Category Archives: Incense & Smudging

metaphysical properties of incense

by Cathy Douglas

Incense smells good, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it for that reason alone. But as with crystals, incense — in all its different styles and fragrances — has metaphysical properties based on a long history of use. In fact, if you’re used to working with crystals, the nature of many incenses can to some extent be compared to the properties of specific stones: sandalwood to quartz, lavender to amethyst, rose to rose quartz, etc. Using a crystal with a complementary incense amplifies the power of both.

Most modern incenses are built around a sandalwood stick or cone, overlaid with perfumes, essential oils, resins or other sources of fragrance. (For more on the general types of incense and how they are made, please see our previous article, Incense Basics.)

As always, please remember that the healing properties of the incenses below are complementary to regular treatment, not a substitute. Use common sense and seek your doctor’s advice, especially if you are pregnant or suffer from respiratory conditions.

Common Incense Blends:

Nag champa: While there is a flowering plant called nag champa, the incense that goes by that name is actually a blend of sandalwood with floral scents that include the champa flower, ylang ylang, and others.Traditional nag champa formulations also rely on resin from the halmaddi tree (Ailanthus, or tree of heaven). It creates a soothing, relaxing mood. Uses: purification, creating sacred space, spiritual matters, meditation, enlightenment.

Aastha: Very much like Nag Champa, but a little sweeter. The name means “faith.” Uses: relaxation, meditation, religious occasions.

Aqua: A light floral scent with cyclamen and primrose. Uses: any kind of cooling, whether of temper, physical fever, or excess emotion of any kind.

Darshan: This traditional blend combines sandalwood, jasmine and vanilla. The word can mean “pilgrimage,” or may imply having a vision of a deity or holy person. Uses: concentration, freedom from negativity, reviving a tired mind or spirit.

India Temple: Since this is a brand name, the ingredients are proprietary information. The manufacturer will only say that they use “the finest fragrant woods, herbs, essential oils, and other ingredients of the highest quality,” and that it is designed to smell “just like temples in India.” Uses: connecting with Hindu traditions, ritual

Opium: This incense does not contain any parts of the opium poppy. It’s a blend formulated to resemble Yves St. Laurent’s Opium perfume, which is a blend of many typical incense ingredients, including sandalwood, cedarwood, jasmine, rose, cinnamon, and many more. Unsurprisingly, it turns out smelling somewhat like a store that sells incense. Uses: sleep, lucid dreaming, developing psychic skills, contacting deities and guides in dreams.

Plum blossom: This Japanese incense is actually a combination of floral and spicy ingredients, blended to evoke spring. As far as I’ve been able to discover, it doesn’t actually use plum. Uses: meditation, connecting with Zen Buddhist or other Japanese traditions, purity, feeling young

Individual Scents

The following are properties for single incense ingredients. Remember, though, that in in the real world most stick and cone incenses contain more than one ingredient, usually including a sandalwood base.

Amber: love, comfort, happiness, healing, past life discovery, connecting with the past

Benzoin: purification, clearing negative energy, balance, prosperity, dealing with negative emotions (especially anger, anxiety and depression), working through grief

Cedar: purification, clarity, enhancing psychic skills, love, preventing nightmares, respiratory infections *

Cedarwood: purification, protection, abundance, grounding, clarity, male virility, strength (including strength during a healing process)

Cinnamon: prosperity, success, healing (especially during winter), love and romance, amplifying the energy of spells or rituals, strength, cultivating power (especially for people who feel otherwise powerless, or as if they are in a hopeless situation)

Copal: Purification, protection, exorcism, finding true love, separating from toxic relationships

Cypress (including Hinoki): Strength, comfort, stress relief, confidence, will power, concentration

Dragon’s blood (resin from dracena plant): removing negativity, banishing unclean entities, protection (especially during magical work), enhancing power, male energies

Frankincense: Purification, consecration, meditation, resolving conflicts, speaking up for oneself or others, transforming a chaotic environment to one of peace. Often used in religious rituals, sometimes with myrrh.

Gardenia: Love, healing or maintaining good health, peace

Geranium / Rose geranium: courage, protection

Ginger: love & romance

Jasmine: attracting love or money, cultivating beauty (especially inner beauty), creativity (especially creating something that will touch other people), connecting with others emotionally, wisdom, dreaming (including prophetic dreaming)

Juniper: psychic skills, psychic protection & protection from the evil eye, breaking a string of bad luck

Lavender: relaxation & sleep, protection & purification, romance, cleansing (especially after a period of health issues), healing (especially from addictions), serenity

Lemon: healing, purification, love. An especially good scent to use during fasting.

Lemongrass: mental clarity, relief of respiratory conditions *

Lotus: peace & harmony, improving mood, concentration, focus. Very good for meditation, or to burn while studying.

Mesquite: disinfecting, digestive problems, enhancing the energy of spells or rituals

Musk: love & romance, courage, facing one’s limits (especially one’s mortality), connecting with departed loved ones

Myrrh: purification, consecration, exorcism, banishing negative influences, connecting with solar deities & powers. Traditionally burned during funerals.

Patchouli: attracting love ** & money, connecting with fae, sensuality, fertility, finding happiness

Pine: purification, banishing negative energy, removing curses, moving beyond outgrown habits and circumstances, strength & healing, finding a job

Rose: love & romance, fertility, emotional healing, enhancing beauty (including inner beauty), divination, house blessing

Sage: protection, purification, wisdom, balancing mind / body / soul, cleansing, creating & purifying sacred space.

Sandalwood: Protection, purification, sanctification, offering to any god, good luck.

Sweetgrass: Purification, space clearing, calls up beneficial spirits.

Vanilla: love & romance, decision making, study, power

Ylang ylang: Love, harmony, peace, euphoria

* If you use incense as a complementary treatment for a respiratory condition, be sure to use a very pure blend, and stop use immediately if the smoke causes any discomfort. If the condition is a serious one, consult your doctor before burning any incense.

** If you use patchouli to attract love, it might be a good idea to make sure the object of your desires doesn’t hate the stuff. Many people have a visceral, negative reaction to patchouli, in part because in the past it’s been used to mask the smell of pot or BO.

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Smudging Materials: Traditions & Choices

No matter how positive a person’s actions and intentions may be, negativity is a reality in all our lives. In spiritual terms, the positive energy you put out may even act as a magnet for negative forces. Smudging is an easy and effective way to block, clear and even counter those negative forces. We’ve already shared some tips on how to smudge. In this article, we’ll talk about the various materials available. Most of these materials can be purchased in a variety of forms: loose-leaf herb, smudge bundle or stick, incense, essential oil or room spray.

The following plant materials are commonly used in smudging:

White sage (Sacred sage, bee sage), Salvia apiana. This plant is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The native tribes of those regions have burned this sage in purification rituals for many centuries, and it is from them that others have learned its use. Parts of the same plant have also been used as food and as a healing tea. Modern science has confirmed that the plant has strong antibacterial properties. White sage is our generally our first choice when we recommend materials, because it has been proven effective for many people over a long period of time. Its power is strong, and many people claim it’s the most effective plant for driving out unwanted entities. However, people may have a negative reaction to sage smoke, either because of some negative force has attached itself to them (usually without their conscious knowledge) or because of simple personal preference. The good news is that many other options are available.

Desert Sage may refer to Purple Sage (Salvia dorrii) or Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Both plants have very narrow leaves, and they burn and smell a little different from white sage. Otherwise, desert sage used for basically the same purpose, but grows in the Mountain and Great Basin states.

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) & Frankincense (Boswellia sacra): As most of us know from the Christmas pageants of our youth, these substances were used by people in Biblical times for purification. They’re found most often as incense or essential oil.

Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens). The name of this South American relative of the frankincense tree is usually translated as “holy wood,” though “holy stick” would be more accurate. This is said to have been the sacred wood of the Incas, but many people burn it today simply because they love the smell. It can also work for people who are allergic to sage. Otherwise, its uses are essentially the same, although there’s somewhat more of a shamanic connotation to using palo santo. The best way to use it is simply to light a stick of the pure wood, and enjoy its resinous scent as you clear your space.

Juniper (Juniperus spp.) is used for ritual purification, either of a temple space or a person about to partake in some ritual. It’s traditional to carry a few juniper berries in a medicine pouch for protection.

Cedar: Usually either Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) or California incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens). Bundles made from the leaves of these sacred trees are good for forgiveness & emotional balance. The cleansing energy is not quite as strong as that of white sage, but cedar can be great for attracting positive, “bright” energy. It can also create or enhance a positive mood, so this might be an excellent choice for those suffering from depression or other mood disorders. It’s also a good choice for recharging a space that has housed someone who has been ill, or who has died.

Lavender (generally Lavendula augustifolia, though occasionally you’ll find another species of Lavendula)  has a “gentling” effect, opening the heart chakra and creating a relaxing atmosphere. Lavender also promotes healing, and leaves behind an aura of calm protection. Lavender is associated with children, so either pure lavender or a sage/lavender blend could be a good choice for smudging any area associated with children. Take sensible precautions, of course, if you are smudging when infants or young children are actually present; some may be sensitive to any type of smoke. Lavender can also foster good relationships of other kinds, and promote peace.

Sweetgrass, or Holy Grass (Hierochloe odorata), like sage, has a long tradition of use among Native peoples. It is more commonly used for blessing than for protection. One great way to use sweetgrass is as a follow-up to a sage smudging: The sage (of whichever variety) kicks out the negative energy, while the sweetgrass welcomes in positive vibes. Sweetgrass usually comes in a long braid, but you may also find it in mixed smudge sticks, along with other materials. Native tribes regarded this grass is the living hair of Mother Earth; burning it invokes Her goodwill and protection. They also cleansed their bodies and hair with sweetgrass-infused water, and chewed on sweetgrass when fasting for ritual purposes.

Copal, which is actually tree sap in the process of becoming amber, is often used in Central and South American cultures as a smudging material. They identified it as a food for the gods, and so used it as a means of communication and prayer with their deities. Its most appropriate use is for cleansing and blessing sacred areas, such as churches or altars. It can also protect someone engaging in sacred or mystical activities, such as praying or divination. Its golden color is associated with a pure golden light, such as the light which imbues the auras of people who are holy or inspired.

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How to Burn Resin Incense on Charcoal

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Category: Incense & Smudging

Resin incense is the pure natural material used to formulate incense sticks and cones. It may be purified tree sap, powdered wood, or other plant material, or else a combination of various ingredients. It can be a natural way of using scent, and also a powerful magical tool. If you’ve ever been in a church where a priest or assistant is swinging a censer, you know resin incense is a tradition shared by many spiritual paths.


A resin incense burner or other safe container. You may want to buy a special burner, usually a brass burner with a screen. These burners often come with a little wooden plate to place under the burner when it’s in use; this keeps the hot metal from touching your furniture. Alternatively, you can use any non-flammable dish with enough sand inside to form a safe layer under the charcoal.

Charcoal: We sell both bamboo charcoal and easy-to-light disks. The disks are a little easier to use, but the bamboo charcoal is additive-free and burns cleaner.

Resin or powder incense

Tongs and a small spoon are useful for handling the charcoal and resin, but you can use kitchen utensils for this as well.

How to Use:

Make sure you’re burning your incense in a safe place, free of drafts, where pets and children can’t get into it. It’s good to keep some water handy just in case.

There are two ways of lighting the charcoal. 1) If you have an electric stove, the easiest way is to place the lump of charcoal directly on your burner and turn the burner on. Soon you’ll see the charcoal begin to glow reddish. You can then transfer it into your container. 2) You can also use a lighter or match to light the charcoal. It takes longer to light charcoal than to light stick incense, however–around 30 seconds with the lighter, or a couple matches.

Spoon a small amount of incense onto the coals at a time. It’s best to start with a few granules of resin, or a pinch of powder, and add more as needed. If you add too much at once, it can get a little overpowering.

Enjoy! Resin incense comes straight from the plant, and is the oldest form of incense. It’s very intense and very pure, so a little should last a long time.

Mimosa has also produced a short video about burning resin incense:

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use sage & other smudging materials to clear energy

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Category: Incense & Smudging

A smudge stick is a tool for cleansing and purifying, which you can use on people, other living beings, and inanimate objects. Smudging is especially helpful for clearing space that has suffered the presence of negative energy. Most smudge sticks are bundles of sage, sometimes with other ingredients added, but the procedures outlined below will work just as well if you are using some other smudging object, such as a palo santo wand.

You may want to have something handy to catch ashes; shells are traditional. You may also want to use some natural object, such as a feather, to help direct the smoke.

You can light the stick with a match or lighter, but often it’s easiest to light a candle first and use that to light your smudge. Once the flame has spread to a little bunch of leaves, gently shake or blow it out, so that the leaves are just smoldering. (If it’s hard to light, it might help to spread the leaves a bit to let in some oxygen.)

To smudge yourself, direct the smoke around your body. To smudge others, first smudge yourself and then direct the smoke around the other person, animal, plant, etc. As you do this, move slowly around the place where you’re performing the smudging, praying or chanting as you go. Use a an invocation or prayer to set your intention. This can be something very simple, such as, “Mother Earth and Father Sky, please remove negative energy from my body and soul. I thank you for clearing and blessing me.”  If you are inclined, you may also invoke the four directions or specific deities to help you clarify your purpose. Whatever you do, be sure to thank whatever powers you have called.

To smudge a group of people, form a circle with them. Start with the person to your east, and work your way in a clockwise direction around the circle.

To smudge an area, such as a room, start with an eastern window or door. Smudge your way once around the room, clockwise, lightly touching any windows, doors or other vulnerable places. You may fan the smoke up and down using your hand, a feather, or some other ceremonial object. If you have a whole house to cleanse, it’s best to do it one room at a time. Sometimes, however, it may be beneficial to do the whole house at once. In that case, simply smudge the whole house as if it were a large room.

It usually doesn’t take a whole smudge stick to perform one cleansing. When you’re done, you may put out the wand using a dish of sand, some dirt, or running water. Be sure all living fire is extinguished, then put the sage down somewhere safe to cool. When you’re all done, it’s a good idea to thank the spirit of the sage, and any other deities or powers you may have called on.

Alternatively, you may also leave the smudge burning. To do this, set the stick upright in a sand-filled container. Whatever you do, never leave a burning smudge stick unattended, and be mindful of pets and small children.

You can find smudging materials here. 

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Safe Incense Burning

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Category: Incense & Smudging
Written by Mimosa
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by Cathy Douglas

We love the smell of incense, but we’re also aware that air quality is very important and shouldn’t be taken for granted. A few studies have showed a correlation between heavy incense burning and cancers of the upper respiratory system (throat, mouth, sinuses, tongue). But when applying research to real life, it’s important to know what researchers were looking at. incense

The studies that show the strongest correlation between incense and negative health effects compare areas with a lot of incense burning constantly in an unventilated space with outdoor air. For example, one much-quoted study compares the air quality inside and outside Asian temples. These temples have a constant stream of visitors lighting incense as offerings, which means incense is burning constantly and in large quantities. In a temple or other place of worship, the incense may fill the air to the extent the air looks smoky, and this can irritate sinuses, eyes, nose, etc. or cause headaches. It’s no surprise that air in such a temple also shows a high level of potentially harmful chemicals (benzene, hydrocarbons), especially compared to fresh, outdoor air.

But assuming you don’t live in an temple, you have control over how you use incense. The studies are helpful in showing what not to do: don’t burn too much incense at a time, and don’t cut off ventilation. If the air is smoky in appearance, that’s bad. What they don’t do is tell you much about how to enjoy incense safely. So here are a few common-sense tips:

Ventilate as best you can. Open a window in summer, or an inside door or chimney vent in winter.

Buy good quality incense. While there is no such thing as a “hypoallergenic” incense, the purer the incense is, the less it’s likely to cause trouble. The wooden stick creates smoke without enhancing the smell of the incense. Many Japanese varieties are made without sticks or perfumes, and they’re no more expensive than other brands. Incense of the West comes in stick-free blocks, scented with natural woods. A few other brands do have sticks, but are scented only with pure essential oils with very few additives. Mimosa’s sales staff will be happy to assist you in picking out the brand that’s right for you.

Use only the right amount of incense for your space. A joss stick or half a stick of Japanese incense is plenty for a single room. A whole stick or cone is enough for a couple rooms, or a room with the windows wide open. The extra-large, foot-long sticks are meant to be used outside.

This is something that has to be handled carefully, but I sometimes burn incense when I’m not in the room. A few hours later, the smoke has settled, leaving just the scent. To do this, it’s very important not to create a fire hazard. The incense should be in a proper burner away from curtains or paper, and there mustn’t be any danger of a cat or the wind starting a fire.

Unburnt incense smells good too. Many people come into Mimosa and ask what smells so good; it’s all the unburnt incense on the shelves. Leaving an open pack of incense in a closet or drawer will make it smell nice.

If you use resin incense, you should be aware that bamboo charcoal is purer than the discs, which have additives in them to help them start and continue burning (often saltpeter and sulfur). Resin incense, while very pure, is quite strong. It’s best to start with just a couple grains, adding more as you need it. Some people also place a thin piece of mica on their charcoal, to make the resin burn slower.

There are plenty of alternatives to incense, such as scented candles, oil burners, reed diffusers, room spray, aromatherapy diffusers, and nebulizing diffusers. Diffusers and room sprays don’t require fire of any kind, so you can even use them if your lease prohibits open flames.

People with allergies or asthma should be especially careful, as should pregnant women. Actual allergy to incense is rare, but sensitivity to smoke or fragrances isn’t.

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“Incense Basics” by Cathy Douglas

Written by Mimosa
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Sometimes when new customers ask whether we have incense, a slightly shocked expression comes onto their faces when they see our three-tier table overflowing with choices. Yes, we have incense, it’s just that there’s . . . so much of it! Before they can bolt for the door, a Mimosa staffperson will come out from behind the counter to give a guided tour. Today, I’d like to share a little incense table tour with you in writing.

Photograph from Wikipedia

Photograph from Wikipedia

First, a basic definition. Incense is essentially any herbs and other aromatics processed for burning. Incense has been used since before recorded history, for ritual, health, purification, religious offering, and to influence mental states. (I imagine Og tossing a sap-sticky log on the cooking fire, taking a deep breath, and saying, “Ooh, that smells good!”) Most incense contains aromatic materials, a binder–often acacia gum–and a little charcoal to help in burn evenly. Purer forms use plant-based mucilage to bind the scent agents, with naturally occurring cellulose taking the place of charcoal in the mixture.

Incense from India: Much of the technology and tradition of incense developed in India, over the course of many centuries. Plant materials–including resins, tree bark, flowers, roots, leaves, or seeds–are mixed into a matrix of binder and powdered charcoal or wood, making a paste. Artisans dip a bamboo stick into this paste for stick incense, or form it into some sort of shape, often a cone. Sometimes it’s finished with a dip in scented oil.

Tibetan incense sticks: Like Indian incense. Higher quality brands use a sandalwood stick in place of bamboo. Incense is part of traditional healing in Tibet, so their sticks tend to have a distinct herbal scent.

Tibetan rope incense: In this form of incense, powder is wound into paper, and then the whole thing is twisted up to make a flexible rope, about four inches long. Comes in limited scents, but this form of incense stays fresh a long time, and is easy to take along during travel. You can set it in sand or hang it to burn.

Smudge: A smudge wand is a cluster of dried leaves, usually tied with string. Sage is the most common, but juniper, cedar and sweetgrass also work for smudging, as well as blends of sage with other herbs, such as lavender. People often use it to cleanse and purify a space. One way to do this is to light the wand so that the end leaves are smoldering, then move around the room with it, touching doors, windows, and any other feature that needs special attention. When you’re done, either leave the wand in a container or snuff it out in sand or water.

Resin: The oldest form of incense. If you burn a pine log and see the sap squeezing out in the heat, you’re seeing “wild” resin incense. Resin will not burn on its own, but needs a source of heat. In a modern home, that source is usually charcoal. If you have an electric oven, you can set the charcoal on the burner, turn it on, and leave it for about 30 seconds, or until a good portion of the charcoal is smoldering. A lighter works okay too. Then transfer it to your incense burner with tongs, and drop grains of resin or a little scoop of powder right on top.

Joss sticks: Small incense sticks traditionally placed in doorways or on altars, as a blessing or offering. The word “joss” comes from Deus, meaning “God,” a word the Chinese adopted from Portuguese missionaries.

Dhoop: Another variety of short, concentrated stick incense, which usually comes in a special box that doubles as a holder. Dhoop is a flexible term, and sometimes also refers to Indian cone incense.

Koh: Very pure Japanese incense with a fresh, light scent. It has no wooden stick, though it’s formed into a stick-like shape. Sometimes koh is a bit thick to fit in a standard incense burner, but many brands come with their own little holder, which you can set on a plate to catch the ash. The packaging is deceptively small; a tiny package often holds fifty sticks.

Botanicals: Incense made by infusing some kind of a standard incense, often sandalwood, with essential oils. It’s sweet, but in a fresh way, not cloying. Some blends have magical names like “Moon Goddess,” while single-ingredient sticks feature plants, sometimes uncommon ones. Botanical incense is often chosen for its magical properties.

Incense of the West: This is a brand, rather than a variety of incense, but it deserves mention because it’s unlike any other incense we carry. It comes in a squat sticks that burns like a cone, with uniquely American scents like mesquite and balsam fir. Strong, fresh scent.

Incense burning is a healthy practice, as long as we use common sense. Burn just enough to make the room fragrant, not smoky, and leave a window open at least a crack when the weather allows. And of course we’re dealing with fire here, so be careful about leaving incense unattended, especially if there are pets or small children about. If you are sensitive to incense or smoke, and oil burner or reed diffuser might be a better choice, but botanicals and Japanese koh incense burn clean enough to work for all but the most sensitive.

Each incense has traditional associations through plant magic, often including medicinal properties. We have more information about this available in the store, and plan to put more information online soon.

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