Types of Incense: What They Are & How They Can Help You


“Orchid breathing incense into butterfly’s wings
~Matsuo Basho

What is Incense?


Check out our Incense page for a whole host of how-to guides and deep dives into some of the wonderful fragrances.

But in short, incense is any substance that is burnt to produce a fragrance, often as part of a religious ceremony or ritual. Its name is derived from the Latin word ‘incensum’, meaning literally ‘something burnt’.

But incense has been around for thousands of years, long before the Ancient Romans. From the Americas in the West to the Pacific Islands in the East, incense was a prominent feature of ancient rituals and was revered for its healing properties.


How Could an Ancient Ritual Tool Benefit us Today?


Well, biologically, we are exactly the same as our ancestors.

While our modern lives are very different from those of early homo sapiens, the biology that makes us human has not evolved significantly in the last 10,000 years (around the time we became the world’s apex predator).

That means that as far as our genetics are concerned, we’re still hunter-gatherers spending our days in the great outdoors. It’s no surprise then, that sitting in an artificially-lit room and staring at screens all day isn’t compatible with our biology.


So, Why is Incense Experiencing a Renaissance Now?

One word. Anxiety.

According to this article in Medical News Today, Barnes and Nobel reported a 25% increase in sales of books related to anxiety between 2017 and 2018. That’s one year!

That is a lot of people who are so concerned by anxiety that they buy a book on the subject. This is a concerning trend, to say the least, symptomatic of the modern disconnect between our innate biology and our new way of life.

The good news? All incense has one excellent healing element in common: the ability to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

We have listed the most popular of the different types and scents below so you can find your fantastically fragrant match, although, having learned about all these wonderful properties for this article, we kind of want them all!


Incense Stick, Cone or Loose?


Let’s start with the basics before we get into the different scents. Incense today comes in three main forms: incense sticks, cones, and loose.

Incense Sticks

The most popular incense today is incense sticks. Originating in Ming Dynasty China, they are a form of ancient incense that is also sometimes referred to as “joss sticks”.

The most common incense sticks found in the west today are the ‘Nag Champa’ variety, which is of Indian Origin. Nag Champa is made by dipping a thin bamboo stick into water, essential oils, highly fragrant rare gums, and incense powder in layers, which will result in an incense stick with a densely-layered upper two thirds, and a bare bamboo bottom, which can be held or placed in the holder, which allows for flame burn down the body of the stick.

Another type of incense stick, which is popular in Japan and China, is essentially a combination of natural, fragrant ingredients and binding agents, which is rolled into a stick shape and allowed to dry.

These incense sticks are made of pure powders, oils and binders. Which means no stick in the middle, offering a ‘purer’ scent. The bamboo in cheaper incense sticks can have an unpleasant aroma, while even the slightly more expensive incense sticks made with a sandalwood base can overpower the surrounding scented powders.

These ‘coreless’ incense, are a more high-end and sought after product.

Coreless Incense Sticks

Incense Cones

Cones are less popular than incense sticks, but should by no means be disregarded! Much like the incense sticks that are popular in China and Japan, incense cones offer a ‘coreless’ solution, or in other words, more bang for your buck!

They are also formed by very tightly packing incense ingredients which offers a wonderfully powerful, cleansing aroma, with lots of beautiful smoke.

Incense Cone

Loose

White Sage ‘Smudge Sticks’ are the most popular type of loose incense. They are used to rid a space of evil spirits, which may sound like an old wives’ life hack, but it is still widely practiced in the West today.

However, there is so much more than just sage. Loose incense usually comes in a blend of different botanicals, each with healing properties of it own, and so offers a very unique array of fragrances.

We love this type because it is incense in its most natural, unadulterated form. Manufacturers of incense sticks and cones often use synthetic fillers and binding agents which taint the natural healing compounds within the oils, herbs, and spices, so loose is as pure as it gets!


What are the Different Fragrances and What Do they Do?


There is an infinite number of fragrance combinations that are used to create incense, and in turn, there are countless benefits. Incense is a powerful tool and so many cultures have told of its ability to enhance psychic awareness, increase sexual desire, cleanse negative energies, increase psychic powers, and even induce prophetic dreams. Not to mention the beautiful scents!

It’s fair to say then that these ancient ritual tools have some serious clout. They were a feature of countless celebrations, spiritual events, and everyday lives in ancient times, but what are burning botanicals going to do to help you beat the chronic stress that is life in 2022?

Below we break down 16 of the most common fragrances and some of the powerful and complex benefits they can bring to you.



Cedarwood

  • Natural insect repellent
  • Increase sexual desire in men
  • Reduce insecurity
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Promote mental clarity

Cedar, along with other wood-based incense, provides power and strength from deep within. It has a complex, woodsy aroma.

Cinnamon

  • Increase sexual appetite
  • Increase self esteem
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Attract joy and happiness

Cinnamon incense sticks are mild, sweet and pleasant in scent. They inspire lust, desire and sensual passion. It also creates an uplifting atmosphere and spreads positive energy.

Chakra Lotus

  • Aid self-regeneration
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Promote mental and emotional clarity
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve mood

Lotus has a pleasant, fruity aroma and is a symbol of enlightenment and uplifting spirits.

Dragon’s Blood

  • Foster healing environment
  • Antiseptic properties
  • Relieve stress
  • Reduce anxiety

Dragon’s blood is a beautiful, sweet scent that it is a common ingredient in aromatherapy products. Extracted from the ‘dragons blood flower’, it also has antiseptic qualities also make it a sought after ingredient in cosmetics.

Egyptian Musk

  • Bring balance and order
  • Realign Energy
  • Protect against harm
  • Remove negative energy

Egyptian Musk has a – you guessed it – musky aroma. Ancient communities have associated it with Saturn and the underworld, meaning it is great for providing protection from harm.

Frankincense

  • Create calming energy
  • Relieve anxiety
  • Grounding
  • Reduce tense or stressful atmosphere
  • Promote spiritual connection

Frankincense is an aromatic resin with a piney fragrance with notes of spice . It brings about a calming and sacred atmosphere.

Ginger

  • Heighten sensual passion
  • Inspire confidence
  • Reduce lethargy
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Enhance concentration

Ginger is a fragrant herb with a deeply warming, citrusy scent and it has powerful antiseptic properties.

Jasmine

Jasmine is fragrant and sweet smelling. Emotional feelings of love and joy are the main features.

Lavender

  • Alleviate mood swings
  • Drive away negative influences
  • Relieve anxiety
  • Provide clarity during meditation
  • Induce rest

This beautiful flower has a delicate, floral, slightly sweet scent. Lavender incense sticks aid sleep and maintains a calm atmosphere.

Myrrh

  • Reduce anxiety
  • Improve spirituality
  • Grounding
  • Increase serotonin

Like Frankinsence, Myrrh is a gum resin extracted from Commiphora bark. It has a powerfully bitter aroma with floral notes. It is a prized, ancient resin and it sacred because of its divine nature and history. Burn myrrh in sacred and magical spaces or when practising yoga.

Opium

  • Induce dreams and visions
  • Improve atmosphere
  • Promote inner peace
  • Encourages prosperity
  • Relieve stress

Opium incense mimics the fragrance of an opium poppy, although very few people have actually smelled one! It aids sleep and brings about visions during meditation.

Patchouli

  • Antidepressant
  • Improve fertility
  • Enhance lust
  • Improve mood

Patchouli produces a warm, exotic fragrance. Known as the ‘money-drawing incense’; for thousands of years, people have burnt patchouli incense and prayed to Saturn to improve their finances.

Rose

  • Improve romantic connection
  • Assits meditation
  • Improve memory
  • Reduce anxiety

Rose incense creates a floral, sweet scent that promotes a sensual atmosphere, with stimulating love, sex and desire among the most powerful of its abilities. It is also another money drawing incense.

Sandalwood

  • Pain relief
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relieve anxiety
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-bacterial

Sandalwood is one of the most common fragrances available. It is a great all-rounder that cleanses the spiritual body and offers some very powerful antibacterial properties.

Vanilla

  • Increase creativity
  • Improve mental clarity
  • Reduce anxiety

Vanilla incense is another great choice to burn at any time. It has an irresistible, sweet fragrance and specifically promotes mental clarity and intelligence, as well as stress reduction.

White Sage

  • Cleansing
  • Purifying
  • Protective

White sage was used in rituals by Native cultures in North and South America. The smoke of the burning White Sage was used to drive away evil spirits, purify sacred spaces and banish negative energy. Nowadays, you can buy white sage either as a smudge stick, or in the form of incense sticks.


How To Burn Incense


We get into the weeds about how to burn each type of incense in the articles below:

How to burn:
Incense cones
Incense sticks
Loose incense

However, it is important for all types that, before you light it, you must place it in a specialised burner, ideally on a heatproof surface, to ensure that your incense burns safely and that the hot ash is collected.

It is also important to make sure you never leave burning incense unattended.

Then, you must carefully ignite the incense. If, for example, you are lighting a cone, you will need to use a match or lighter to ignite the pointed tip.

Once that is done, a flame will appear which you must extinguish by gently blowing. Once the flame is extinguished, a fragrant smoke will be produced until it burns out. This happens anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes after lighting, although you can extinguish it at any time if you need to.


The Bottom Line


Incense has a whole host of wonderful healing and calming properties. Not to mention the beautiful smell they fill your home with! But one feature remains consistent across all of the types of incense – its ability to relieve anxiety. And that is something we could all benefit from.


Incense FAQs

What types of wood are used in incense?

Most commonly, bamboo or the bark of the sandalwood tree is used to make incense.

Is incense safe to use around dogs and cats?

No. We always take a ‘better safe than sorry approach’, and dogs and cats have very sensitive noses and lungs, so the powerful scents can cause them harm. Always protect your furry friends.

What is incense good for cleansing?

Incense is great for cleansing new crystals or crystals you need to recharge. But also, incense is great for cleansing a space of negative energies and some have antibacterial properties which cleanse the environment in which it is burned.

What is incense used for?

Incense is most commonly used for reducing stress, enhancing meditation and prayer, and for cleansing environments.

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