Incense Types and How to Use Them
BURNING INCENSE: Never leave burning incense unattended and always keep out of reach of children or pets. Always burn on a heat-proof surface, and safely dispose of ash only once it has cooled.
ASTHMA: Like many other irritants, smoke from incense can irritate asthmatic conditions. If you or anyone in your family are known asthmatics please consider this before purchasing or using any incense products.
What is Incense?
The word ‘incense’ is derived from the Latin ‘incensum‘ – to set on fire. All incense types, whether stick, resin, cone or herb, are smouldered to release their fragrance through aromatic smoke.
Not all incense is created equally, though. Many cheap commercially made incense types are simply sticks covered in sawdust and glue, dipped into synthetic fragrances and chemicals that help the scent ‘throw’. Many are potentially toxic or known carcinogens, or can cause headaches or nausea.
At AQ we focus only on NATURAL incense types that generally contain beautiful naturally aromatic ingredients and botanicals like resins, herbs or wood powders, and are typically handmade using centuries-old traditional methods – incense where you can actually see the gorgeous natural botanicals.
While some of the exotic types may appear a little daunting, most are just as simple to burn as a standard incense stick, and very few require any specialised equipment.
Types of Incense
Agarbatti – Indian Sticks
This is what most people picture when they think ‘incense’ – aromatic ingredients compressed around an inner bamboo skewer. High quality Agarbatti is generally made using the ‘masala’ method, with the raw ingredients ground into a paste, which is then hand-rolled around an inner bamboo stick.
TO BURN: Simply light the end of the stick, and when it begins to glow blow out the flame and allow the stick to smoulder over an ash-catcher, incense box or burner, or heatproof dish. The incense will naturally burn out as it reaches the uncoated bamboo section, and the ash can be disposed of once cooled.
Instead of rolling ingredients around a stick, they are compressed into moulds to create Cones. They may be considered ‘purer’ than Agarbatti sticks, as there is no scent added from the burning skewer.
TO BURN: As Cones burn right through to the base, they need to be burned on a heat-proof stand, and not directly on wood (many come with a simple stand, or choose your own burner with a metal plate etc). Hold a flame to the tip, wait until it’s caught and is starting to glow red, then blow out the flame and allow to smoke. The cone will extinguish itself once it burns through to the base.
Differing slightly from standard cones, Backflow Cones have a hole in the base that goes almost to the top – the hole aligns with a hole or channel in a specialised Backflow Burner, allowing the smoke to flow downwards like a waterfall over the design to create a stunning visual effect. These will not work with ‘standard’ cone burners.
TO BURN: Light as you would with a normal cone and place on the platform. At first, smoke will come from the TOP of the cone, but once the lit section burns down to meet the hole inside (this may take a couple of minutes – just be patient) the smoke will then begin to flow DOWNWARDS.
Tibetan Dhoop sticks are similar to Agarbatti sticks, except instead of compressing the ingredients around an inner bamboo stick, the ingredients are extruded into a cylinder, then allowed to dry. Made by hand from complex traditional blends of herbs, resins and botanicals, they have a rustic aroma that is much less ‘perfumed’ than most commercial incense.
TO BURN: Hold a flame to the tip in the same way you would a standard stick, wait until it has caught and is starting to glow red, then blow out the flame and allow the fragrant smoke to fill the air. As Dhoop is generally thicker and burns right through to the base, it requires a burner stand with a hole large enough, or can be laid across the bars of a Burner Box (many come with a simple burner – will not work with ‘ashcatcher’ burners).
Delicate Japanese ‘Koh’ is similar to Indian ‘dhoop’ in that it does not contain an inner bamboo skewer. The fine sticks give off less smoke and a subtle aroma, making them the perfect accompaniment to a relaxing bath or in a smaller space. Burn a couple at once for a stronger scent, or mix sticks for a unique fragrance.
TO BURN: Like dhoop sticks, Koh will burn until the very end so require a suitable burner stand, or can be laid across the bars of a Burner Box (not an ashcatcher – Morning Star sticks do come with a simple burning tile to place over a heatproof dish to catch the ash). Light as with any stick – ignite the end til glowing, then blow out and allow to smoulder.
Rope is one of the most unique incense types you’re likely to come across, handmade using traditional methods. Dried herbs and other naturally scented botanicals are finely powdered and wrapped in a thin strip of hand-prepared Nepali lokta paper, which is then braided to form a soft rope-like dhoop stick, ready to burn.
TO BURN: Light the intertwined ends and once it’s alight, blow out the flame to allow the stick to smoulder. Rest a lit stick in a heatproof dish of sand or ash, on a suitable burner or hanging stand, or across the bars of a Burner Box. The stick will smoulder until completely burned through.