Archaeological evidence from numerous cultures tells our most ancient ancestors used natural incense burning for sacred and healing purposes. People have always recognized that burning plant materials can heighten the senses, and pleasantly alter our state of consciousness. When early man gathered around his dhuni, the smell of aromatic woods, herbs and leaves was perhaps a primary sensory pleasure, as well as an early method of honouring fire as a one of the transformative elements of our universe.
Historically speaking, incense and Herbal medicine go hand-in-hand, and amongst our oldest source books we have regarding these are Athar-vaveda and the Rigveda. The first is commonly considered first phase of Ayurveda and deals with the subject in a more magical and religious approach to physical healing. Examination of early Vedic texts indicates that the herbalists, or healers were a second tier of Hindu priest that emerged out of the agrarian areas. They appear to assimilated their knowledge of herbalism with the rituals and beliefs of the orthodox or “Sacrificial” priests.
Ingredients of Traditional Natural Incense
1. Ether (Fruits) Star Anise
2. Water (Stems & Branches) Sandalwood, Aloeswood, Cedarwood, , Cassia, Frankincense, Myrrh, Borneol
3. Earth (Roots) Turmeric, Vetivert, Ginger, Costus Root, Valerian, Spikenard
4. Fire (flower) Clove
5. Air (leaves) Patchouli
We know that natural incense was first brought to China by a monk around 200 CE and that by the Tang dynasty (618 – 607), incense was in common use and no longer restricted to religious or medical practice. Stick incense was developed in China during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Around this time, the art of making incense became highly developed in Japan where it became so popular that entire schools were devoted to the art, or Koh-Do, ‘the way of incense’.
Ingredients include leaves, flowers, roots, barks, woods, resins, gums and oils, and most frequently frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, rose petals, cinnamon, pine, benzoin, cedar, bay, rosemary, and basil. In India, sandalwood, lavender, golden champa, patchouli, rose, jasmine, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, citronella, sesame, hibiscus, cardamom, saffron, ginger, lotus, kadamba, hena, and camphor.