Make Incense + Inspire Wisdom + Invite Blessings

Let’s have some fun and get our hands dirty outside and in the kitchen. With viral concerns lurking everywhere and most of us spending more of our lives at home, it’s a great time to make some incense that will improve the quality of our living space and purify our home environments. Keep reading to find out how Albuquerque Herbalism Instructor Donna O’Donovan makes incense and how easy and fun it is to do.

Pine resin will provide the base for three different incense mixtures I created. Following are recipes and explanations for all three.

Pine Resin: Trementina is a traditional remedio in New Mexico made with pine resin. It is useful for healing skin irritations and for removing splinters. The aromatics of pine are uplifting to the spirit and invoke the power and presence of trees, savannah, and forest. Pine is healing to the respiratory system, too. Trees are often called the lungs of the forest and of the world. Trees create the very oxygen we need to breathe.

It is easy to find drops of pine resin, either gooey globs of honey colored resin or dried to semi dried pieces on the ground below the trees. Dirt, twigs, and needles may be imbedded and you can remove them as needed. This is seriously sticky business. Wear gloves or wash off resin with cooking oil to remove the resin from bare hands. Working with bare hands is immersive and fun, if you are up for it!

Wildcrafting Note: I never take resin off of a tree itself because it is produced by the tree to protect and heal it from wounds and invasion. Pine resin is anti-microbial and its sticky nature acts as a barrier and adhesive. Enough resin drops to the ground or can be easily found that way. Any species of pine sap, (pitch/resin) can be used from where you live to make incense. Be sure to properly identify your tree.

Water: With recent rains the dry springs fill with rainwater in the Organ Mountains just a few miles from where I live. So, these are recent blessings for the land and all the creatures here as I write this. In talking about incense and the aromatic smoke it brings, I do not want to forget its sister element water and the life force it evokes. I was fortunate to be able to taste the living, flowing waters of a trusted spring above. The aliveness I felt in my mouth and entire being resonated for over an hour. Water we all commonly know, need, and require. This was transformational for me and changed my relationship with water forever. In this same way, water is a universal remedy in life as so much of the world burns. The Gila National Forest and other areas of the Southwest are currently in the midst of burning. 

Smoke: Incense offers us a way to create relationship with smoke that is sacred. Safe. In this case, you are creating your own is custom made blend. Unique and Empowering. Personal. Fun. Useful. Healing. Purifying. For ritual or just pleasure. It is a tradition that spans the globe. All ancestors used aromatics for healing, pleasure, necessity, ritual and to invoke prayers, blessings and gratitude.

Aromatic smoke is part of us, part of the human story. That is not to say we should necessarily grab other people’s traditions using aromatic smoke and incense. But we can create our own stories. Unravel our past. Lean into our own experiences. And enjoy making our own incense from plants and materials we gather ourselves. We can also have fun creating kitchen incense from herbs we have in our own cupboards and spice shelves. 

Dough Preparation: Here is a simple incense I made using three ingredients shown here: coriander seed from this year’s garden, usnea collected from the Sandia Mountains, and piñon pine resin from some years ago. I crushed it all together and made a thick coin-shaped piece of incense. I used an old incense tin I had to store it in. You could dry it further in a low heat oven or the sun. But the slightly gooey texture incorporated the dry ingredients nicely. Use semi dried resin. Test it to see if it stretches like taffy.

You may want to grind your materials separately. I just ground it all together making sure the coriander was at least ground in half so as not to pop when lit as incense. It makes a rather impressive flame and smoke. I lit it outside as a way to say goodbye to the land and creatures where I have been living and will soon be leaving. Moving on. Renter’s journey….

One of my first batches of incense before this was an inspiration to use the many little remainders of herbs I had in my herb bag. I used pine resin as my base and literally added dozens of ingredients just to invoke a special connection to all the herbs in the incense. I did this to make a special blend and also just to see what would happen when I dove in and gave incense making a try!

I added many herbs including: calamus root for focus, envisioning. Wood betony for grounding and soothing. Orange peel for its aromatics, soloman’s seal root for repair and flexibility, cat’s claw (the herb), and dried acorn shell from the mountain spring, …too much to remember… though I did write down a list. All these herbs were ground into a powder or fibrous powder. The other many herbs I made into a tea, strained it, and used that tea along with marshmallow root powder to bind the mixture.

So here is where the water comes in: the tea is used to bind the incense. The perfect alchemy of combining the influence of water, the essence of herbs, into the transformation of smoke from fire.

The basic mix is roughly:

  • 1/4 pine resin powder
  • ½ (or more) powdered herbs
  • less than 1/4 amount of marshmallow root powder to bind… or so…. not exact.
  • add water or your tea… only drops at a time

You are aiming to make a dough that just barely binds and holds together. Add a touch more water if needed, a few drops at a time if necessary. Add just enough wetness to keep it all together though not too wet. Just enough to use a fork or spoon and keep pressing it together, incorporating the dry into moistened dough to bring it into form. Your mix will start out looking like this:

Add drops of tea (if desired) or just water until you reach the consistency of this dough ball:

Final Steps: Once your dough is prepared, pinch off a piece. I tapered mine at the end to make it easier to ignite when you light it. You must dry the incense pieces before using them. I live in New Mexico and they dried completely in less than a week. If made with too much water, they may end up too damp to light. If that is the case, add more powdered herbs when making your incense dough ball.

Using Your Incense: The incense was made with a flat base and pointed tip so they stand by themselves. You can place them on an ignited charcoal surface or on a heat proof surface such as a flat stone. They do not need an incense charcoal. All of mine have also been lit by a match or lighter on their own. The fragrance is so unique and lovely and empowering.

I have been having these experiences lately using different flours and now incense doughs that bring me into a more ancient feeling. A comfortable feeling. It is very satisfying for me to be working with plant doughs this way. Never mind that it is just fun! And children naturally have a sense of wonder and play making dough! Aromatics is part of all cultures. There are gaps in some cultures, but the threads are still there.

It was fun to use the pine resin I had gathered and to respect it by doing something constructive and enjoyable with it. And fun is constructive to the spirit! I felt like I was rolling and forming little dough beings. All lined in circles on my antique floral, gold embossed plate from the Salvation Army thrift store.

 

Herbal practice is a reflection of the landscape: remnants of ancient lava flows at City of Rocks State Park look like massive hand- crafted incense cones.

Kitchen Spice Incense:

For this one, I used common spices such as clove, nutmeg, coriander, mace, and cinnamon. I added myrrh and piñon resin. I used marshmallow as a binder with tap water as the liquid to mix it all into an incense dough. It smelled wonderful and with each of these second two batches, I tasted a tiny dough ball because they are both technically edible although I do not recommend eating incense. This is the beauty of making your own incense or anything else for that matter! You know what is in it! And you can make it safe enough to eat, or taste in this case.

Recipe:

  • 1/4 resin powder (myrrh and pine resin) or just pine resin
  • ½ (or more) herbal powders (any amount each that you want.) I used soloman’s seal root powder because it is a root and creates flexibility (of spirit) too. I also used clove, nutmeg, mace, coriander, cinnamon. I included a lot of aromatic herbs in this mix besides the aromatic resins.
  • 1/4 or less amount of marshmallow root powder to bind the mixture
  • Add your choice of tap water, distilled water, spring water or herbal tea.

Ingredient Notes: It seems I put cinnamon into everything. I always have some on hand. And it smells so good too! All these herbs have traditional and magical/healing uses but we can also just use what we like and have an affinity for. Also consider herbal properties such as relaxation, focus, etc.

Read more about aromatic plants of the Southwest here.

You want the marshmallow as a binder because it acts gummy when mixed with water. Plus marshmallow is soothing, healing, softening, cooling: good energetics! Other binders could be used such as gum Arabic, arrowroot powder, Siberian elm bark powder, or others. But it was marshmallow root powder that I had on hand and I enjoy working with marshmallow root, anyhow.

 

Preparation Notes: Again, use just enough liquid and keep pressing the powder together to make a paste. More on the dry than wet side. Just wet enough to hold together.

You can also knead the dough, at this point, to incorporate any of the loose powder into the dough ball. This is such a rewarding sensory experience. Play with dough, get your hands in it. Enjoy the sensation of aromatics as you make it and then later as you burn your own unique aromatic incense that you made yourself.

Incense has its roots in the word “incensare”: to rouse, inflame, inspire. What rouses you, ignites your passion, brings forth the aromatic heart of your pursuits?

Thank you for reading and I hope you feel inspired to make your own specialty incense!

 

Text and photos by Donna O’Donovan – learn more about Donna below!

By Donna O'Donovan

Donna is an Instructor at Albuquerque Herbalism as well as Mountain View Market Co-op in Las Cruces, NM. She also offers herbal consultations and workshops and can be contacted through Albuquerque Herbalism’s website.

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