herbal incense information, ii/iii

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  - Basic Incense Ingredients -

"AROMATIC: Any herb, spice, or botanical powder that gives off a pleasingly scented smoke when burning. These include many kinds of wood (such as sandalwood and juniper) and bark (such as cinnamon) as well as some leaves. The smoke from burning herbs smells different from the fresh or dried herb itself. To test the fragrance of herb smoke, drop a small amount of the dried herb on a hot piece of charcoal. I have never heard of an herb whose smoke was toxic, though certain mushrooms can produce narcotic fumes. Essential oils also can be substituted for the aromatic plant material; again, test on hot charcoal.

"BASE: A substance that burns readily with either a pleasant aroma or no aroma at all. The base aids in the burning of the aromatic and often enhances or tempers the scent. The most popular bases are powders derived from woody plants: sandalwood, cassia, vetiver, willow, evergreen needles, and charcoal. You can make the wood powders yourself by processing sawdust in your blender for two minutes on high speed. Talc or clay is sometimes added to slow the rate of burning, but I don't recommend talc because it can cause respiratory irritation. Potassium nitrate (saltpeter, available at drugstores) may be added to a base to ignite it more quickly and evenly.

"BONDING AGENT: A resin or gum that holds the aromatic and base together. Bonding agents that burn well without giving off toxic smoke and are readily available include agar, karaya, gum arabic, and tragacanth. Of these, tragacanth is the binder most often recommended...it's the easiest to work with and gives the best results for shaped incense."

"LIQUID: Water is easiest and cheapest, although creative incense makers may not be satisfied when there are much more interesting liquids to use: wine, brandy, herb waters, olive oil, and tinctures, to mention just a few. I haven't noticed a significant difference in either the odor or the burnability of the incense.

"COLORING AGENTS: The easiest way to color incense is with food coloring, but plants can also supply natural colors: for example, red sandalwood for red, willow for brown, safflower for yellow, and charcoal for black."

Excerpted from Sandy Maine's "Herbal Incense" article in "The Herb Companion." Dec. 1992/Jan. 1993, Vol. 5, No. 2. Pg. 37. Posted by Cathy Harned.

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