Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Incense And Peppermints

I'm a girl who loves [most] smells.

Fresh rain, cut grass, peeled oranges, smoldering lilac on cedar wood. I love it.

When I was younger, in my late teens and early 20's, I started burning incense. I bought sticks of it at the little hippy stores around town and used it at my house to cover up the smell of burnt toast or weed or cat shit or whatever happened to be stinking up my house at the time and as the natural progression of things would have it, I eventually learned how to make my own.
Here I am all these years later, I don't own a cat anymore or smoke weed or burn my toast (now I wreak of sophistication) but I still love to make incense. When I lived in Long Beach with Smoker Lady a few years back, we were always in her garden choosing the best smelling flowers to dry. I love picking out the resins, herbs, roots, and petals, trying out new recipes, grinding the dry ingredients with my little pestle and mortar. I love sprinkling my finished product on my charcoal and setting it on fire.

Like many things in my life, it's the process not the end result that I'm so infatuated with.

That being said, here's a look into my world of smelling sauces:

There are some obvious basic rules here. If you have kids, I mean, come on, don't be lighting crazy smoking ingredients anywhere near their fragile little lungs, or yours for that matter. I tend to make mine more in the summertime with the doors and windows open and when there is a breeze blowing through the house. When you're lighting your incense on charcoal blocks like I do, it can tend to smoke you out just a little bit sometimes so just make sure you watch what you do. Never leave incense burning unattended. Use your common sense, don't be a dummy.

Ok, so the thing you want to start with would be whatever you're using to make the incense hold together; the "glue" of your ingredients. This would be any sort of gum or resin like frankincense, gum arabic, gum mastic or myrrh. Those, along with your barks and roots are the hardest to grind. I would highly suggest skipping the hand grinding for these and just throw them into some sort of food processor or coffee grinder. Save yourself the carpal tunnel and the time.

Next, you add in your crushed dry materials. These are mostly your petals and leaves. You need these in your mixture to tone down the moisture of your incense. If all you had was a giant pile of rose petals, or anything else dry like that, it would burn super fast and you'd be constantly having to add things to keep the smell going. The resin is what you need to prolong the burning. It's a give and take.

You'll also want some sort of heat-proof bowl. No aluminum obviously because it releases bad chemicals when heated up, but you can find incense bowls made specifically for that purpose most anywhere you pick up pre-made incense.

Pick yourself up some small charcoal discs or briquettes. I get mine online, they usually come in small packs of 10 for just a couple of bucks.

Line your bowl with any sort of sand or salt.  Next, you hold your briquette with a pair of tongs or whatever you have laying around that isn't your hands. The discs get ridiculously hot so you don't want to chance burning your house down or your fingers off. Once your briquette is lit enough to be producing a soft glow after you blow out the flame (yes, the crackle sound is normal as well), it's ready to be laid on top of the sand. And then you sprinkle your powder directly on top. Start with just a little at a time and then add as necessary.

Depending on your mixture, you may not need the charcoal at all. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. If I've got enough resin, sometimes I can roll the mixture into little pellets and just light those directly. Always blow out the flame, it's the smoldering that makes the nice smell. Also, some ingredients burn great as loose powders without the need of extra help from the coal discs. You just have to experiment and figure out what works best for you. Either way, your house is sure to be left smelling amazing. Try out new recipes, don't forget to write the ones you love down. Add a few drops of oil if you'd like, try less flowers, add more herbs, whatever you desire.

Spring is a time for reinvention and trying new things and if you're looking for a new hobby, you may as well try one that's going to leave your house smelling fantastic.

Happy burning!


  1. I enjoyed your article and will try my hand at making my own incense. I do feel the need to point something out however: witches are NOT Satan worshippers. That's a whole different religion. :)

    1. Oh I was just joking around, thanks so much for reading and good luck on the incense!