Whether you were raised in a heady nag champa-forward childhood household or you only recently found your zen as an early-adopter of esoteric French burning papers—incense is a nice ritualized way to bring good smells into your zone.
We've been lighting incense both to bring good vibes AND to banish stinks since we were wee (apologies to anyone who may have encountered us in a short-lived but potent "strawberry" phase) so it never occurred to us that there was any great mysticism to the act. The other day in the shop, however, one of our fave clients said to us:
"So, um, how do you burn incense anyway?"
Eureka moment! Lighting and burning incense is not complex, but it is very specific. Here's what we told her:
Incense comes in a few different styles and shapes. We carry ethically foraged cones, handmade by our friend Christine in Portland, traditional Japanese rods (where the whole thing is incense and will all burn away to ash/the end will get hot), classic bamboo sticks (where the scent is "dipped" on to a stick), and incense papers.
The methodology of lighting and burning all of these are roughly the same.
SAFETY NOTE: Incense stuff is on fire and gets hot! Don't leave burning things unattended or in places where they might catch other things on fire or hurt babies, pets, or other inadvertently clumsy friends!
- Hold a live flame to the "end" of the incense until the incense itself catches on fire.
- Allow that flame to burn for a few seconds while the incense creates its own self fueling ember.
- Blow the live flame out.
- Enjoy beautifully unfurling tendrils of rich sensuous scent wafts.
- Choose the right flame-proof vessel for your incense. We love these marvelous tiny Japanese Hasami porcelain plates for the purpose but any ceramic dish or heat-proof metal dish will work.
- Cones will burn all the way down to ash and MUST be set on a flame proof surface.
- The same is true for the rods, which need support to stand upright. Any rod style incense does best in an inflammable incense holder. You might also want to put another heat-proof dish near the holder to catch any falling ash. This Hinoki style comes with its own holder/ash catcher or we love pared-down incense holders like this brass one:
- These beloved brass cubes have two different sized holes, one for the thicker rods and one sized for iconic Bamboo Incense sticks like these. Bamboo sticks are both skinnier than their rod counterparts and will extinguish themselves once they get down to the stick, so a wooden incense holder will work for those as well (we remember one of those long skinny holders we had with a brass moon and stars inlaid in it *quite* fondly). You can also stick it in a glass or jar with sand or barley in the bottom or in the soil of a potted plant.
Incense papers burn similarly to cones, the instructions for these iconic French papers are unabashedly French/and of course involve an accordion: Separate a strip from its sheet and fold it into an accordion zig-zag. Consider putting Edith Piaf's "L'accordeoniste" on in the background, or go with Joni Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris" instead. Light one end of the strip and then blow it out. Set the smoking strip on a heat proof dish. Flip the record for "Just Like This Train".
Incense will burn until it is all consumed and goes out OR you put it out. For the papers, that's a quick 2 minutes. Hinoki Rods: ~20, Cones: ~30, Cedar Rods: ~40, and Bamboo sticks: ~100 minutes.
If you have reached the scent saturation you desire before the incense has gone out, running a little water over the ember will put it right out. We've also seen one (definitely-once-a-hippie) Foundry mama extinguish her incense in a potted plant to be re-lit later about one million times.
That's it (we think?)! Go forth and have a lovely, good-smelling, elevated incense experience!