The Brighter Writer


Non-Combustible Incense

I'm a nut about smells. I always have been. In fact, yesterday a neighbor walked by me and I made a remark to my husband that he smelled like a childhood friend I once had. Needless to say, I was given a look like I'm the biggest fruit of all the loops. Which, I suppose is possible. I guess.

Anyway, I just love the way things (most things) smell. I don't think I'm alone here either. The smell of fresh rain, cut grass, peeled oranges, even my baby's sweet head; they're all delicious to me. If I could capture them in a bottle and take them out to sniff here and there, I probably would.

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 burnt toast smell or weed or cat shit or whatever happened to be stinking up my house at the time. Around that same time, I learned how to make my own.

Here I am all these years later and clearly I don't own a cat anymore or smoke weed or burn my toast (I'm just so sophisticated now) 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, but most of all, I honestly just love the way incense smells.

I have a few dozen different kinds of herbs in my incense cupboard, along with a small stack of recipe books and burners. At first glance, it's possible I look like some sort of closet spell casting, hex provoking, coven hosting, pagan witch. But I assure you, I'm certainly not that girl. I am however, a girl that loves the smell of a smoldering lilac on cedar wood. I promise I don't love Satan. I love Jesus and America just like I'm supposed to. So everyone can just calm down and rest assured in that.

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

There are some basic rules here folks. 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 dryness 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. Plus the smell is fantastic which is the point anyway, right?

Alright, the next thing you need is whatever you're going to be burning your incense inside of. You'll 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.

You'll also need 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.

Now 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 and 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.