I don’t feel like writing a poem,
Instead, I will light the incense-burning vessel
Filled with myrrh, jasmine and frankincense,
And the poem will grow in my heart
Like flowers in my garden.
~According to a student of Hafis (15th century A.D.)
Violet and Company took about a year off, maybe a little more, while I remade our webstore. Now it is finished and the happy time of writing on the blog is back. This week we will start a series looking at frankincense, one of my favorite resins.
Here is a fun frankincense fact-during the times of the Pharaohs, the ancient Greeks and the Romans, most people didn’t know where frankincense and myrrh came from. Many stories floated around such as they were guarded by winged serpents. These things were held in secret in order to allow the countries where the frankincense and myrrh trees grew to have a monopoly on the market, making the resin trade very lucrative for them.
Rizzi-Fischer, Susanne (1998) The Complete Incense Book. Sterling Publishing, New York.
Photo by Violet and Company Incense
Happy Summer Solstice! Dance, sing, be happy, be warm! Eat greens and be with friends! Burn jumbo Citronella incenses to keep the critters away and go to festivals!
Today athletes use all sorts of things to get better in their sport, for example vitamins or special machines to measure oxygen content in the blood. We use drugs to take away our depression, we take medicine to lower our blood pressure. What about using our sense of smell?
Our sense of smell is one vehicle that is available to us to use to influence our bodies and our mood and enhance our performance. Our brains are wired for smell. Smell is one of the most powerful senses that we have. Scent has been used for centuries to enhance performance, sharpen the mind and focus the energy.
Try sandalwood to focus the mind and calm. Try rose to open the heart and bring a loving atmosphere. Try lemongrass for joy and energy today! Auroshikha makes a great essential oil of lemongrass-just a few drops in a diffuser does wonders!
Taken from Susanne Fischer-Rizzi’s The Complete Incense Book, here is an ancient recipe for making your own incense to tempt and enthrall the object of your affection just for Valentine’s Day. It made King David of Israel irresistible and may do the same for you! According to Fischer-Rizzi, King David used to suspend his clothing in the smoke and allow the fragrance to fill a room. The fragrance is warm and sensual.
KING DAVID’S TEMPTATION
4 parts Myrrh resin (see pic below) & 1/2 part Agar wood
1 part Cinnamon Bark (powder)
1 part Sandalwood (powder)
Crush the agar wood, then the myrrh with a mortar and pestle. Add the Sandalwood and the cinnamon. Place a pinch at a time on hot charcoal. Enjoy.
Don’t forget to get your incense and candles at 10% off by shopping at Violet and Company before Black Friday! Low shipping and 10% off means big savings on your Nag Champa, India Temple incense, Dragon’s Blood resin and anything else you have been meaning to get!
“Gold is just dust when still in the ground, and oud
in its country of origin, is just another kind of firewood.”
~Muhammad Ibn Idris al-Shafi’i 767-820 C.E.
If we look back in history, we can connect this quote to the stated first discovery of Oud or agarwood in Japan. It is said that a large log washed up on the beach and was gathered and burnt for firewood. When the wood was burnt, it was discovered that this wood was very special indeed as it let off a perfume only the gods could have created. Agarwood has been a prized wood and scent for many centuries.
The Japanese made incense from this wood and called it Jinko, or “sinking wood” because it was heavier than other wood and did not float well. Agarwood is also called Aloeswood, Oud and Eagle-Wood around the world.
Agarwood is used in traditional Tibetan medicinal preparations and is called Eaglewood (unique, yellow, light & black). Agarwood also has special uses in Chinese medicine.
The scent of Agarwood is musky, woodsy, rich and always original. It has been all but impossible to correctly mimic this scent in synthetic preparations.
Agarwood comes from the center or “heartwood” of the Aquilara tree from Southeast Asia that has been infected by a fungus. The tree is infected at the roots and in response, creates a thick, dark resin to protect itself from the infection. This resin, and the wood that holds it is Agarwood. The older the tree and the longer the infection has flourished within the tree, the more precious and fragrant the Agarwood. There is no way to tell which trees in the wild have been infected with this fungus, so the practice is to randomly cut down trees or open their bark, looking for the dark resinous wood. This practice has meant that Aquilara species trees in the wild in some countries are endangered.
Many countries have now created tree farms, in which Aquilara trees are specially grown, inoculated with fungus and then harvested after a minimum of seven years to get Agarwood. It is said that these farmed trees don’t produce the same fragrance in their Agarwood as do trees in the wild, and the reason for this is not known at this time.
Most incenses found in the market contain a lower grade agarwood and are usually grown on a farm, because the cost of wild agarwood is formidable. 2.2 pounds of high quality agarwood sold for over $500 just 20 years ago and the price has only gone up since then. Using first quality agarwood would make the price of incense unaffordable for most people, so lower quality agarwoods are used.
Cone, Resin and Powder
Incense can be found in many forms. It is most often seen as sticks or cones. Last blog we talked about stick and coil incense. This time I’d like to address cone, resin and powder incense.
Cone Incense: Cone incense is one of the most common forms of incense in the Western world. Cone incense is made of the same things that stick incense is made of: ground woods, gums, resins, herbs and aromatic oils. There is also a combustion agent added. Some use saltpeter, some use charcoal. Others use a natural substance called Makko, which comes from a tree. Because there is no wood core in cone incense, the chemical make up is a bit different than the stick incense, and there is no wood to mingle with the stick. For this reason, the smell of cone incense can be slightly different than the stick. If you are used to a stick incense and would like to try the same aroma in a cone form, be aware it may not be exactly the same experience you are used to.
Resin Incense: Resin incense is hardened sap from trees, bushes, shrubs.
It is one of the oldest and most natural forms of incense. Resin incense is what is called a “non-combustible” incense, meaning that you must put it on something that is burning in order for it to burn and release its aroma. Frankincense resin, Myrrh resin, Ylang Ylang as well as Rose resin all come from trees, shrubs and bushes. Resin is very hard and can be broken up to burn smaller pieces. Resins are not only used in meditation, resins are used by some in rituals. Different resins can have different meanings or purposes depending on which ritual is being performed.
powdered incense photo courtesy of Modern Dryad incense
Powder Incense: Powder incenses are simply either resins or incense materials such as roots, bark, flowers, etc. that have been ground into a powder (for example sandalwood powder). Some, such as the sandalwood powder and the many incense powders at Modern Dryad Incense, are also non-combustible and must be burnt on charcoal or another burning medium, such as Makko (see above).
There are some self-igniting incense powders that are pre-prepared. These include powders such as the Medicine Buddha Incense Powder, Dragon’s Blood and Come Hither Powder. Violet and Company doesn’t carry these, but you can find them on the internet. We at Violet and Company would recommend visiting Modern Dryad Incense to try some of their cones and powders.
This blog is by no means exhaustive and there is much more to be explained about the complex and ancient forms of incense. Hopefully, this is just a start and you will be able to learn more in the future.