhalation of smoke from burning incense sticks. Long-term exposure to incense smoke may contribute to such problems as respiratory illnesses (e.g. asthma, breathing problems), headaches, cardiovascular harm and even lung cancer. If inhaled constantly, it is little different from smoking.

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  • Hobbit jack on

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article and information. I’ve learned a lot and it did help. God bless you.

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