Incense has its roots back in mankind's first experiences with
fire itself. It is unlikely primitive man would have missed that
certain woods had more pleasing aromas and indeed varying emotional
effects. Incense artifacts, thousands of years old, have be found
in throughout the world, and appear to be a part of virtually
every culture. The connection between incense, religions, medicine,
and shaman practices is obvious, it would be impossible to separate
them, or say which proceeded the other. Historically it is difficult
to trace because it has always been largely an esoteric and oral
tradition evolving in relation to both religion and medicine.
There are many myths regarding incense as well. Several modern
sources include the use of Salt Peter (Potassium Nitrate) in making
incense. This is undoubtedly a much later addition that arose in
the commercialization of incense, primarily in the last 40 years.
appeared in many forms: raw woods, chopped herbs, pastes, powders,
and even liquids or oils. What most of us think
of as incense today is joss-sticks or cones. Cones as we know them
were an invention of the Japanese and introduced at the World's
Fair in Chicago in the late 1800's. I cannot say, at this time,
when the Joss Stick or Masala incense first appeared. We do know
that it was brought to China by Buddhist monk's around 200 ce.
as both incense materials and Buddhism traveled the various routes
of the Silk Road. The process of extruding incense sticks and coils
from finely ground incense materials seems to have begun in China,
as well as the use of these types in time measurement.
incense is blended primarily for effect. Scent is the secondary
many cases, but in "all" cases, the
scent is designed for the burn. Many natural incense ingredients
have almost no aroma until they are heated. Notably, Aloes wood
as well as many other resins have little or no aroma until they
are smoldered over the incense fire.
Incense and Herbalism
go hand-in-hand, and the oldest sources we have regarding herbalism
and incense is the Indian Vedas. The
primary references are in the Athar-vaveda and the Rigveda. This
is commonly considered first phase of Ayurveda and deals with the
subject in a more magical and religious approach to 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.
However, they remained two distinct classes and were scorned in
the later days of this phase by the sacrificial priests who considered
them unclean because of their association and medical treatment
of all classes of people. Around 200 bce. They were excluded by
law from participating in sacred rites. Even before this, the medical
priests had begun associating with wandering mendicants and ascetics
who were renouncing sacrificial rites and orthodoxy, and among
these were the Buddhist or bhikkhus. Pali sources indicate that
the Buddhists were the principal means by which these emerging
physicians organized, developed and disseminated their emerging
art. This begins the classical phase of Ayurveda and the great
healer Atreya emerges among others at the medical university at
Taxila. Among his students were Jivaku (Buddha's Physician).
Later, Brahmanization of certain medical texts amends the heterodox
practices in light of a more orthodox view, and Buddhist medicine
appears to split with Ayurveda. From this point, incense evolves
in both traditions in association with medicine and herbal remedies,
and becomes even more a closely guarded secret passed down primarily
in the oral tradition and apprenticeship.
Breaking down the five elements and their Ayurvedic relationship
to plants and common incense ingredients we find them falling into
five classes. The following chart shows the relationship:
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,
4. Fire (flower) Clove
5. Air (leaves) Patchouli
By Buddhist traditions, the 5 primary ingredients are:
1. Buddha Family - Vairocana (Transmutation of Ignorance) Aloeswood
2. Vajra Family - Akshobhya (Transmutation of Aversion) Clove
3. Padma (lotus) Family - Amitabha (Transmutation of Desire) Sandalwood
4. Ratna Family - Ratnasambhava (Transmutation of Pride) Borneol
5. Karma Family - Amoghasiddhi (Transmutation of Envy) Turmeric
The process of making herbal incense without the use of salt peter,
or even charcoal is actually quite easy. However, perfecting
the art is another matter. Perhaps the easiest way is by using
a binder commonly called Makko. Makko not only serves as a water
soluble binder, but as a burning agent as well. Makko is a natural
tree bark from an evergreen tree and contains no synthetic chemicals,
charcoal, or salt peter.
To make incense, simply mix the desired ingredients, in powdered
form, with makko, and add some warm water. Knead the incense-dough
thoroughly and form into cones or sticks and let them dry slowly.
Japanese makers have ways to control the drying time. About a week
in the summer and ten days in the winter.
is common to almost every incense formula, and serves as a wonderful
base aroma as well as a burning agent of its own
right. If you were making an incense of sandalwood alone, the amount
of makko required may be a little as 10%. However, resins like
Frankincense are more difficult to burn and must be used in much
lower percentages to burning agents such as sandalwood or makko.
Otherwise, your incense won't burn properly, and may me too smoky
or keep going out. Here is an incense recipe to get you going:
for Cone Incense...
2 parts Makko
1 part Sandalwood powder
1 part Cassia powder
1/2 part Clove powder
Add a little warm water and knead dough completely.
Form in small incense cones.
Dry at room temperature for 24 hours.
What is Makko?
Tabu no ki (Makko)
Makko really just means "Incense Powder," but
when we refer to Makko we are talking about a specific incense
Tabu no ki. It is the bark of a tree that grows in Southeast Asia,
the Machillus Thunbergii tree. Makko comes in four grades, and
the higher grades have less aroma than the lower ones. What makes
this powder so special is its water soluble adhesive properties,
an almost odorless characteristic that seems to be entirely lost
when mixed with other ingredients, and its abilities to burn smoothly
Incense Making -- Part Two
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 -
5 - 6 - 7 - 8
-- David Oller 2000 - 2002