Origins and History of Incense as Source of Pleasant Smell

Incense (coming from Latin “incendere” which means “to burn”) is a type of material (often made from biotic materials) that is burned to release a pleasant smell through smoke. Many religions use it during their ceremonies but it also can be used to cover bad smells, to repel insects, in aromatherapy, during meditation, and simply because it smells good.

Picture Of Burning Incense Fragrance

It is believed that people knew, in some form or other, of incense since the time and the invention of fire. Some archeologists believe that materials thrown in fire like cedar, some berries, roots, and resins were the first incense that we knew of. From these times incense spread through all early major civilizations. Ancient Egyptians used combustible bouquets for this purpose. They used it to cover the bad smells but they also believed that this pleasant smell dispels evil demons and through that it appeases gods. One of the oldest incense burners that we found dates from the time of the Fifth Dynasty of ancient Egypt which lasted between 24th and 25th century BC. Incense came to ancient Greece and Rome over the Babylon where it was used during prayers and in oracles. Valley of Tigris and Euphrates got its incense from Somali coast and the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula where resin-bearing trees produced frankincense and myrrh. Indus Civilization (between 3300BC and 1300BC) also used incense. At around 2000 BC, Ancient China also started using incense in its religious ceremonies. They made incense of herbs like cassia, cinnamon, styrax, and sandalwood. Use of incense in China reached its peak during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) when many buildings were built solely as places for incense ceremonies.

Between 7th century BC and 2nd century AD existed something called “Incense trade route” or the “Incense Road”. It was a network of land and sea trading routes that connected Mediterranean with Levant and Egypt through Northeastern Africa and Arabia to India and its purpose was to mainly carry Arabian frankincense and myrrh (hence the name). It carried other types of goods from the east but these two items were predominant. This trade route lasted until the fall of Roman Empire.

Korean Buddhist monks brought incense to japan in 6th century and since then it was reserved only for high aristocracy. Samurais were allowed to perfume their helmets and armors since the 14th century to “achieve an aura of invincibility”.

Picture Of Incense Sticks

Since then incense has a wide use, from religious and profane and many different types of incense are developed. Direct-burning incense is lit by flame and it can burn (and smoke) on its own. It is usually pressed in forms (like a cone that can stand on its own) or used as a coating over a supporting material which allows for incense to stand while it burns. Indirect-burning incense must have an outer source of heat so it could smoke and it cannot carry flame by itself. They are usually placed in a container that can stand the heat and heated by lit charcoal. Reed defusing incense uses no heat. It consist of incense oil, container that holds it and a bamboo reed. Reed carries oil and helps dispersing it into the air.

Health influence of incense is three-fold. From one side, some researchers say that it has various contaminants like carbon monoxide carbon monoxide carbon monoxide carbon monoxide and other toxic pollutants. Other researchers say that exposure to smoke from the incense doesn't influence respiratory symptoms. Third side is that frankincense, for instance, causes anti-depressive behavior in mice. Jury is still out and we still don't know all we need to know about incense.

Picture Of Insence For Perfume