A Beginner's Guide to the Wonderful World of Incense

Incense is a beautiful way to add fragrance and ambiance to your home, and there are several clean-burning, modern alternatives to oldies but goodies like nag champa. In this article, we'll discuss the basics of incense: what it is, where it comes from, how it's made, and how to use it. So, if you're ready, let's begin our journey into the wonderful world of incense.

What is incense?

It's a substance that is burned to produce fragrant smoke. In fact, incense was the first form of perfume. Perfume's name comes from "per fumum," which means "through smoke." Incense can be made from a variety of materials, including herbs, resins, woods, and essential oils.

Where does incense come from?

Incense has been used for centuries in various cultures around the world. The first known use of incense was in ancient Egypt, where it was burned as an offering to the gods. Egyptian Kyphi is perhaps the most known scent and there are several recipes. Some of the more familiar ingredients are raisins, wine, honey, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, cassia, juniper berries, sweet flag, camel grass, frankincense, myrrh, spikenard, and mastic.

Incense also played an important role in Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies, and it is still used today in religious ceremonies and meditation practices. For many people, it's an integral part of daily life.

How is incense made?

There are different types of incense. The most common way to make incense is to combine various ingredients and roll them into a cone or stick shape. The cones or sticks are then dried and smoked over a heat source until they release their fragrance.

We carry the cone variety, handcrafted by KODO Collection, an apothecary and natural perfume company on Vancouver Island, B.C. They make each hana-koh ("flower blossom incense") cone by hand. Their hours-long process is a meditation in and of itself. It involves grinding locally grown and ethically sourced plant materials and turning them into an aromatic paste that they shape into cones that resemble mountain tops.

Handcrafted hana-koh cone incense made with rose petals, sandalwood and patchouli.

The warm, heady scent of florals, woods, and resins is due to a gorgeous blend of rose petals, sandalwood, myrrh, makko (powdered bark from various trees; acts as a base and binder), aloeswood, benzoin, and patchouli. When burned, each cone releases fragrant smoke that is sweet and balsamic, delicate and floral, rich and woody, with a touch of spice. KODO incense contains no artificial fragrances, synthetic ingredients, or chemical combustibles.

How do you light cone incense?

Lighting cone incense is easy. All you need is a match or lighter and an incense burner or heatproof/non-flammable dish. To light the cone, hold the tip over the heat source for about 30 seconds until it begins to smolder (you should see smoke coming out of the tip). If there is a flame, blow it out. Then place the cone on your incense burner so that the tip faces upward. Each cone will burn for approximately 25 minutes.

Hana-koh incense burning on a Colleen Hennessey ceramic dish.

How is incense used?

In traditional Chinese medicine, different herbs have specific properties or energies. This is why incense is often used to cleanse spaces and shift the energy of a space before meditation or healing practices. Incense is commonly burned at the beginning of a ritual or ceremony as an offering to the divine.

In addition to creating a sacred space and cleansing spaces of negative or unwanted energy, incense has other benefits. It can help you focus your mind, improve concentration during meditation, and inspire creativity, which makes it perfect for the morning or daytime. It can also be used as aromatherapy to relieve stress and anxiety and promote relaxation, which is ideal for the evening.

Incense is also a natural insect repellent and can be used to keep pests away.

Is incense safe for cats and dogs?

Animals are highly sensitive. As with strong/excessive essential oils, it's possible that an excess of smoke (even from a clean-burning natural incense) can irritate pets' lungs and airways. It's possible that strong smoke can worsen or cause asthma or other respiratory issues in cats, and trigger coughing spells in dogs with a collapsing trachea, kennel cough, or allergic bronchitis.

If you have a pet and want to reduce its exposure to incense smoke, either move your pet to a different room when you burn incense or make sure the room is well ventilated.

How can you burn incense safely?

It's always important to practice fire safety whenever you're burning something, especially if you have children or pets in the house. Here are some tips on how to safely burn incense and dispose of your ashes.

  • Always burn incense in a well-ventilated area
  • Avoid use if you are asthmatic or have any respiratory difficulties
  • Keep out of reach, and away from children and pets
  • Always burn incense on a non-flammable dish and keep away from drafts and flammable materials
  • Never leave burning incense unattended
  • Before composting the ash, be sure to add water to your leftover incense to ensure that your incense is no longer burning


Whether you're looking to create a sacred space, cleanse the energy of your home, or simply want to enjoy a timeless perfumery practice, incense is an easy, relaxing treat. For a gorgeous yet minimalist display like the one above, pair Kodo's hana-koh with Colleen Hennessey's matte speckled gray bowl. Just remember to always use caution when burning incense, and never leave it unattended. Happy Burning!

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