The History of Incense: and Different Types

Incense is rich in history, dating back to ancient times and progressing from then on. Read on as we dive into - 'The History of Incense: and Different Types'.

1. What is Incense?

2. Types of Incense

  1. Incense Sticks
  2. Incense Cones
  3. Loose
  4. Natural 

3. The History of Incense

  1. Where Did Incense Originate?
  2. What Was Incense Used For?
  3. Incense Within Religion 

4. Nowadays Uses of Incense

5. The Bottom Line


What is Incense?

Incense is a sacred tool with a long and spiritual history. It involves burning an aromatic biological material to produce smoke. This smoke emits a pleasant fragrance and cleansing energy, which is why many religious and spiritual beings use it to purify their space of worship and themselves.

Types of Incense

Some types of incense are more cleansing than others - these types usually have natural ingredients without additives, but more on that below.

Incense Sticks:

Incense sticks (or joss sticks) are the most popular variety of incense today. They are made from aromatic, herbal wood powders set around a wooden core, usually made from bamboo. The tip, where the powder rests, is lit, releasing a robust, fragrant smoke.
The aromatic powders in incense sticks are typically combined with essential oil (an extract derived from various plants, fruits, resins, and herbs). However, due to modern interference, they can coincide with chemical additives - these additives can sometimes be harmful. However, this said, when used with limits (at most once a week), incense sticks maintain their spiritual, healing benefits.
Incense sticks usually produce a distinctive smoky and woodsy fragrance when burnt but with bright notes of the plant extract within the powder. They make a great tool to burn at home, having minimal effort or clean-up time required. 
Click here to learn more on incense sticks and how to burn them.

Incense Cones:

Incense cones are the coreless alternative to incense sticks, meaning they don't have a wooden stick to set the aromatic powders around. Instead, the aromatic powder is compressed, forming a sturdy 'cone' shape.

Incense cones are made from combustible wood powders combined with one or more aromatic herbs, spices, or resins. They are burnt at a very high temperature, producing a robust, fragrant smoke. So, that being said, you must ensure that your incense cone burner is heatproof.

Much like incense sticks, incense cones nowadays coincide with harmful chemical additives, so you should only burn incense cones occasionally, once a week or less. That will maintain the cleansing and healing effects they produce.


Loose incense is one of the more natural incense types, consisting of combinations of fragrant dried herbs, flowers, fruits, spices, botanicals, and resins, without filler and usually with no added nasties. 
This incense type comes in powder form or as an herbal blend. However, the most commonly used loose incense today is smudge sticks, bundles of white sage wrapped with cotton thread, used for centuries to drive away negative energies. Other loose incense types are burnt in a heat-proof dish and can't be held.
When purchasing loose incense, make sure to read the label beforehand. Though rare, chemical additives are sometimes included.
Click here to learn more on loose incense and how to burn it.


Natural incense is our favourite type of incense - it is natural, healing, and wildly fragrant. This incense type consists of plant extracts such as resin, essential oil, and botanicals. These extracts are burnt on an oil warmer alongside water or carrier oil to keep the oil safe.

Natural incense is the most fresh-smelling incense type around. Thus, it can help to remove unpleasant aromas and keep the air cleansed.

There are many different scents to choose from with natural incense, meaning you can make fun, unique, fragrant blends catering to your mood, energy, and weather.

Click here to learn more on natural incense and how to burnt it.

The History of Incense

Where Did Incense Originate?

The earliest documentation of incense was over 6000 years ago in ancient times. It was primarily used by the ancient civilisations such as the Quin and Han dynasty (in China), the Egyptians, and the Romans.
They would burn plants and their extracts (such as resins, herbs, flowers, berries, and fruit) for medicinal, spiritual, and fragrance purposes. However, they wouldn't have named it 'incense' back then - it was simply a tool used for its many benefits. But with time, people became intrigued with all the unique and pleasant fragrances coinciding with burning plants and their extracts, using them for aromatherapy reasons. 


What Was Incense Used For?

Incense has obtained many uses throughout the centuries, but what were the earlier uses?

Within Ancient Egypt:

Incense was a part of day-to-day living within ancient Egypt, mainly as a way to connect to higher entities, spirits, and Gods. They would fumigate their temples with the smoke of resins, plants, and essential oils as an offering to their pharaohs, gods, and statues. They especially enjoyed the effects of Frankincense, Myrrh, Jasmine, and Lotus.

The Egyptians were also known to burn incense during mummification to cleanse the body and soul, bringing them eternal fortune, protection, and prosperity in the afterlife.

Within Ancient China:

Similarly to the Egyptians, incense's primary use by the ancient Chinese was as a connection between the physical and spiritual realms. However, they worshipped different gods and entities.

They also discovered the medicinal uses of herbs, flowers, fruits, seeds, and their extracts, great for recovery and immunity strength. They would commonly burn Agarwood, Sandalwood, Cinnamon, Chamomile, and other herbs for the natural benefits their smoke emits.

The ancient Chinese also used a traditional medicine therapy called moxibustion, involving burning mugwort across the body to relieve pain and discomfort. They valued incense greatly, ultimately making it what it is today. 

Within Ancient India:

 Incense officially became a part of Ayurvedic medicine around 600 BC in India when Buddhism was new. However, incense in India dates back even earlier to around 4000 BC. Ancient Indians enjoyed burning scents like Sandalwood, Rose, and Jasmine for their fragrance and healing properties. 

Incense sticks were first invented in India, where they gained their popularity as a spiritual-enhancing tool.


Incense Within Religion

Incense has been a part of many religions (from ancient to popular) across the centuries as a connecting tool.

Hindus and Buddhists use incense in their ceremonies, rituals, and worship. In earlier years, they cleansed their temples and worship spaces with scents such as Frankincense, Sandalwood, and Lavender. This act is still practised today, though they mostly burn incense sticks rather than resins and herbs. Burning incense helps to sanctify their space, allowing for intense connection and offering to their God or Gods. Incense also had a lot of symbolism within these religions, making it a sacred and holy tool. Buddhist monks would use incense to cleanse their energy Chakras, allowing them to meditate and live in balance.

Incense is also used within Christianity, though it isn't as common or significant. It is still symbolised as a gateway between the physical and spiritual, helping to deliver messages and prayers to their God. However, incense burning is more of a choice, and most Christians burn incense for the pleasant scent produced. Incense is most significant within Christianity during the celebration of the Eucharist, a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. It is optional but seen as an energy-enhancing tool.

Many religious practitioners living in ancient civilisations, such as ancient China, Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia, burnt incense during their worship and rituals. Similarly to the religions listed above, these ancient religions burnt incense as a deity-connecting tool.

Nowadays Uses of Incense

  • Energy cleanse: Incense is a great way to cleanse your space from negativity. Many religious and spiritual people use it to purify their space.
  • Remove unpleasant aromas: Incense produces a robust, fragrant smoke which can naturally remove unpleasant aromas such as B.O., garbage, mould, and food.
  • Repel insects: There are many different incense scents great for repelling insects, some include, Peppermint, Lemongrass, Cedarwood, and Lavender.
  • Enhance spirituality: Incense has been popular for centuries to enhance spiritual energy, whether internal or external. 
  • Align the Chakras: Incense is a popular tool used to align the seven main Chakras. It can cleanse blockages effecting your spiritual development.
  • Relax: Burning incense is a great thing to use when you are in need of an unwind and relax. Click here for the best incense scents for relaxation.
  • Boost sex drive: There are many incense scents great for boosting libido, some examples include, Rose, Cinnamon, Ginger, and Patchouli. 
  • Enhance focus: Incense is a great tool to use when you are in need of focus. Click here to read on the best incense for studying.
  • Improve mood: Incense is naturally mood boosting, perfect for when you feel low, stressed, anxious, or negative. 

The Bottom Line

Incense is rich in history, and some of its earlier uses have influenced it's status today. And one thing we can confirm is that incense has been and still is used as a spiritual-enhancing tool.

Thank you for reading our articles on 'The History of Incense: and Different Types'.

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